What if the thermostat you installed last year sent you a text warning that your client’s compressor or fan was about to fail? Or what if you discovered that the rooftop unit you installed in that elementary school last fall, is now blowing at half capacity and the client alerted you on Sunday morning?
Your business can profit from a dashboard that shows every one of your client’s temperatures, humidity, and IAQ in real-time, and delivers reports that show trends over time. Advanced capability --- customer IAQ and real-time tracking installed in minutes and deployed for a reasonable upfront price or monthly bundle --- is the new reality of commercial sensors and smart customer software. Especially when installed at highly specialized commercial buildings like hospitals, universities, and laboratories. These highly advanced sensors are falling in price while the software is evolving to be more user-friendly – and it’s only getting better.
New Technology Will Transform the Way HVACR Contractors Do Business
A new wave of technology providers is entering the HVACR market and they are armed with advanced and innovative solutions that will transform the way contractors understand their business opportunities while also helping them to deliver improved data-driven service packages. The HVACR market is rife with opportunities to adopt increasingly affordable and simple-to-install products, especially for contractors who are focused on growing their service business and leveraging market growth. The reality is that many of these technologies are selling straight to the end user, some of whom may not be as technically sophisticated as contractors in this space. This represents a unique opportunity for contractors and distributors to collaborate with manufacturers now before the market is saturated with direct sales. And it presents an opportunity to increase recurring revenue and service calls.
Before contractors rush in, attempting to connect every environment they service, a brief background of the technology and opportunities is in order.
IoT – What is It and How Can You Leverage this Technology?
The world is rapidly advancing toward the digitization of everything.
From connected front door cameras that keep criminals at bay and delivery associates accountable, to communicating daily alerts from thermostats installed by contractors - it ‘s happening, big change. We’re all in a rush to connect to increase visibility and efficiency.
The Nest might have offered real and immediate appeal, but Ecobee raised the practicality game with its new malfunctioning system alerts.
The “rush to smart everything” can lead to alarm fatigue if we’re not careful about how much we connect and how it’s configured. However, it can also open up a diverse range of customer-focused advanced technology straight out of an episode of “The Jetsons”.
And most importantly, it can deliver data that drives service calls and upselling opportunities.
What can you monitor?
Here are a few more HVACR monitoring opportunities:
• Ambient Temperature and Humidity – This may be the most obvious smart option for monitoring, at least to the conventional HVACR contractor, but service providers with experience in commercial building management or automation systems like Automated Logic or Schneider’s ExoStructure have a wealth of options to connect, alert, and produce data-rich reports.
• Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) – IAQ is the leading buzz topic among HVACR contractors these days. That is because more customers are working remotely so it’s never been more important. Thanks to a global showdown with the COVID-19 virus, more precise monitoring for airflow and specialized sensors, the list of requests is virtually infinite. If you can dream it, odds are it can be monitored.
Other areas to connect for monitoring include:
• Ventilation levels
• CO & CO2 levels
• Air pressure differential
• energy consumption
• Door open/close
• 02 levels
• Water Exposure
Now that the field is wide open for service opportunities, when coupled with tiered alarms that can ensure the right person in an organization receives a text or email alert, and the newest sophisticated reporting that delivers added value from any HVACR organization, these systems offer far more than “simple” monitoring.
Not All Connected Devices are Created Equal
Items to consider before you rush to connect your client’s environment to the cloud include:
Is it made in America or at least assembled here?
German engineering may be renowned and there’s no doubt you can get almost anything cheaply made in Asia, but if your clients come to depend on this technology the same way they do their connected thermostat and doorbell, you probably want hardware made in the United States. Add in the increased burden for the government and their suppliers to buy American, and it likely makes sense to invest a bit more to ensure you’re installing American-made hardware. This may be subjective, but again when it comes to reliability, deliverability, and consumer brand values – it is the better way to go if you can.
Is it hosted on AWS, Google, or Microsoft Azure?
The cloud is consuming, computing, and returning server closets to their original owners, but don’t make the mistake of confusing AWS for My Cousin Willy’s IT.
One is trusted by the CIA and The Pentagon, the other may not be in business after their third divorce. Cyber security and rapid scalability are two of the many features these trusted providers can deliver. Again, in this case, not all IT is created equal.
Do they feature live, American-based support?
We all know the unholy treachery of waiting on hold for a support ticket.
Or to be sent through an endless labyrinth of prompts only to explain the same technical challenge to four different reps each located in a different time zone. Everything can and will malfunction at some point, but not every provider stands ready with a friendly American voice ready to get you and your clients back online. If not staffed with American technical and customer service support, at least ensure that the service is prompt and live, not merely chatbots that end in frustration and bad reviews.
While these are likely the most important considerations when exploring temperature or environmental monitoring solutions, there are some others you should also consider.
Does it have a mobile app?
Today, most of us live on our phones. So, what good is it if we invest in technology that doesn’t arrive with a trusted app, one that delivers real-time alerts, and allows us to see a simple dashboard? Browser-based applications are fine, but they rely on you to open and review them.
An app is always there, always ready to alert your team. Make sure there is a mobile app that complements the monitoring system.
Operational Technology vs. Information Technology – A Crucial Distinction
OT stands for operational technology and is for connecting, monitoring, managing, and securing an organization's industrial operations. Operational Technology is the technology backbone of your organization. It's necessary for monitoring, managing, and securing core functions such as email, finance, human resources (HR), and other applications in either a data center or the Cloud. The major distinction between IT and OT is that IT is centered on an organization's front-end informational activities, while OT is focused on its back-end production (machines).
Examples of OT include robots, industrial control systems (ICS), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, computer numerical control (CNC), and building management/automation systems.
Warehouses and outdoor areas such as parking lots and highways are rapidly adopting OT to increase safety and efficiency. ATMs and kiosks, connected buses, trains, or a system that allows a city to manage chargers for electric vehicles are further examples.
If you’re an HVACR contractor, you’re a major player in the growing importance of OT.
Temperature and environmental monitoring are playing an increasing role in the expansion of the OT market. Get smart on how to think and talk about OT. And when you and your team are trained enough to understand its importance, you will be opening a door to new revenue opportunities, many of them recurring streams of income. Don’t disregard this technology as it’s increasingly growing more important to the competitive end users and their clients.
How does a monitoring system work within an operational technology framework?
Temperature and IAQ monitoring can be a simple install, in most applications. What was once deemed expensive and clunky hardware by many OEMs has now evolved into “plug-n-play” applications that install in minutes and can be configured to the cloud with the same ease we’re used to when updating our smartphone’s operating system.
This video from Sonicu shows a popular application: a freezer monitor used to protect COVID-19 vaccines. Even more sophisticated applications like air pressure differential or CO2 monitors have become widespread and can be installed in minutes. When you add the opportunity for service and regular calibration, the service revenue is real and will only increase as more customers look to these solutions.
Where can I deploy these systems to leverage new opportunities?
The most obvious opportunity for commercial climate control and refrigeration contractors to seek out lives within industries that have some element of regulatory oversight. If your customers are concerned about the Food Safety Modernization Act, the Joint Commission, or regulations related to the shipment and storage of pharmaceuticals, you likely have an opportunity to upsell these solutions.
When you combine the hardware sale and installation revenue with the opportunity to monitor their environments remotely for an additional service charge, you can be sure it will lead to increased revenue.
Industries with immediate opportunities for remote temperature and environmental monitoring include:
• Veterinary Medicine
• Life science and Research
• Food production and distribution
• Commercial kitchens
• Food banks and non-profit organizations
• K-12 and Higher Education
• Government agencies
The avalanche of federal aid dollars steered toward K-12 school districts during the pandemic means many have invested in new climate control and ventilation systems. Now comes the opportunity to install monitoring equipment to help superintendents and business managers quantify the invisible results of their investments.
How real is cyber risk?
If it’s connected to the Internet, there’s always a risk of cyber hacking. Be sure to review any IT assessments the provider may have completed for their past customers.
Hospitals, research facilities, and government agencies are among the most demanding clients around IT security. If you ask about representative clients and you see these sectors on the list, then their trust in these solutions sends a strong signal that the IT software has been vetted by IT security professionals.
Whom can you trust?
Coldvision.ai is a brand offered by the parent company Sonicu and I would be remiss not to mention it as of course, I stand by this brand. But there are more... TSI offers a wide range of sensors and monitoring solutions. Temp Genius is a brand used in diverse applications.
Elpro is another brand option for the HVACR contractor to consider.
I would end with – start small if you are ready to get connected. Do your research and be open to the world of increased revenue opportunities available.
Bryan Mitchell leads Inside Sales and Marketing at Sonicu. He previously managed communications and advertising for Carrier and Rolls-Royce. He holds a bachelor's from the University of Tennessee and a master's degree from Oklahoma University.