A good Master Systems Integrator (MSI) can do a lot of things to help building owners and IT groups navigate the complexities of the Internet of Things, particularly on the Operational Technology side of the house. The MSI should offer a host of system-specific knowledge, with deep understanding of HVAC controls, lighting controls, or energy monitoring in any number of combinations. The most successful MSIs also have some IT expertise on staff to help with the design and implementation of the OT network.
The OT challenge for IT is never the connection. The process to connect OT devices is no different than the process for most IT devices. The biggest knowledge gap between IT and OT teams, which leads to IT discomfort, is the application of the devices and how the OT systems transmit and use the building data.
This chasm will not close quickly because OT devices like sensors are rapidly multiplying within buildings’ OT systems. In these discussions, the MSI is a consultant to the building owner, pointing out the right course for optimal OT functionality within the IT purview, or to represent the owner in discussions with the specific OT vendors. A key thing to note: it is rare for MSIs to actually install the OT systems connected to the IT backbone, this remains the domain of controls contractors, and rightfully so.
Rethinking the MSI Role
So far, the MSI has not been elevated to the role of an architect, security consultant, network infrastructure provider, or ERP solution for buildings and the companies that own them. It is quite common for enterprises to standardize on a technology like Cisco or Microsoft for network infrastructure and operating systems. It is also common to standardize on access control and video platforms, even contractors. But there is little standardization among electrical distribution systems, HVAC control, or lighting control.
Given the growing role of data, semantic tagging, analytics, network access, and customer specific knowledge required for successful IoT projects, it is now time to consider building-wide standardization for operational technology systems, and to rethink the owner/operator relationship with master systems integrators.