When Marc Harrison, president of Silicon East, a Marlboro, N.J.-based solution provider, sits down with facility managers who want to automate their buildings, his first question always is, "Is it secure?"
"[Security is] a door-opener," he said. "Everyone is aware that it's a problem, and it’s the solution providers that can make a difference here."
Silicon East has worked with customers from large office spaces to residential complexes to tap into this vital, and sometimes ignored, need.
Building automation is set to take off as smart building technologies are forecast to see significant global investments of up to $40 billion this year, according to market research firm IDC.
The building managers willing to shell out this money are looking to connect and automatically control various systems across their properties, including security cameras, HVAC systems and lighting.
For facility owners, these IoT applications help to improve reliability and performance, reduce energy and use, and minimize the environmental impact on buildings.
Silicon East works with the HVAC vendors that are installing the automation systems to "act as the internet gatekeeper for all the services in the building – in a secure way," said Harrison.
For commercial buildings, the SonicWall partner makes sure that no one on public Wi-Fi can get to the control system through securing HVAC systems, access controls and security cameras, he said.
Bacem Moussa, CEO of Boston-based solution provider TSP, which works with both commercial buildings and luxury smart homes, said one of the channel's biggest roles in building automation is security.
"We start with security. ... Security comes first, and then we build everything around that," he said. "In the home, most people won't worry about it. But in the high-end home, we need to present homeowners with the reality of it and find the right solutions to solve this security issue with consumer-oriented products."
Like Silicon East, TSP has also expanded beyond its traditional IT partnerships to connect with new vendors, like luxury home automation vendor Savant or lighting control vendor Lutron.
"There are other pieces of the automation, such as audio-visual, TV, cable boxes, alarm security systems or access control doorbells," he said. "We're constantly pushing the limits and testing products."
As these connections between the channel and operational technology vendors continue to strengthen, solution providers will play a bigger part in the building automation space as the market continues to mature, said Aaron Kamphius, principal for IoT and data analytics at Open Systems Technologies, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based solution provider.
OST worked on a groundbreaking project with Johnson Controls to build out a platform that enables building managers to track and analyze how their buildings were being controlled -- allowing them to plan out their global controls strategy and their spending strategies. OST worked to offer professional services as part of the project, such as building a secure cloud architecture so that data could be extracted from systems and analyzed by the building managers.
"I believe organizations are maturing ... customers are becoming more mature and expectations are getting higher," he said. "One of the emerging ideas we've seen is that buildings can be a source of information, and analytics tools can save customers money in terms of ROI as they optimize their organizations."
Moving forward, Silicon East's Harrison said that the first step solution providers can take in securing the building automation space is around educating their customers about the risks of vulnerable connected devices,
"From the point of view of the Internet of Things, we're evangelizing in this space," he said. "People don't understand the risks and challenges of the Internet of Things until they're educated."