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Over the past few years, two very large industries have been eyeing each other to find opportunities for growth. In one corner are building product manufacturers, seeking to take advantage of the data-gathering and analytics capabilities that are revolutionizing so many areas. In the other corner are tech giants like Cisco, Dell, and Intel, eager to increase sales of their products in the very large market for building products.
But the companies involved haven’t generally come out swinging. Rather, the result has often been an approach rarely seen in the past: partnerships. Building product manufacturers are looking for IT expertise in areas like cyber security, while tech giants want to tap into the facility market without going head-to-head against companies that have established reputations in that market. Neither group is spending time trying to re-invent the other’s wheels; instead, cross-industry cooperation aims at helping both sides grow.
For facility managers, these partnerships are another powerful force reshaping the building technology landscape. Like the proliferation of Building IoT startups and the new role that LED lighting systems are playing in building automation and information systems — two factors explored earlier in this series — the partnerships are speeding growth in the number and variety of Building Internet of Things (IoT) options. In some cases, the partnerships are providing facility managers with an appealing option: up-to-date information technology supplied by the building system manufacturers that facility managers have worked with for years.
The upshot: Partnerships are another reason the IoT may be coming to a building near you sooner rather than later.
Not looking to compete
While partnerships are the rule today, that hasn’t always been the case. In the past, some large tech firms have bought smaller building product or software vendors as a way to gain a presence in the facility market. But those efforts often produced underwhelming results, with the building product company sometimes essentially disappearing from the market.
“The skeptic in me might say that every five years big companies look at the top-down metrics of the space and say, we need to get in here,” says Joe Aamidor, a consultant who has worked for several building automation and Building IoT companies. “But they don’t always make it. Or they don’t really understand it enough to really execute.”
It’s a different story this time around. Dell and Cisco are two of the tech giants that have introduced products aimed at the Building IoT market. The Dell Gateway 5000 connects devices and systems, aggregates the input, and performs local analytics and real-time actions; it can be customized for building applications by OEMs, system integrators, and even facility departments and is currently being used by KMC. The Cisco Digital Ceiling is a structured cabling platform that provides both network connectivity and Power over Ethernet to building systems, enabling those systems to be converged in a single network.
Both companies are very clear about what they’re not doing.
“Dell is not trying to become a building automation company,” says Jason Shepard, director of IoT strategy and partnerships, Dell. “We are not going to compete with people who have been doing this for a long time.”
Cisco has a similar message. The company’s digital ceiling is not “a systems integration platform,” says John Baekelmans, CTO, vertical solutions, Cisco. “It’s a framework supported by an ecosystem of partners.” Those partners currently include established and new players in lighting and building automation, like Cree, Innovative Lighting, Johnson Controls, NuLEDs, Orion Energy, Philips, and Platformatics.
One reason the partnerships are seen as win-wins is that the two sides have complementary strengths. Dell may not have a name in building automation, but it’s very well known among IT managers, who should be involved in planning BAS and Building IoT systems that reside on the enterprise network. As a result, building system companies want to be able to say that their products are “built on Dell,” says Shepard. “The IT department doesn’t want to touch any equipment that they don’t know.” But IT is very familiar with companies like Dell, Intel, and Cisco. A name like Dell, says Shepard, help building product manufacturers get approval on projects “that IT wouldn’t normally support.”
Cybersecurity is one big selling point for the tech companies. “We know how to secure end-to-end big infrastructure,” says Baekelmans from Cisco. “Everything we do we need to make secure.”
Intel is a third tech giant looking to accelerate progress on the Building IoT by working with building technology companies. “The Internet of Things is really about the information technology or IT and the operating technology or OT worlds coming together,” says Christine Boles, director of smart building solutions, IoT group, Intel.
Intel recently introduced its building management platform, which aims to make it easier for software developers, system integrators, and system installers to deliver smart building solutions for small and medium size buildings. The Intel platform “pre-integrates” sensors, a gateway, and a software stack, so that developers and integrators can focus on what’s known as the “application layer” — the actual building solution designed to improve energy efficiency or increase comfort, to take two common examples.
But the platform is not the only option for building technology companies looking to work with Intel. The company has also developed “an ecosystem of gateway solution providers that can interface into various building systems,” says Boles. “Some players will want to utilize those building blocks.”
For their part, building product companies see their hardware and software partners as a way to gain both technology and marketing benefits. Tim Vogel, marketing manager for KMC, says that his company’s partnership with Dell on a new product line brought advantages ranging from technical expertise and the scalability of the product line to co-marketing and branding. “The benefits were mutual across the board,” he says. “We had a lot of knowledge and experience they needed and vice versa.”
For some companies, partnerships are a way to add one plus one and get three. A case in point is smaller buildings. “You can go after, with your partners, large amounts of buildings that have never had any true smarts because it was too expensive,” Shepard says.
This is the sixth article in our ongoing Building Internet of Things series.
Building Internet of Things Partnerships: Cross-Industry Cooperation