BAS' Future: Enterprise Software?

Fans of NCAA Basketball's March Madness are likely familiar with Microsoft's series of television commercials espousing the virtues of business enterprise software. For example, in one spot, a middle-aged salesman is showing a new employee the inside of one of the company's warehouses: "When I was first hired, we didn't have all these fancy integrated systems.

04/01/2003


Fans of NCAA Basketball's March Madness are likely familiar with Microsoft's series of television commercials espousing the virtues of business enterprise software.

For example, in one spot, a middle-aged salesman is showing a new employee the inside of one of the company's warehouses: "When I was first hired, we didn't have all these fancy integrated systems. Our sales program wasn't even linked with accounting. The warehouse platform in Chicago wasn't linked to anything—not even shipping." Behind them, computer screens show orders being placed, processed and confirmed. Merchandise is boxed for shipment and inventory levels are updated. "Back then, orders took days; now, they just take hours," he says.

His trainee asks how long the man has been working at the company. "A couple of months now," he responds.

The message, apparently, is hitting home with many businesses, including those in the building automation community. Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls, for one, recently announced a startling change—they're essentially scrapping their Metasys line for a completely new system—one in fact integrated with Microsoft's .NET-connected software at its core. The new BAS product still bears the Metasys moniker but is completely different under the hood, according to Brady Nations, JC's global manager of automated systems. It sports an "automation engine, which essentially is a small, technology-laden box. Nations says the device frees building operators from a big machine and workstation somewhere in a building's basement. Better yet, the box, which can be located at any place in a facility, can be controlled wirelessly using a PDA.

But despite the fact that the system operates on an IT-standard, web-services platform, company officials are quick to point out it's not a server.

"Servers deliver information but don't provide the technology," Nations says. "In this case, the technology is embedded in the box. Really, what we're doing is marrying BAS and Windows-type technology."

According to Alex Molinaroli, vice president, global sales and marketing, the decision to team with Microsoft stemmed from a trend the company observed in dealing with its customers. Customers want to focus not on managing their buildings, he says, but on their core competency. In this case, Johnson Controls wants to focus on building technology, not operating systems.

In some examples of how the system will work, Nations pointed to an airport. Being integrated with the airport's key programs—scheduling, for example—allows this evolved BAS system to react immediately. For example, a flight is scheduled to arrive at 1 a.m., but is delayed because of weather. Instead of turning on lights and air conditioning at 1 a.m., the automation engine-powered BAS waits until the airport's other computer tells it the plane has landed.

The controls company already has had several customers sign up for beta programs, including the U.S. Navy, a major university and an airport.

To date, the IT staff have been the most excited. "By using the .NET strategy, it makes it easier not only for the user, but for the IT applications developer, because he or she's using technology they're already familiar with," Nations says.

In a different type of application, Echelon just announced that it also is debuting a new offering integrated with enterprise software—Panoramix.

Geared more for global building control over chain-type operations—coffee shops, hamburger chains and hotels—Panoramix is an enterprise software platform that specifically enables users to manage networks of everyday devices across multiple facilities.

"Remote facility management is not necessarily a difficult thing if you're talking 5 to 10 facilities, but not in the case of thousands of facilities," says Steve Nguyen, director of corporate marketing for the San Jose, Calif.-based building automation company.

Echelon's iLON series was certainly capable of the former, notes Nguyen, but not the latter. The technology, however, got a significant boost in capability when Echelon acquired Fargo, N.D.-based Be at Home, an enterprise software company that developed remote control programs for monitoring burglar alarms and gas leaks in the residential market.

Echelon has also married its building controls expertise with this software to provide a vehicle for big users, who Nguyen says are losing significant revenue from poorly run facilities across the country.

"We've found that most stores and chains lose as much as $3,000 to $5,000 per location per year in wasted energy costs. So what we're really trying to do is find a way to automate that [control from a corporate control standpoint]," he says.

Panoramix can take in all kinds of multiple building data, parse it and then consume it. So in the case of a Starbucks-like operation, the whole picture can be examined at an aggregate level so better energy-management decisions can be made. "That's the real benefit—this huge enterprise-wide aspect."

For more on the technology, visit www.echelon.com/products/enterprise/panoramix/default.htm .





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