Last month, US-based building automation provider KMC Controls announced it is using enterprise mobility company Kony’s platform to develop applications that will make buildings smarter. Internet of Business caught up with KMC CEO Richard Newberry and Kony CTO Bill Bodin to find out more.
Based out of New Paris, Indiana, KMC Controls is dedicated to ‘making buildings smarter over time’. The company manufactures building automation and Internet of Things (IoT) products, including sensors, controllers, actuators and software to help reduce energy consumption and operating costs.
These products are provided to system integrators, distributors, OEM partners and IT providers worldwide, and are deployed in buildings such as the historic 100-story Hancock Tower in Chicago.
More than five million buildings in the US lack ‘smarts’, or at least smart applications, according to KMC executives. As a result, they use between 15 percent and 30 percent more energy than they should, making the opportunity for KMC vast.
However, KMC CEO Richard Newberry admits the company has struggled in the past to develop in-house the applications needed to ‘command and control’ these products. It has therefore enlisted the expertise of enterprise mobility company Kony, to assist with the development of applications and to build out its very own app store, Snaps – a subscription-based offering open to all KMC systems integrators and distributors.
“Prior to Kony, we struggled in developing our own apps internally, and it became a real challenge to have a multichannel app,” Newberry told Internet of Business.
“We just couldn’t get the resources to do that and that’s why we began the search of looking for a partner because it’s very difficult to get programmers these days – and it was clear to us that we needed to find a partner rather than try to staff for this.”
KMC Controls is not alone in its difficulty finding and recruiting skilled programmers, as Kony CTO Bill Bodin pointed out.
Through collaboration with Intel and Dell, KMC has developed an IoT Platform called KMC Commander, an open, secure and scalable platform that will allow businesses to start small and grow their IoT strategy. And with Kony, KMC now has a central, cloud-based mobile application development platform that provides developers with the tools to build apps and connect them to back-end systems.
The cloud-based platform has made the rapid development of applications easier across devices by offering what Bodin calls “reusable widgets”, meaning apps can be created and recreated using the same code so that they share “commonality” across all devices.
“What was really exciting to us was the ability to visualize and understand the user experience before there was any coding really done,” adds Newberry, “so it allowed us to much more rapidly build out apps, versus what we were able to do in the past.”
Reaping the rewards
KMC Controls can now develop back-end microservices for the KMC Commander system, apply analytics, incorporate features and functions suggested by customers, and integrate them with its mobile app.
Importantly, the Kony platform’s open architecture also allows KMC to develop for both iOS and Android using a single code base, across all devices, helping to overcome the common problem of operating system diversity.
Using the platform, KMC has already developed an application called KMC Connect Lite, which field service technicians can use to configure, customize, and commission controller devices without powering the controller or even opening the box.
With the KMC Connect Lite mobile app, a field installer places their mobile device on the controller box and can write the controller settings through near-field communications (NFC).
This, Newberry says, “took a four-man day job to install an IoT system down to less than four hours.”
Changing a conservative industry
Looking to the future and the company’s plans to make buildings across North America ‘smarter’, Newberry told Internet of Business where the challenges lie.
“IoT is going to be bigger than the industrial revolution [for the smart buildings space],” he said. “Smart buildings is the low-hanging fruit of IoT. In the United States, especially, buildings consume more energy than anything else.
“We know that buildings are using 15 to 30 percent more energy than they should be, so the opportunity for the IoT to get data, real-time to be able to make buildings smarter overtime is going to result in incredibly strong ROIs. The reason it hasn’t happening faster is that our industry is very slow to accept new technology.”
How can the industry overcome these problems?
“Our industry is dominated by Johnson Controls, Honeywell, Siemens, and Schneider Electric, and, first of all, they are very much opposed to an open solution, they want to continue to offer their proprietary solutions, so that’s one hurdle,” Newberry said.
“But, when you get into IoT, security is always a concern, but we feel that by partnering with Kony, Intel and others we are providing a solution that is utilizing leading security technologies.”
Beyond these more practical concerns, Newberry alluded to cultural issues that mean businesses too often try to solve all of their problems at once with IoT in a bid for a big return on investment, rather than starting small with pilot projects. It’s a problem that has hampered many industries beyond the energy sector.
An eye on the future
For KMC Controls, however, the project with Kony is up and running, and in the next five years Newberry expects IoT will have a significant impact.
“For KMC, [IoT is] going to allow us to expand our channel from just the traditional OT technology partners to the IT technology partners, which is going to help us grow our business.”