4 min read

The 3 types of MSIs [Nexus Newsletter #141]

Hey friends,

Each month, the Nexus Pro community comes together for our member gathering. Think: dozens of smart buildings nerds networking on Zoom! 🤓

At our June 2022 member gathering, Andrew Knueppel of Cushman Wakefield presented his thoughts on procuring vital master systems integrator (MSI) services for a client.

This presentation resonated with lots of our members (including me!), and today I want to share Andrew's insights more broadly.

As a reminder, there are no certifications or standards or minimum qualifications to be an MSI. You simply submit a bid on MSI work and if you win, you call yourself the MSI. For buildings owners, this can be confusing!

To aid in decision making, here are the three categories of MSIs in the marketplace today, along with Andrew's thoughts when considering each on his projects...  

Category 1: The Application Providers

This first category of firm offers a software product—whether it's a "digital twin", "building operating system", "single pain of glass", "independent data layer", "platform", etc.

In order to promote the sales and ensure the installation of their software application, they offer MSI services. They're experts at deploying their particular application.

When Andrew evaluates these firms, he's thinking about:

  • Whether or not selecting them results in flexibility or lock-in at the application layer or data layer
  • Whether they're capable and committed to getting boots on the ground and working hand-in-hand with the local trades
  • Whether they'll have enough expertise in integration to simplify integrations locally first, then pull data to the cloud second

Category 2: Agnostic Data Specialists

Firms in this second category got into the game to be an MSI. They're experts at working with all types of data and integrations and they're agnostic to the particular technologies they deploy. They believe in the horizontal architecture and are comfortable deploying each of the layers.

When Andrew evaluates these firms, he likes their:

  • Focus on field work and engagement with the trades. For example, device qualification and data commissioning.
  • Expertise across IT and OT
  • Focus on optimizing and simplifying each of the layers

This options seems to be more expensive, but pulls some of the data modeling costs from application providers' efforts and could be made cheaper with more detailed specifications.

One downside to this approach is if the MSI deploys custom solutions. Does it create vendor lock-in? Something to watch out for.  

Category 3: Controls Providers (or Systems Integrators)

Our last category is the device-layer contractors (e.g. HVAC Controls) who make the transition to a more comprehensive MSI role.

Historically, the installers of the Building Automation System have had the most technical expertise in the building, so it makes sense for them to want to expand their scope as the MSI role gains steam.

When Andrew evaluates these firms, he's thinking about:

  • Whether or not they have IT and converged network experience
  • Whether or not they have experience with other non-OT types of systems (e.g. room booking)
  • Whether or not they can deploy an Independent Data Layer with a data model that's separate from the application layer  

Note: there are definitely hybrids between these three approaches.

And at this point in the evolution of our industry, I don't think we can say for certain which approach is best. Owners choose based on their values and their unique project requirements.

What do you think about this framework?

Let us know on LinkedIn,

—James Dice, Founder of Nexus Labs

P.S. Very soon, we'll be opening up Cohort 5 of Nexus Foundations. Make sure you're on the waitlist to be the first to hear when registration opens.  

✖ At the Nexus

Here’s everything worth sharing from Nexus HQ this week:


★ PODCAST: 🎧 #114: Decarbonized Buildings Require Better Energy Modeling ToolsEpisode 114 is a conversation with Sandeep Ahuja, Cofounder and CEO of Cove Tool.

We talked about all things energy modeling, and how Sandeep’s team started out as sustainability consultants and set out to automate as much of the process as they could through software. Along the way, they’ve built an impressive software product with features across the construction lifecycle and tools for connecting all the disconnected silos in that process.


The Lens: Sparkfund acquires EPX Group (Pro members only)—Volume 10 post brings together our recent coverage of M&A activity in decarbonization software and continues our series on the growth and importance of platform business models in the digitization and decarbonization of the buildings industry.



Pro Member Gathering: Sara Neff, Head of ESG at Lendlease will do a deep dive into Scope 3 Emissions and Embodied Carbon. She'll cover the role of sensors in addressing tenant emissions and innovations in low carbon materials.

Note from James Dice: As a reminder, I'll be away on my honeymoon. Rosy Khalife (Pro Member) will be hosting. Hope you can make it! August 31st @ 9:00am MT.

Join Nexus Pro now to get the invites and access to the recordings.


★ ON LINKEDIN: How we can overcome the challenges with the traditional design process?


★ READ OF THE WEEK: Brick Schema and RealEstateCore announce a major harmonization effort between two smart building metadata standards


★ JOBS: Are you hiring? Searching for a job in smart buildings?—We've relaunched the Nexus Labs Jobs Board and we've made job postings free.

It's got great jobs from Synchronoss, Honeywell, Aquicore, Vanti, McKinstry, GridPoint, Gridium, Buro Happold, WSP, Switch Automation, and ThoughtWire

👋 That's all for this week. See you next Tuesday!

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