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Top 5 Traits to Look for in a Master Systems Integrator

Jewel Turner

Master Systems Integrators (MSI) help buildings run smarter, more efficiently and with complete end-to-end security.

Their primary goal is to design, install and maintain successful communications, collaborations, and developments in building management systems (BMS). Much of the MSI’s work involves HVAC and lighting controls, as well as energy monitoring across a whole building’s operations. MSIs are hired by building owners looking to expand their knowledge of the IoT or by general and mechanical contractors who need BMS expertise on new constructions and retrofit projects.

Since there are so many contractors who consider themselves MSIs today, it is important to understand what to look for when you’re in the market. Even though there are several important qualities that MSIs should have, some traits stand out more than others.

Here’s a list of the top five traits to look for in a Master Systems Integrator:

1. A dedicated team of experts

This point has two parts – dedication and experts. First, without dedication, nothing can get finished. Building systems are complicated. Even the best designs can run into problems in the field, upon installation or well after deployment. It is necessary that the MSI you choose to work with is dedicated to you and your project. We consider this the difference between a “can-do” attitude and a “will do” attitude.

The second part of this point is equally important – a team of experts. This is a nascent industry with new technologies emerging every year. Look for teams that have had true and successful experience with the systems you’re looking to install, integrate, monitor and maintain. Review case studies, ask for references and understand the make-up of the project teams that will be available to you. Is there one field tech who is responsible for all installation, programming, commissioning, integration and UI/UX development? Or are there teams of people who are expert at each of these tasks who will be working with you on your project? This will determine how fast and how far your project will go.

2. Honest feedback loop

One of the best things you can receive is honest feedback throughout your construction project. It may be hard to hear at the time, but an answer that is more what you want to hear and less what you need to hear could severely limit your system’s operations once the project is delivered. Good MSIs will tell you honestly what will work and what won’t work in your building. Often, this won’t be the cheapest option, but that same MSI will also be able to explain to you why the higher level system will save you time and money in the long run. Honest communication between you and your MSI will also open up discussions about where you can afford to cut costs and why some things really are worth the investment.

3. Committed for the long term

It is imperative that MSIs are committed to your project until it’s complete. Similar to the first point, building system projects contain a lot of moving parts and although your scope is likely very detailed, there are always issues that come up once project teams are on the job site. MSIs need to be flexible and committed to the overall success of the job, not just their piece of it.

It’s a difference between project churn and long-term commitment to each and every client. Judge this trait by asking your potential MSIs about their current client lists and how long they’ve been engaged with each of those clients. If the majority of an MSI’s project portfolio are one-and-done engagements, that may be a red flag that your team will want to take into consideration.

4. Designing systems with technology that can keep up with the pace of change

Technology is rapidly changing. We’re familiar with this in consumer technologies but thanks to the promises of the IoT, building products and systems are slowly getting disrupted too. With that innovation comes new technologies that offer deeper ways to connect systems with more intelligent devices and various layers of security. Good MSIs know all the traditional systems and have new relationships with start-ups and manufacturers that are offering new solutions to old building problems.

You’re making quite an investment now. You don’t want your new system to be outdated in just a few short years. Neither should your MSI. The system your MSI builds with you should solve the problems you have today and anticipate the issues you’re going to come across in the future, plus be flexible enough to scale with additional capabilities that have yet to be imagined.

5. A record of success on similar projects

Most companies today showcase their strongest projects on their websites. MSIs and the new companies that are cropping up with this particular sub-set of expertise are no different. In addition to your RFP responses, browse public-facing websites and consider if the MSI has any real experience that is similar to what you’re asking of them. What are they saying are their strengths? Are there any areas that you’re looking for help with that aren’t represented in their case studies?

Most MSIs can tackle a wide range of projects, but it will be clear to you from a quick review of their past projects if they specialize in one area. Is this the area that you need the most help with? Ultimately, your needs matter the most.

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