41 min read

🎧 #052: Rob Huntington on the shift to Converged Networks, MSIs, and the "sun setting on the BMS"

“The sun is setting on building management systems as we know it and change is coming through building operating systems and packaged equipment control, which when delivered will eliminate the need for field fitted BMS control altogether.”

—Rob Huntington

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Episode 52 is a conversation with Rob Huntington of Air Masters out of Australia.

Summary

We talked about a couple of perhaps controversial opinions, observations, and predictions that Rob has about the future of building controls, networks, the role of the MSI, and the construction process itself.

This was a fun one to unpack. Please enjoy.

  1. Air Masters (3:14)
  2. SkySpark (8:13)
  3. Tridium Systems (8:15)
  4. Leon Wurfel on how analytics can scale and founding BUENO (8:29)
  5. Tyson Soutter on how to sell smart building technology (8:32)
  6. Matt Schwartz (9:30)
  7. Brian Turner on the Ontology Wars and the role of the MSI (38:47)

You can find Rob Huntington on LinkedIn.


Highlights

  • The sun setting on the BMS as we know it (17:27)
  • IT vs. OT is a false dichotomy, but the BSN needs to be "IT-grade" (22:57)
  • What is an IT grade vs OT grade network (28:03)
  • Can the BMS contractor be the MSI? (36:38)
  • The MSA vs. MSI (38:52)
  • The change will happen because it's cheaper (53:15)

Music credit: Dream Big by Audiobinger—licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.


Full transcript

Note: transcript was created using an imperfect machine learning tool and lightly edited by a human (so you can get the gist). Please forgive errors!

James Dice: [00:00:03] hello friends, welcome to the nexus podcast. I'm your host James dice each week. I fire questions that the leaders of the smart buildings industry to try to figure out where we're headed and how we can get there faster without all the marketing fluff. I'm pushing my learning to the limit. And I'm so glad to have you here following along.

This episode of the podcast is brought to you by nexus pro nexus pro is an annual or monthly subscription where members get exclusive writing podcasts and invites to members only zoom gatherings. You can find info on how to join and support the Without further ado, please enjoy this episode, the nexus podcast.

Episode 52 is a conversation with Rob Huntington of air masters out of Australia. We talked about a couple of perhaps controversial opinions, observations and predictions that Rob has about the future of building controls networks and the role of the MSI and the construction process itself. This was a fun one to unpack.

Please enjoy it. Next is podcast episode 52.

James Dice: [00:01:13] Hey, Rob, welcome to the show. Can you introduce yourself?

Rob Huntington: [00:01:17] Uh, thanks, James. Yeah. So it's Robert Huntington here. I'm coming at you all from Canberra in Australia and yeah, really excited to be on the, on the episode this week.

James Dice: [00:01:27] Awesome. Awesome. Can you give us a little bit about your education and background?

Rob Huntington: [00:01:32] Yeah, sure. I'll go back a little bit further than I normally would. Back to back to high school days, just so I can touch on my relationship with a friend of the podcast twice and SUTA I actually grew up in Sydney and went to high school with us. And so we've known each other for. Geez, 25 years, I guess, which, which is a scary thought.

But yeah, so yeah, I grew up in Sydney and yet dropped out, I guess, a fast ball you might say when I was 16 and was really keen just to get into the workforce. So, struggled at school, struggle to be engaged and wanted to get out and yeah, start, start earning a living, I guess. And I had some really good mentors at the time who were really influencing me, I guess, towards getting a trade.

So, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do when I left, but I had guys sort of saying just. Four years get a trade under your belt. And if you don't like it. Yeah. You've always got that to fall back on. So cool. Yeah. Uh, I did a bit of work experience and tried a few different trades out and yeah, found this trade called refrigeration and air conditioning, which wasn't your typical plumber or chippy or Sparky or anything like that.

But the diversity is what got me. So, working on anything from a pump and pump seals, motors and bearings compressors, and of course these computer systems that were controlling buildings, that was probably what ended up fascinating with the most. Um, So yeah, started started that apprenticeship generally 23, 20 years ago, uh, this year, which makes me feel very old, but yeah, that's sort of where it all started.

James Dice: [00:03:06] Cool. And, and, and fast forward to today, what do you do today? Who do you,

Rob Huntington: [00:03:10] who do you work for? So I, I started with a company called air . Master this opportunity came up with this, as I say, a company called air master. They'll just keep kicking off in Sydney quite large in Melbourne. But yeah, this opportunity came up.

I went across as a third year apprentice and yeah, from there I had a variety of roles. So, initially when I was still on the road I fell into controls. Before my apprenticeship ended.  probably that three years into my apprenticeship. So I moved to Brown. That was my third, third company, actually three years. So, and you'll probably see a theme here where, Oh, is I'm always looking for what the next thing was.

So I wanted do it all. I wanted it now, and it was pretty unusual at the time to jump around in your apprenticeship like that. But I was pretty fortunate, I guess, that I've grown up with computers where some of the tradesmen that I was working with had it.

And I just sort of naturally was able to work out. Some of these programs program will control and control systems. And basically it was handed a laptop and said, yeah, you're the BMS maintenance guy now go out and sort these systems out. So, again, pretty fortunate cause I've got given like a lot of the old systems.

So, Barbara Coleman auto matrix, some pretty old command based systems. So yeah, it didn't have flashy, Y sheets and stuff like that. It was pretty hard I guess, to trace back um, program blocks and that sort of thing in, in something like network 8,000, but it was such a great learning experience to see how those systems are put together.

Okay then. Yeah, eventually I was allowed to work on the newer systems in Niagara and that sort of thing once I graduated, I guess, from those older systems. Okay. Yeah.

James Dice: [00:04:54] It sounds like you had Tyson have a lot in common. Maybe it was something at the, the, uh, the water and the high schools and like that, you

Rob Huntington: [00:05:00] know, well maybe, maybe the B is like, uh, so the story with Tyson is, yeah, once I was about three or four years in to my apprenticeship, I was explaining to him, yeah, every Friday, Saturday night we were together about how the computers were sort of controlling the buildings.

I eventually managed to get him to come across to air master, as I was finishing my apprenticeship, he was just starting. And again, he sort of followed the same path as me with. The refrigeration trade again, he got handed a laptop as well. Maybe he took over from me, all the controls guy now.

And then, yeah, interestingly I, yeah, I did do a very early sky spot deployment like 2012, I think. And interesting listening to Leon's podcast the other day, he mentioned a mechanical contractor that thought they could do it all themselves, or that was us and to appoint me. So yeah, I did, uh, yeah, uh, deployment 2012, probably about a year before when I was founded.

And really interesting to see how it evolved like that particular deployment. We sold it as a piece of software to begin with. And said to the facility manager, you're going to love this it's this new system, and you can log into it. You're going to visualize all your data. And it's going to tell you all these challenges or opportunities you've got in your building.

What happened? Nothing. Yeah. I never logged into it then thinking on my feet, it's like, well, how do we, how do we get some value out of this? So then we started sort of looking into the system now, but I guess the other challenge we had was there was no spots essentially. And I think that the thinking was no sparks means no problems, but I guess it was that the rules hadn't been developed yet to identify any challenges.

So it was your classic monolithic set up. I was going in reviewing the, I mean, the cool thing about sky's back at a time, the way the data was laid out and visualize, it was so simple to pinpoint. Problems identify patterns. So then what would normally happen? We'd identify like a chiller short cycling.

We then write a role to find that automatically or reverse engineered, I guess. And then all of a sudden that was coming up as a, as an opportunity. So, that was good. I started getting a bit of traction and yeah. Issues sort of being identified, but then the next challenge was like, how do we do something about it?

We'd sit around the table. Like we all the mechanical maintenance contractor. And you sit down with, let's say the BMS contractor and you're telling them all these challenges or issues they've got with their system. And again, pretty, pretty toxic sort of environment when you're, you're pointing the finger like that.

So yeah, fast forward a few more months and uh, yeah, July, 2013 when I was sort of born. So yeah. Get it out of the air master banner. And I mean, what those guys did in those early days, they were so far ahead of everybody else. It's pretty amazing to sort of watch where it went from there. That points to the story like we got at air master, we sort of very fortunate.

We got access to a lot of new technology very early in the piece. So whether it was Sky Spark, I mean, or Australia's first Tridium systems integrator as well. So yeah, pretty fortunate to always have access to the latest and greatest technology in the market here.

James Dice: [00:08:24] Totally. And if people want to go back to those episodes, so, Leon was number 46, I think.

And Tyson was number 19. So a lot of that continuity from past episodes. That's fun. So, so the reason I wanted to bring you on rather than cause you and I were exchanging messages, uh, basically around some of the more, what I would call a controversial, uh, LinkedIn posts and comments you've made.

And so I want to read one of them because I think it sets the context for where we're going today. So, and I've used this quote in a couple of different essays at different places so far and always with attribution, of course, but you said, you said the sun is setting on building management systems, as we know it and change is coming through building operating systems and package equipment control.

Which one delivered will eliminate the need for field fitted BMS control altogether. Which I love that quote. I think people will listening love in that quote, it very, it aligns very well with this entire series on BAS VMs that I did with Matt Schwartz from Alterra. That's kind of the vision that he has as well.

So let's um, first of all, let you kind of expand on, on that quote a little bit. Where did that come from? And can you give us a little more color on it?

Rob Huntington: [00:09:44] Yeah, so yeah, that comment, I guess, is. Intended to be controversial. Right. You may love that comment, but there there's a lot of people that hate it with a passion and oppose it.

So, for me, yeah, sometimes I guess you've got to be pretty controversial, try and get people thinking differently. But for me, the idea of 15 controls to things in the field, it just doesn't make any sense. So whether it be from a technology point, whether it's from an efficiency point, a safety point it's just a challenge for me to understand why we haven't seen a greater adoption, I guess, a factory fitted controls, as opposed to people coming in and fitting stuff.

The air handling units, the fair call unit sort of, sort of in the field. So yeah, we have this

James Dice: [00:10:28] like bespoke, like we're going to do it a completely new way every time mentality

Rob Huntington: [00:10:34] every time. And I think like the engineering is a big one. It seems, I mean, you could give the same controller and the same functional description to 10 VMs engineers, and you would get like same outcome.

The pace of equipment would be controlled, but the way in which it's done would be different. Whether it's the function blocks, whether it's the inputs and outputs and the order in which they've used it would be very different. And that's the challenge, I guess when we start talking about integration or building operating systems, like there's no way for you to, to pull an air handling unit into these systems and be able to.

Understand that data easily you've, you've almost got to, you've got to go in and analyze that, that control of the program, identify the inputs and outputs, and it's a really cumbersome process. And it all goes back to, like you said, this bespoke engineering and essentially recreating that controller program every single time that's deployed.

It's it's crazy.

James Dice: [00:11:34] Totally. And it happens as you go further up the stack, right? So if you create a bespoke Ariane Lander controller, and I'm going to put analytics on top, now I have to create a bespoke data model, this folk rules, most of the time. Uh, so what is the alternative to this? What's what's packaged equipment control and I know it is, but can you explain, uh, could explain what

Rob Huntington: [00:11:55] you mean by that?

Yeah. So, I mean, it shouldn't, it's not really a foreign concept, but perhaps the terminology is actual equipment control or product integrated control that happens already. So if we think about a chiller, right, the chiller has its own controls on board. Yes, it's a complex piece of equipment. But yeah, it controls itself.

It's it's staging, it's compressors. Essentially connect to that viral high-level interface. You can give it a set point and you can also pull information out of it. So I guess it's taking that concept. Yeah. And delivering it across all pieces of equipment in a building. So I guess today we're focusing on mechanical equipment.

Probably cause it's yeah, most familiar to most of the audience. But everything from a fan call, unit, air handling unit VAV, an inline exhaust fan, like if everything had that onboard control. Delivered by OEMs off of all the factories. And it was delivered in a consistent way. Every time. Like every time you got a air handling unit from train, you knew like, like any HLR, I guess you knew how that piece of equipment or the controller was going to be mapped as far as registers go, or it's where it's repeatable, easy to discover.

And it's, it's it, it removes that work from the field and puts it into a controlled environment in a factory, fully integrated with the equipment. And there's a lot of advantages. Be it cost or time or interoperability. Yeah.

James Dice: [00:13:30] And, and I I've sort of disagreed with some of our community in the past of the nexus community who, who have said basically, don't, don't try to make the, you know, manufacturers like be good stewards of data.

You know, we'll have the data model on after the fact, but my opinion has always been like, no, those guys can like meet everybody halfway. Those guys can continue to standardize and open up the data and model it in a way that describes what it's doing. Right. Uh, and that can be done at the factory. Yeah, totally agree.

So second piece of that quote is the building operating system. Uh, that is a fuzzy term for me. And we will have discussed it in a couple of episodes back as well. It's, it's coming up more and more. It seems like to me. So what is a billing offer in system, uh,

Rob Huntington: [00:14:18] to you? This will be controversial again, uh, cause I know there's like a.

Anti amplification movement, I guess. Like, I think people think that I'm thinking of a building, like an iPhone iOS operating system or an Android operating system. Like I think this people would think it's oversimplified things, but in truth, I mean, how complex yeah. Or anyway, or say on the controversial line, how complex is a building?

I mean, an air handling unit, it's a fan with, it's a box with a fade in it. Like, are we, over-complicating how an air handling unit is controlled. So, I mean, and so back to the question around a building operating system, to me, it's that platform that does allow you to connect to your air handling in it that has a controller in it via.

Not necessarily an app, but uh, Wayne, uh, Wayne, which doesn't require a server for every single system that's in a building. So you could have up to the way buildings are going at the moment. You've got dozens of servers that are dedicated to lighting control, air conditioning, control CCTV, and this repeated deployment of servers with software hosted against seems very it's very inefficient and very foreign.

Well, I mean, you look at how. The it the it world, I guess, has where it's found itself now and the digital transformation that's undergone with the cloud and you in the not too distant future, your Googles, your well, let's stay on Google. Cause I guess they're the ones that are really driving this building operating system idea at the moment.

They are going to crack the code. So, I think there's a bit of a gap at the moment where they're probably struggling. Like we all are to get meaningful data out of buildings, but once they do everything is going to end up in the cloud. Again, controversial people are really afraid of their BMS server not being located on site for some reason.

But yeah, eventually that building operating system, that's a single platform. That allows everything to talk to it. I see it going, it

James Dice: [00:16:26] sort of consolidates all the supervisory level controllers and servers, or it could be virtual servers across all the different silos. So HVAC lighting down the line, it consolidates all that together.

And then you can build software applications or software applications on top of that sort of layer.

Rob Huntington: [00:16:45] And like, you're like, you're indicating it's moving it from being that vertical type approach where everything's siloed and you've got a network and server and a control system that just does air conditioning and then another vertical that's doing energy management, lighting, et cetera.

Yeah. Trying to make that horizontal and getting all the devices together on a single network. Then we have bringing that up. In that fashion, as opposed to trying to bring all these pieces together after the fact we've more of an integration style. The building operating system that has capability to talk to all these systems natively, that would be Nevada, I guess, but probably a fair way off to that.

James Dice: [00:17:27] So, and this has a lot of overlap with my course, the students that are listening to this will probably like, they're probably be smiling right now because we we've learned a lot of this. But the impetus for that siloed world, right, of that, a bunch of different vertical stacks is in the way we construct our buildings.

Right. So we construct it with the trades that are responsible for each of those stacks. Right. So I think what we're going to do in this conversation is sort of unpack, given your sort of controversial prediction here, let's unpack what means for a bunch of different stakeholders and different ways in which we're doing things today.

But first let's start with the long-term, given those two trends you just talked about. What does that mean for the BMS contractor?

Rob Huntington: [00:18:12] They're facing extinction.

James Dice: [00:18:15] Why is that?

Rob Huntington: [00:18:15] If you imagine a world where every single piece of equipment comes with onboard control from factory and the mechanical contractor is responsible for delivering that.

So, he procures his equipment with control. It gets delivered to site. In addition to that, there's a building services network or a base building network or whatever terminology you want to use, but essentially there's a single network in the building over which everything communicates. So you've now got your piece of equipment with an onboard controller.

IP-based. you would assume. The network that's been installed by a dedicated contractor, that piece of equipment plugs into. And that's all feeding up into the building operating system or integration platform. So all of a sudden, I mean, what's left for that BMS contractor to do, right?

He's not fitting controls to anything. He's not running a network.

James Dice: [00:19:10] So they're not installing servers, they're not selling software. They're not doing a whole lot.

Rob Huntington: [00:19:16] Yeah. And they're fighting back hard. Like the BMS contractor used to be the smartest guy in the building.

And like interesting, if you even just unpack what BMS building management system, do BMS systems actually control buildings anymore? I mean, back in the day they used to write, like, it was often that it was a pseudo integration platform. So less sophisticated systems would often be bought up into that BMS system.

But now that you're lighting control systems and energy management systems are becoming more sophisticated and generating more data, often they're dedicated systems in their own right now. And the BMS just controls air conditioning.

James Dice: [00:19:57] Yeah. I always laugh at the acronym BMS, because there's not a lot of management that is possible in today's, especially, you know, at that server supervisor level, the software is just not, it's not helping anyone manage much.

So I always tend towards the Americanized acronym, which is building automation system because it does automate stuff, right?  It doesn't automate the building, right?

Rob Huntington: [00:20:19] No, yeah, that's right. It's a mechanical or HVAC automation system. I dunno, but yeah. Yeah.

They're becoming less and less relevant, I guess. And that's the trend,  you can say it without going down, let's forget about the packaged equipment control and the building operating system. Just with like converged networks and analytics, let's say, they're relevance in the building has been chipped away.

So often data analytics is starting to replace your typical labor-based BMS maintenance. So their market shares eroding as far as

James Dice: [00:20:53]  getting chipped away from a bunch of different angles here.

Rob Huntington: [00:20:56] Angles. Yeah.

James Dice: [00:20:57] Interesting.

Rob Huntington: [00:20:58] It's your Blockbuster, Netflix type scenario.

Like, yeah,

James Dice: [00:21:02] I was just going to ask like, the future is here. It's just not evenly distributed. Right. So. You're in Australia in this specific region. So how much of this is happening today, where you're at versus sort of a conjecture on how this is going to go?

Rob Huntington: [00:21:17] So the, that erosion of market share is happening today. Predominantly it's the networking side of things. So, yeah, I mean, and that's sort of where my, what my day job is, I guess, at the moment, predominantly dealing with building services, networks, and talking to building owners, operators, and builders around what the advantages are, I guess, of taking that approach or having a building services network installed What it means is that any of your traditional type contractors who are installing BMS systems, lighting control systems, CCTV, and even as far as wireless internet now it's all being, it's all communicating or being distributed over a single network.

And by taking that approach, it means that everybody else's networking element, I guess, of their jobs is not required anymore. So it's, we're not saying switches, servers, cabling being installed multiple times duplicated in parallel in a building that just gets done once it gets done. Right. But like I said, that's where it's slowly reducing the contract values, I guess, of a traditional BMS contractor or the CCTV contractor.

These sorts of trades.

James Dice: [00:22:32] Yeah. I'm glad we started to unpack this quote because I'm still I'm I'm I thought I understood the quote. It's a very. Uh, there's a lot between the lines as well. So, uh, I thought I understood it and I feel like I'm, I'm seeing it in more, more detailed. Now let's jump into real quick, the, well, not real quick.

Let's let's jump ahead from what I was planning on asking you about next, which is let's, let's dive into this networking piece, right?

So, we've had several episodes of the podcast talking about base building networks or building services networks as you call them, and several episodes around IT versusOT and trying to figure out, what's the right approach.

Is it a different approach for different owners? Is there one answer all the time? Can you just start us off with your perspective on IT versus OT?

I'm glad

Rob Huntington: [00:23:23] you asked in that way, because I hate it being referred to like that. And this is why, like pitching IT and OT against each other,

Neither can win. Yeah. So OT cannot deliver or it's pretty rare that an OT provider has enough knowledge to deploy an IT-grade system in their own right. Likewise, iT companies or services providers have no idea about how a building is built. And like I know this from personal experience, right? So the first building services network we did back in 2017, the IT crew wanted a clean dust-free air conditioned environment for all their gear to be installed in.

And we are like, guys that's not happening.

James Dice: [00:24:14] That's not a thing.

Rob Huntington: [00:24:15] The interesting thing with the BSN is it has to be the first system installed and commissioned to allow everybody else to connect, to commission their own systems. So the thought of having that clean dust-free air conditioning environment is insane. It will never happen.

So then the next challenge is getting these guys onto a construction site. So usually they come in, buildings built, sort of during a fit out stage. So safety boots, hard hats, inductions, like the whole construction environment is so foreign to the IT world and they don't understand it, they're not familiar with it, nor are they familiar with the protocols and the way in which our systems communicate.

So for me, neither party in isolation can deliver this change by themselves. It's really got to be a coming together of the two knowledge basis. And that's when you really see success. Like when IT and OT work together to deploy IT-grade solutions, in an OT environment, that for me is when you start seeing success.

James Dice: [00:25:18] Totally. I'm just kind of repeat back to you, what you said earlier, which is we have a contractor that used to have this networking piece in their scope. And now with this trend of building services networks, we're now taking it out of their scope. And so I feel like there's an inherent challenge here, which is convincing these guys to down scope, reduce their revenue, and then cooperate with this sort of new way of doing things, right? Is that what I'm hearing as well?

Rob Huntington: [00:25:47] Totally. And they don't. They make it super difficult. I don't know. Part of me feels like it's intentional because they want this thing to fail. They don't want the next job they go to, to have this network because either they want to go back to how things have always been done and have control over that element, or in some cases, the BMS contractor is actually competing for the same. They're trying to do, the building services networks too. So they've really got a vested interest in making sure that this BSN is seen as the reason why the building's going to go dark basically, or it's going to be this huge problem that no one can deal with.

James Dice: [00:26:30] They take the same tactics with analytics, right? So these types of contractors usually have an analytics package that they want to sell as well. And so they're going to, they're going to take that same approach. It's sabotaging the success, a lot of times, of their clients so that they can get a bigger piece of the pie.

That's what I've seen.

Rob Huntington: [00:26:48] Totally. And they also want a black box, like the network. So, where we're taking a pretty firm line on it, being an it great network with your typical IT equipment. When you say a BMS contractor deploy these, they're all usually a OT-grade solution. That's got an element of locking contract to it.

It's the whole BMS openness. Yeah, exactly right. It's history repeating and it depends on the client, I guess. And that's the challenge we see here, so we can have two jobs or two buildings being constructed, let's say, both got a BSN specified in them.

One, BSN is two paragraphs, as far as a specification or description goes. The other reason, a hundred pages, both called the same thing. And there's usually like millions of dollars difference between the two. But, the industry perceives these two networks as the same thing. It's pretty challenging.

The budget version, I guess, or the OT version is it's pretty harmful to the whole movement when deployed poorly or in truth, even when it's deployed well, because the technology is so different, right? The switch, isn't a switch and a networks, not a network.

James Dice: [00:28:03] Yeah. So you said, the word IT-grade a couple of times. Let's draw a little dichotomy here.

So on one hand we have an it grade BSN and on the other side we have, I don't know what you would call the other side, but what are the characteristics? OT-grade? What are the characteristics of each side?

Rob Huntington: [00:28:22] Where do we start? There are only slight differences, right?

Or slight in wording, but massive in terms of functionality. So an active network versus a passive network, huge differences as far as

James Dice: [00:28:37] What do you mean?

Rob Huntington: [00:28:37] So typically like an IT-grade network will be deployed using active networking hardware. So, your normal active switch, you've got, hopefully you've got a fiber backbone that's a primary connection to your active switch. And it's basically in an active fashion, managing the network. A passive network is off, I mean, I would refer to it, almost like a co-ax splitting type arrangement where a single fiber is being used and then split many times and essentially you've got everything running over when you get all the way back to where it originates. It's a single fiber, basically. It's been split and split and split throughout the building. Now, it's got use cases for sure, like where you're running, and it's quite prevalent in hotels or apartment buildings where you're distributing television, for example.

Yeah, it can work typically where it's a single service running over it, but as soon as you start trying to run multiple services and high bandwidth things like CCTV, IPTV, internet,  we hear stories where these passive optical networks are installed because it's a cost-driven decision.

And once, devices start getting connected and everything grinds to a hault, they've often got to upgrade the whole system, including the structured cable and everything. Most of the whole job's got to be redone basically. Then you've got the speed of the network, 1 gig, 10 gig. You've got, there's a a lot of differences, but often it's only a word, right?

James Dice: [00:30:10] If you're reading a spec it's going to be difficult to tell, you know what people mean, but yeah. And tell the difference.

Rob Huntington: [00:30:16] And the topology is probably like a mesh topology versus a ring topology.

So you've got to remember often, every single thing in the building is communicating by this network. It has to be resilient. It has to have redundancy and yeah, the typology is really important with that. So the mesh topology, basically, if you lose a fiber connection to a switch, it's got a redundant path and a way basically to communicate back.

James Dice: [00:30:45] So if I'm a contractor that's used to installing my own network and my own silo, and now I'm going to install a building wide network for a bunch of silos to connect. And I do it in the way that I used to do it, then things are going to break.

Rob Huntington: [00:30:59] Yeah. It doesn't scale. And I think one of the biggest ones will support from the manufacturer.

So when you use an IT vendor, like for critical components, they'll replace it same day. They've got representation in each region and you get a call switch fail or a power supply fail, like essentially they'll have their own technician onsite replacing that critical piece of equipment. When it's not an IT vendor, that type of support, isn't  available.

James Dice: [00:31:30] Like a BMS distributor type of arrangement?

Rob Huntington: [00:31:34] Yeah, basically. I mean, hopefully they've got stock and maybe they can be same day, but again, it's the distributor or the original installer that's going to do that warranty or breakdown work as opposed to the actual.

James Dice: [00:31:48] And is there, are there sort of proprietary, non-proprietary sort of flares that are working themselves into this dichotomy as well?

Rob Huntington: [00:31:57] Essentially, essentially. It all goes back to that openness and multi-vendor type. Yeah. And not so much proprietary, but I'd say it's the multi-vendor if we want to think about it like that. So, HP, a Dell people like that, you know you've got choice in the market. Like any reputable, IT managed services business can work across those systems.

But if you're looking at a solution where there's only one distributor in a region or a country, again, your choice has been taken away and you end up back in this lock-in BMS scenario. So it's yeah, it's concerning, I guess.

James Dice: [00:32:37] Yeah. Yeah. So what we're painting this picture of, it's challenging to change how things are done.

Uh, I could tell from the looks on your face as you're talking about it.

Hey guys, just another quick note from our sponsor nexus labs. And then we'll get back to the show. This episode is brought to you by nexus foundations, our introductory course on the smart buildings industry. If you're new to the industry, this course is for you. If you're an industry vet, but want to understand how technology is changing things.

This course is also for you. The alumni are raving about the content, which they say pulls it all together, and they also love getting to meet the other students on the weekly zoom calls and in the private chat room, you can find out more about the course@courses.nexus lab. Start online. All right, back to the interview.

Let's talk about lessons learned. So you've done these projects. Some have . Gone really well. Some haven't gone really well. What if I'm a building owner right now? And I'm like, I want an it grade, you know, base building network or building services network.

How do I make it happen?

Rob Huntington: [00:33:37] I mean, it probably goes a step even before that. Getting to understand what the outcomes are for your building when you build it. So it's no, in my experience, you can throw all the technology and all the solutions at a building that you like during the procurement phase, but just putting a whole lot of smart systems in doesn't make your building intelligent.

So if you're that, if you are that building owner we have to be having that discussion around the outcomes or the user journeys or tenant experiences or whatever we want to call her. We have to map that out at the beginning. And for example, you want your CEO to arrive. Yeah. You made your tenant CEO, Roger.

In the morning, he can transition through the building in a contactless fashion and he gets to his desk and he's coffee sitting there when he gets there that, Oh yeah, I'm sure I've heard that a thousand times, but yeah. So if that's, if that's a journey that we want to map, then we use that journey to drive technology choices.

So, okay. If we want contact with century to the building, how do we get him through the speed styles at the front door? How do we get him through the lists and the destination control and start to drive the technology choices based on achieving that outcome, as opposed to all on a building services network, because that's what everyone else is doing.

And I think that's essentially all that flying from the top down that's that's when you're going to have success. So engaging with a building owner early building a digital blueprint will, if we want to call it that, which maps out, why. Or what it is that we want the building to to do or what the experience is.

We want the tenants to have when they enter this building, then that essentially there needs to feed into the more traditional consultants. So, do you need that building services network to all our communications, solar systems? Who's your band or what, what are the features that the control systems need to have in the building to enable that journey that we spoke So,  filtering that all the way down. Yeah. Until you get to the contractors or in some cases, the subcontractors to the contractors.

James Dice: [00:35:50] Yeah. Yeah. I

mean, that's a great segue to the next part of this conversation, which is. This, this role of, I mean, I mean, really the, it's the strategy of getting someone that knows about all of the technologies involved way or there than they're currently getting involved.

And a lot of projects, and that's been recently called the role of the MSI, right? The master systems integrator. So let's, before we move on from the doom, the code accusation or the blockbuster ization of the VMs contractor, I think what you're probably not about to say is that the BMS contractors should be playing that role.

That we're about to talk about.

That was a leading

question. I should have asked that in a more open,

Rob Huntington: [00:36:36] This is like going to be clickbait once.

So much controversy in one podcast. Look, they can be. They've got the skill set, right? Like, yeah. They previously were the smartest guy in the building and it's not a big leap for them to just forget the way in which things have been done in the past and adapt.

So, those that adapt and recognize what's coming will continue to live on and those who want to keep their blockbuster stores open with videos on the shelves they're not going to be here in a few years' time. So they've got the ability to pivot, I guess, and moving to this space. And again, the IT is a classic example, like with the digital transformation, everything moving to the cloud, like  what did IT providers used to do that these businesses were built on putting little data centers in

James Dice: [00:37:26] closets

Rob Huntington: [00:37:27] customers officer's and closets, yeah. So they had to move away from selling hardware and servers to managed services or adapt to the change basically. So, can they be? Yes. Should MSI be part of the BMS specification, let's say or it be contracted in that way or in that siloed approach? That's the part I don't agree with, I guess. It really has to be an overarching set of principles for the whole project, but that flow across all joined together, all the different silos instead of it being a silo in itself.

You see, it happened with the BSMs and you see it happen with integration. It sometimes just falls in the bucket of the BMS contractor, because that's sort of where it fits best. But I mean, that goes back to this whole challenge of the design of the building still being in silos. So how do you break that cycle and have the master system integrator actually across the top influencing everybody, or bringing the silos together instead of creating another new silo use, creating another silo basically by contracting the integration on the network as a vertical.

James Dice: [00:38:43] Yeah. Yeah.

And this is going to build on some of the themes that we talked about.

I talked about with Brian Turner and Mike Berman different episodes where we talked about the MSI role, but I think what you're describing, like we can improve upon the design phase, but I think what, what I'm hearing also is that you're talking about the MSI sort of being involved, or an MSI like role, being involved even before the design phase, which correct me if I'm wrong, but this is where the systems start to get like architected out before you get into the nitty-gritty design. Is that what I'm hearing?

Rob Huntington: [00:39:16] Yeah, totally. I mean, that's where personally, I've seen the most success. So there's one model where your entry point is at the bottom. You're the bottom of the food chain. You are subcontracting to like an electrical contractor who's contracting to the builder  and it's really difficult to influence or guide all the parties on the site when you're that bottom feeder. Basically, you're just a subcontractor, don't tell me how to design my IP scheme or deploy my server, whatever. When you come in at the top where you're talking to the building owner and you have mapped out those journeys and like there's a clear outcome in mind when we're talking about these technology choices, a lot easier to influence when you've got the building owner in complete alignment. The message is clear. Everybody knows why. And that's probably the bit that's missing, I guess when we talk about some of these converge networks or integration platforms, like, why are we doing it? It's like, why do I have to connect to this converged network?

And sometimes that is probably not easy to answer. If that is clearly understood from the outset, I think it makes it a little bit easier for everybody to swallow, to know why are we doing this? Why are we changing the way that things are done.

James Dice: [00:40:32] So is this almost like a different role, master systems architect versus master systems integrator? Or is it the same role?

Rob Huntington: [00:40:39] I think it's similar. I think it's the timing that's different. The architecture piece would sort of indicate that it happens, like you said, early on in the piece and you are putting together an architecture, I guess, that will flow down into the consultants, down into the trades.

Integration, I guess by name would indicate you're having to pull different things together after the fact.  So for me, it's just a matter of timing. The role is similar. But doing it smart from the start  and having a building operating system specified in what almost, you think the integration piece isn't actually required?

It's already together from the beginning, so you're not having to communicate to different systems, different protocols. They're all natively being able to talk to one another, without the need for integration.

James Dice: [00:41:26] So I'm picturing like the, the traditional construction process and we've, we've inserted someone upfront.

We've inserted someone that, you know, at the end, like you said, is not one silo. They're kind of connecting all the silos. Right. The part that I'm still fuzzy about those, the design phase, like right, right in the middle here, you know, design firms and we're going to have Rory from, DLR,  in a, in a couple episodes, but Design firms don't typically do very well at this stage.

So do you see, I guess the first question is, are consultants going to start taking on some of this role? And what do you think about that? And then how do consultants play when they don't take on the role and someone else does,

Rob Huntington: [00:42:07] ah, man, another, another controversial one. Don't mindful of not pointing the finger to, and if they fall, but you're right.

Like they designing silos. So the classic example for me is hotel rooms. So you can have one consulting firm doing the design for all the services and you have their electrical consultant or engineer. He designs this control solution for the lighting in the room. It's going to always funky things with sayings and you walk in and lights come on and this sort of happens.

Yeah. Same thing happens with the air conditioning, but it's its own control system, occupancy sensor. You walk in and the air-con comes onto a, so you end up with like three or four different controllers in the room that are doing blinds, air conditioning lighting. When one hotel room controller could do everything, but even, and we've had some candid chats with consultants when we bought all their teams together and said, why do you guys all sit next to one another and do the designs for the building and not talk to each other about what you're doing.

And they all laughed and go, yeah, that actually is what happens. And, uh, I dunno, it was, I was joking, but it is what happens. Like they're literally not consulting each other on how to actually find efficiencies. And Hey, what if we just put one room controller in? So it goes back to not having that overarching guideline of.

Or whether it's the consultants that do it or not. Yeah. There has to be these, these blueprint that refi's referred back to saying my, yeah, the map, the mapping of that hotel guest is we want them to enter the room and we want the blinds to open TV comes on and says, welcome Mr. Dice to your executive suite.

And like, all those things happen, that's in the blueprint. So then how do the consultants make that happen? So again, how do we get it? So it's someone, I don't really care who it is, but there has to be that overarching guideline that everybody else, if we're going to continue to design these buildings in silos like we do, there has to be this blueprint or guideline in place.

People can refer back to, to make sure we can achieve. Yeah, achieve outcomes.

James Dice: [00:44:23] Totally. I think there's so part of this that I'm trying to, so as we were just talking about these different phases, we're talking about doing things differently than we were doing them before. One of the pieces that I struggle with is, is all the different ways that all these players currently make money and transforming them, their business models into perhaps a new way of.

Making money. Right? So we've talked about, some of them are making less, their contracts are less than they were before. Some of them are need to be shifting from like, like with the MSI specifically, I see that as like a consulting role in many ways. Whereas a lot of these firms, what they were doing before as a contractor role.

So those are two different business models and I've done both and I'd understand that you're both different. And if you're built, if you built all your entire systems and, uh, compensation structures and processes all around one business model, and you're asking them to shift to a new one, I think that's a big deal that I don't hear talked about that much.

What do you think? Oh, it's massive, man. Like your business is built on selling boxes essentially when you're a BMS contractor, let's say. And like you said, if you moving into that consulting role, you're selling. Labor and legal expertise almost. So, yeah, it's a completely different business model and it's, it's hard to grasp.

Yeah. From a financial point of view, it's also hard to get yourself positioned in the market. Like if you're known as a BMS contractor, how do you elevate yourself in the food chain to be talking directly to a building owner about integration and operate, building, operating systems and things like that.

It's really it's hard. It's really hard. If it was easy, everyone would have already made the transition. Now wouldn't be selling BMS controllers and and likewise, if it was easy, Google would already have control of the whole, the whole bucket. So as this gap in the middle, and it's gonna be really interesting to see who feels the gap, like, is it gonna be your cloud providers and your it guys coming in and taking everything over, which I think is their intent, but not as easy as they first thought. Yeah. Or is it going to be your manufacturer, like your equipment manufacturers? I think it will be a bit, a bit of both. If equipment manufacturers can really, or truly deliver this package equipment control it's got friendly protocols, I guess, that Google can communicate with that hopefully the gap in the middle starts closed.

Yeah. And I wrote in last month I wrote about um, Google has one of their press releases, they have this uh, one line that says something along the lines of, you know, Google is created in this building operating system of the future. And then there's nothing else on the entire internet about it.

It's just this one sentence. But I had to put for our members, I had to like highlight it in like two or three different emails that just want to make sure everyone saw it.

Rob Huntington: [00:47:12] Honestly, I need to save, I've been Googling it like that in preparation for this meeting. And there's not much out there on, on it, other than they've said they're doing it.

I went on a journey basically trying to find a it solution that can do what Niagara can do.

Hmm, because when you're looking at like an integration platform Niagara, after all my exploring, I actually came back to it because it's pretty unique. And like, the power of what it can do? Nothing compares to it out there in the market, as far as like GCP or, or what they claim to be able to do, what they can do once you get your data up into the platform.

Pretty cool. But how do you get it there? And like, I've spoke at length to every It or cloud services provider you can think of. And none of them. Like my first question is backnet like, yeah, no, that is what the hell's back. Now. That's a legacy protocol. No one uses that anymore. Okay. Thanks. But no, thanks next.

So the fact that they just, you can't talk to, if you can't talk back now, you can't talk to the building. So.

James Dice: [00:48:24] All right. So part of this is like what we talked about that building operating system layer here. That software market  is extremely diverse in the number of companies that are saying that they're doing that.

Right. That layer is really, really confusing.

At the same time, the MSI needs to be able to understand that software well enough to where they could make it work. Right. Because they're the ones that are integrating all the silos into it. So that makes me question how independent can and MSI be when they spend their time learning this layer of the marketplace and learning different tools that provide that building operating system layer.

and I guess where I'm going with that is is there a way for the MSI to be independent from that player?

Rob Huntington: [00:49:13] no, no. What you're saying. Cause it's like, if I guess there's two pieces to that MSI Model one, the end goal is a single pane of glass.

And like you said, that piece is probably going to be difficult to have independence, because you're going to go in with a preconceived idea of what you are going to deploy as your integration layer or boarding operating system.

Especially if you're coming from the contractor world, right. Where you're probably a

distributor in something.

Oh, totally. And like, you see it already, like, you've got like, even just this wake of saying carrier a bound, like they've got this new cloud cloud-based platform that they're, that they've announced. So everybody is going to have their version of a cloud-based integration platform. And they're probably going to go in like, that's essentially what they're trying to sell, but for me, it's all of the other work like that consulting work that you have to do to like sure, everybody that sits underneath that platform can seamlessly integrate and communicate with the platforms.

So that knowledge and expertise is I believe more important than the platform itself. But again, it's yeah. Having independence as far as what that platform is, what product or software is, that's probably. Yeah,

James Dice: [00:50:30] I guess if I were to, like, we have a lot of building owners that listen to this, like you can, you can have a selection process for your software layer.

That's independent of the MSIs role. In my opinion, MSI can help educate you on that, but it doesn't need to be part of their contract and compensation. It can be. You, you can create independence from that software layer and basically come out with a process that picks the best software for you. Right. We don't have to have that sort of so integrated in with the construction players.

And I think a lot of the bigger portfolios obviously understand that and they're standardizing on different, different software platforms that they will spec. So, and look, and maybe that's the difference between the master system architect and integrator. So like naturally we're talking about the MSI as doing the work.

Like they are going to do the integration platform, whereas yeah, the architects, like you said, they can perhaps be independent. If they're not the ones actually deploying the integration platform, then all of a sudden you've got complete independence because you can select the right solution for that particular job guided by the outcomes you're trying to achieve.

So that's a slight difference, but I guess it's going to come back to that question of, yeah. He's, uh, he's in a consulting role. Or is the intent that an MSA MSI does stuff as well. I'm going to, I'm

going to make it even more confusing for us because I know for a fact, and I've talked to the talk to specific emphasize that have a great software layer that they've developed.

Right. And I know it's good. And so at the same time, I'm like also talking to those owners, like if you have a great MSI and they're going to be installing their own product, that's probably a good fit too. Right. You know, specific, uh, vendors in mind, but like, Like, I, I know that that's probably going to work out well as well.

So it's like, yeah, there's always these nuances that make it so hard to wrap your wrap your head around. There's no one

way, right?

Rob Huntington: [00:52:29] No. Oh no. It's so it's really challenging. But again, I call, I think because like there's no clean definition, whether it's everything we've talked about today, none of it's clearly defined whether it's the operating system integration platform, MSI, MSI, like they're all these fluffy times that I don't think anyone's really nailed as far as really defining what.

By all means. Yeah.

James Dice: [00:52:53] Yeah. I mean, that's part of what I try to do in the course is like call stuff by different acronyms that might look like I made up, but I'm really trying to dislike. Right. Like draw buckets around stuff. But the number one thing I get when I, when I sort of lay out the current construction process for, for my students is the number one question I get is like, okay, how do we change it?

Right. So do you have, how do we integrate what we're calling real? It's like a mindset of the MSI. We're not saying there's one answer here, but how do we get these concepts integrated into the construction process?

Rob Huntington: [00:53:29] Unfortunately it almost always comes down to cost.

James Dice: [00:53:34] Okay.

Rob Huntington: [00:53:35] And that's what I'm seeing so far. So this, this job I'm just about to kick off in Adelaide, whilst it is a really cool technical solution to a problem, it is a completely converged network. There is not another cable or piece of equipment going in other than the one that we're putting in. So it's doing wireless internet. It's a hotel.

So we're doing wireless access points, internet, hotel, guest internet, front of house internet. Like everything that can connect via IP is on one network. It's really, it's a really exciting job.

James Dice: [00:54:13] You're saying it comes down to cost, meaning that is cheaper than the alternative?

Rob Huntington: [00:54:17] Exactly. So, despite all the cool things we're doing in this building and all the experiences we're going to create, it was all cost.

James Dice: [00:54:26] We should have lead with that.

Rob Huntington: [00:54:27] In a way it sucks. Like, that's what the driver is. But on the other hand, the reason why we could realize the cost savings for this client is because we drove it from the very, very, very beginning. And we didn't allow anybody in the value chain to price or design their element without taking in consideration, this single network that was going in.

So all the duplications in hardware or network hardware have been avoided. The cabling was the biggest one. Like they want it to run five or six cables to every single hotel room. We're running one. So we run one and pick up the WAP, the WAP has ports on board and you plug stuff into the WAP so, and that was the bit that these owners really got a hold of.

So they're saying. So it's a hundred room hotel, six cables per room, does 600 cat. 6 cables running. And he's like, that's like this many cables, yeah? And I'm like, yes. I said, but it's going to run one fiber backbone and then one cable out each room. And he's like, so that's just like this. And I'm like, yeah. Done Sold No, no, none of the smart cybersecurity, like none of that ever came into work. It just so happens that doing it in this way and being smart from the start, you get cost savings. So I think being able to drive those savings, unfortunately in the short term, that's how I've had success is it's essentially come down to being a cost saving discussion.

James Dice: [00:55:59] Fascinating.

Cool. That was all the questions I had for you. What are you, what are you looking forward to the rest of the year?

Rob Huntington: [00:56:06] Oh yeah, this job. So yeah, this, this hotel it's going to be pretty cool. Again, and proving that this, this model works where we've started from the top down. So we've got a meeting this week where we've called him every contractor and all their subcontractors and making sure that everybody signs up and engages with this from the start.

So we don't end up with issues at the back end, so that's yeah, really cool to see, like I think sometimes people think what I talk about, like some of it is conceptual, but like on the other hand, we are actually doing this stuff as well. So yeah, that's sort of probably what I'm most excited about,

seeing this job, follow the model that we're talking about. So, but yeah, other than that, that's probably that's, what's getting me excited at the moment. I'm just getting that project started. So.

Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Rob, for coming on the show and I look forward to more controversial LinkedIn posts and comments from you are highly entertaining.

So we'll put, put Rob's LinkedIn profile in the show notes. Everyone can check it out. So thanks so much.

No worries. Thanks James.

James Dice: [00:57:15] All right, friends. Thanks for listening to this episode of the nexus podcast for more episodes like this, and to get the weekly nexus newsletter, which by the way, readers have said is the best way to stay up to date on the future of the smart building industry. Please subscribe@nexuslabs.online. You can find the show notes for this conversation there as well. Have a great day.