7 Questions to Ask Your Smart Building Technology Provider
September 4, 2018
Choosing a smart building solution is a big decision, and not one to be taken lightly. There are countless factors to consider: security, analytics, and integration with existing and future systems. To guide you in your decision-making process, we’ve put together a list of questions to ask IoT providers so that you can confidently choose the right option.
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Plan Ahead to Choose the Right Smart Building Provider
Before you begin discussing solutions with smart building technology providers, develop a list of questions. This list should be thorough enough to address all of your concerns and uncertainties about the smart building IoT platform. Make sure you use this same list to assess each platform, allowing you to accurately compare the capabilities and shortcomings of each system.
Interviewing Smart Building Providers and Identifying Red Flags
Each business has different needs to consider when making the switch to an IoT smart building system. While all businesses value security, financial or health organizations require different levels of security than a local retail shop, for example. Start with this list of questions we’ve developed then tailor and expand upon it for your business.
1. What should we expect in regards to setup and installation?
Every smart building system differs in the protocol it uses to connect devices and the process of collecting, storing and analyzing data. These variations impact the setup and installation of the system.
At a minimum, ask each IoT provider about the time it will take to setup the system, the estimated cost, and how installation will impact business processes. Consider any other special requirements or circumstances of your business, and share these with each vendor as well.
The answer for time and cost varies for every project, but at Igor most of our retrofits have caused no disruption at all. For some projects, we’ve been able to successfully install the system at night so it was working by the next morning. Look for a system which offers setup that will be minimally disruptive, but be wary of providers who give you an unreasonably short time estimate.
2. What level of security do you maintain for your platform?
Security should be a priority from the very beginning of your search for an IoT system. People often forget about security until a breach or major problem occurs. Plan ahead to protect the security of your business by choosing a provider which takes security very seriously and enacts new security initiatives proactively. Share your security needs and ask about their experience serving clients with similar needs. This will give you an idea of how equipped the company is to meet your standards. If you have stringent requirements for systems that are on your network, it is fair to expect a smart building provider to comply so as not to compromise your business.
3.What does “plug-and-play” technology really mean?
We hear the term plug-and-play often in the IoT industry, and while we offer a true plug-and-play solution at Igor, many companies are taking liberties with the term. At Igor, when we say plug-and-play we mean you simply plug a device into our smart building node, you answer a few questions about the device, and then it’s automatically identified by the platform and configured.
There are some major advantages of plug-and-play systems but they also presented a new challenge that didn’t exist with traditional building systems - with digital, there are no longer extensive circuits to power the lights. This made it harder to identify which devices were controlled by each piece of hardware such as a switch.
When lights and other devices come online in a digital system they might be named something like “device 19” but that doesn’t have any practical meaning to the end-user. With plug-and-play systems like Igor’s, we resolve that difficulty because the system can easily identify devices, determine its location, and configure the device, requiring no additional setup for the end-user.
Our warning to you: approach solutions which call themselves plug-and-play or one-button setup cautiously. Ask what that really means, because often these configurations don’t work as intended. The last thing you want is a difficult to use system that makes your business less efficient instead of more. When you narrow the list of potential smart building providers, ask to see a live demo of their installation process - that is one way to assess if they are true to their plug-and-play claims.
4. What kind of flexibility can we expect with your smart building system?
Focus on this question if your business has plans to expand your smart building technology down the road, or if you have an existing IoT infrastructure. Systems which are not flexible are going to cause additional headaches down the road as they will constantly require new hardware to make all of the systems work together.
With a flexible solution like Igor’s, most future integrations will simply require a software and/or firmware update. We like to make sure most of the innovation occurs at the software level so that we can push out a software update without requiring you to get new hardware.
When talking with potential smart building providers, ask what their software upgrades look like, the ability to customize the platform, and what would happen if you were to add new technology. Don’t shy away from using practical, real-life examples so you can get a clear answer about future technology needs of your business.
If you have existing technology that your new system must integrate with you will want to look for a true platform solution. By this, we mean choose a solution which is designed to be built upon. Igor’s software was built as a platform which can be programmed to work with all of your technology. We have built the platform so that when a client requires a new compatibility we can easily and rapidly build different integrations which will layer on top of the existing capabilities. Our software integrates with all sorts of IoT protocols such as Bluetooth and Zigbee, and building automation systems such as BACnet. Ask your potential providers what their process for creating new integrations is like and the expected time it will take to make updates to your system
5. How reliable is your IoT platform?
Reliability really boils down to how often a smart building provider experience outages or disruptions in critical services. At Igor, we never want our customers to have to fiddle around with the system after install, which is part of the reason we prefer a wired Ethernet approach. We set it up so that it works, and find that most customers call because they want to add new capabilities, not because something isn’t functioning properly.
When interviewing potential providers, ask about the reliability of their software, how often they experience outages and what protocol they follow to handle outages.
6. What kind of support and technical assistance can we expect?
On the off chance that you do experience outages or difficulties with your platform, make sure you know what kind of support and technical assistance to expect from your provider. A good smart building provider will make sure their support team is available to you for any help you may need. Shy away from any company using the “set-it-and-forget-it” approach, offering no support after the installation. They will portray this as a strength, but in reality, this will make things more challenging when problems arise or your system needs an upgrade.
7. What analytics are available and how often do I have access to them?
Access to analytics about your smart building is one of the biggest benefits of IoT-enabled smart buildings. Analytics will give your company the data to improve business processes, reduce waste and save money. That is, if your IoT platform provider is not holding your analytics hostage.
When choosing a system, ask each provider how to access analytics and how much freedom you have in doing so. We recommend choosing a system which will give you as much data as you want, whenever you want. Beware of systems which only provide you a limited snapshot of your data and are unwilling to work with you.
Considerations to Keep in Mind When Choosing a Smart Building Platform
We hope you’ll be able to use this list of questions to guide you in your smart building provider exploration. Once you’ve gathered answers to your questions, comparing systems and choosing the best one will be the most difficult part of the process. In our opinion, security, reliability, flexibility, and compatibility are the most important considerations to review.
If you are able to find a system which is: (1) secure enough to keep your business safe, (2) so reliable you don’t even have to think about how the system works, (3) compatible with your existing systems, and (4) flexible enough to integrate with anything you can imagine, then you will choose a system which will future proof your building for years to come.
Choosing Igor as Your Smart Building Technology Provider
Ready to find a system which has all the functionality and features listed above? Igor’s Power over Ethernet smart building platform can do all of that and more. Our system will bring your building to the cutting-edge of smart technology, because our platform is setting the pace for innovation in the smart building space. Sign up for Igor's email newsletter.