Integration Projects

New Case Study: Woodlands Mall, GGP property in Texas

By Natalie Patton | May 14, 2018


Ahead of our appearance at Realcomm | IBCon in Las Vegas, which will be complete with an exhibit booth, some speaking sessions and two case studies in the “Showcase,” we’re live with our latest case study on an exciting demand response program completed last year for a GGP property just outside Houston.

The Woodlands Mall is a bi-level, enclosed shopping center located 30 miles north of Houston. The mall was renovated in 2004 and since then General Growth Properties has included Woodlands in the energy management upgrade plans that span their entire portfolio. As MSI of record, we were tasked with introducing a peak demand management program based on advanced energy analytics and real time monitoring of the BMS. Read our case study for details on challenges and success of the project, which included a delivery date at the peak of summer heat.

Buildings IoT

Utility Rates for Life of Lease vs. Tenant Billing Software for Charges Based on Real Consumption

By Natalie Patton | April 19, 2018

An exploration of pros and cons for property managers

Property owners with large portfolios are faced with two tough choices when it comes to utility billing – establish a set rate for utilities at the outset of a lease agreement or bill by real consumption on an agreed-upon cycle. Each option has its pros and cons for property owners of all kinds from CBRE and JLL to GGP, Macerich and Westfield. Here we’ll offer details on what to consider as you explore the best way to bill your tenants for utility consumption from our experience working with multi-tenant, mixed use buildings across the country.

utility bills-featured

Option 1: Establish a set rate at the outset of a lease agreement

Prior to a glut of tenant billing software options entering the buildings market, property managers’ only choice for utility cost sharing was to roll up their sleeves and do some math. When a new tenant signed on, they’d take the total utility bill for the whole property, consider a historical reference of previous tenants with comparable space utilization needs or business operations, take the square footage of that tenant space and divide it by the total property square footage to come up with a diligent though approximate number.

While this is laborious and ultimately a “best guess” situation, just because there are other options available now doesn’t automatically make those new options better. So let’s set aside the historical precedent and any new-is-better ideologies to do some real side-by-side comparing. First, delving into Option 1: Establish a set rate at the outset of a lease agreement.

Pro Forecasting. It’s true that real energy consumption fluctuates so having a set tenant utility bill for each month or year is good for budgeting purposes.

Con – Squaring up the books. Although you have an agreed upon utility cost for the tenant, you’re still required to track the real utility usage of each tenant space. You’ll need to pay the tenants back for any overages charged throughout the year.

Pro – If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Sometimes it’s easier and more cost-effective to stick with what’s working now. If your tenants aren’t asking for a different utility billing system then maybe the way you’re doing things doesn’t need to be reexamined.

Con – Getting left behind. We’ve seen software disrupt countless industries. Especially in the retail space, competition is fierce and tenants are getting used to incentives to keep or sign long-term leases. Small differentiation could make a big difference for anchor tenants or new prospects.


Option 2: Use tenant billing software to charge based on real utility consumption

To reiterate, new doesn’t necessarily mean better. There is a fair bit of risk associated with changing your existing workflow and tenant lease agreements are fragile enough as it is. But property managers are finding value in new software products that plug into their existing building management systems so it’s worth taking a thoughtful look at the options available and what situations they might be used for. Here’s our pro/con list for Option 2: Use tenant billing software to charge based on real utility consumption.

Pro The numbers are real. As we already established, it’s reasonable to assume that energy consumption will fluctuate in tenant spaces. Maybe not by a lot, but then again maybe significantly. You have to track the information retroactively to square up any discrepancies at the end of each calendar year, so why not do it in real time?

Con – The numbers are real. The difficulties that accompany change can’t be understated. There is a real fear that charging based on real consumption will tighten belts for landlords in situations where every penny counts. And while this is a valid conversation to have, it should be weighed carefully with the following entry in the “pro” column…

Pro – Transparency. Tenants are asking for this, so by offering tenant billing based on real consumption at the outset of a lease agreement, your credibility as a landlord goes way up. Everyone is weary of a black box these days because software has opened up so many avenues for transparency. Your tenants are consumers too and they know that big data has made it possible to track a lot of information in near-real time.

Con – So. Many. Options. The software game is jam-packed with competition in any industry and tenant billing applications are no different. Entrepreneurs are seeking to disrupt anything they can get their hands on so it’s possible that you could settle on a tenant billing software from a hot new start-up that runs out of funding and stops working for you in a few short years. It’s hard to know which system will be around for the long haul even though everyone runs around promising the moon. As we mentioned in the previous section, it’s no small task to change the way your property management business operates or the details of what’s in a long-term lease agreement.


One way to help sort all this out is to contact your systems integrator. They’re familiar with your existing system and if they’re good, they should be aware of the different products on the market. Your MSI can guide you through the pros and cons outlined here with an eye toward what will work with the system they’ve helped you build. For what it’s worth, OTI is having a lot of success with a tried-and-true tenant billing software application for Niagara Systems called TenantEye. We’ve been using it since it was part of a different brand and now we’re implementing the newly released Niagara 4 version. We could tell you more about why we like it, but that’s a story for a different day. You have enough to chew on.

Master Systems Integrators

What We’re Planning to See and Hear at AHR

By Natalie Patton | January 3, 2018

As you probably know, AHR’s Chicago show is the largest gathering of HVAC industry professionals in the country. They’re expecting more than 65,000 people at McCormick Place Monday, January 22 through Wednesday, January 24 and we’ll account for a few of them. We’re attending the show to take a look at the latest in HVAC product innovations and to hear from industry leaders the behind-the-scenes scoop on what they see on the horizon of our industry.


It’s our job to know what’s happening on the granular device and network level so that we can bring the best value and building automation innovation to our clients. This year, we’re encourage by the future-focused approach of vendors and show organizers alike. Here’s a few sessions we’ve definitely put on our agenda:

  • Global Trends in HVAC This is a very big umbrella, but we’re curious how BSRIA Ltd. Handles the topic.

On the whole, we’re product agnostic, approaching each job with an open mind to whatever devices the new or existing system will need to perform at its peak. This expo wouldn’t be as big or as bold as it is without the numerous manufacturers displaying their latest product lines so we do have our eyes on a few not-to-be-missed product showcases and booths. Here’s a quick rundown:

Belimo Sensor Technology – Setting the Stage to Create the Future []

We like the wide adaptability of Belimo sensors, and also appreciate their ability to collect reliable data. We’re interested to see how they talk about what’s next for them.

Of course, the biggest thing we look forward to with each Chicago AHR is the personal connections we make with existing and future clients. We’re planning lots of one-on-one meetings and we’d love to connect with you. To get the conversation started, contact us through

Master Systems Integrators

The Role of the OT Master Systems Integrator

By Brian Turner | September 22, 2017

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.

Most MSIs working today grew out of HVAC controls companies, so in many cases, HVAC controls are still in their DNA. The knowledge this brings to OT projects is invaluable, but that controls background has made it difficult for some MSIs to put the controls business in the back seat as they work to determine what makes sense for a building owner and their IT team. This history can also make it difficult to be objective when an owner wants to use a technology other than the one the MSI has most familiarity with.

Evolve or Perish

While the term Master Systems Integrator may be a new one for the building automation industry, those who call themselves MSIs today don’t just have former HVAC controls contractors to worry about as competition. There is a growing crop of IT consulting firms that are working on building problems from the other end of the network, with full knowledge of how to perform the MSI role without the legacy loyalties to any specific product or the urge to get bogged down in implementing OT sub-systems. True, those IT consulting firms don’t yet have the OT fully figured out, but you can bet they’re working on it, through acquisitions, field experience or both.

Ultimately, while there is a bit of consulting built into the MSI role, master systems integrators have to provide more than just an analyst’s-eye-view of the challenges building owners face today and in the IoT future. This means we will need to be engaged with clients for many years, with active roles and solid seats at the decision-making table. Where I believe MSIs can offer the most value is in OT infrastructure, integrated databases, building analytics and data visualization.

These areas are becoming increasingly relevant to IT groups and the C-suite they answer to, but while the MSIs who come from legacy IT consultancies are still getting up to speed on the OT systems, those with controls experience will rise to the top of the list if they’re able to translate system-specific knowledge into a broader understanding of how those systems should work within a whole-building network infrastructure. With all of these changes and new opportunities, it’s an exciting time to be in the expanding building automation industry.