Twenty Years of Making Buildings Smarter

The S4 Group (S4) started out with a simple mission in 2002. Providing gateway technology that would help Johnson Controls branches and Authorized Building Controls Specialists (ABCS) cost effectively migrate their legacy Companion and Facilitator installations to current generation Metasys systems.

This was at a time that many BAS companies were borrowing technology from the Industrial Automation world and utilizing the OPC protocol suite. BACnet was in its infancy but rapidly gaining in popularity. S4 embraced BACnet and our mission soon evolved to enabling any building automation manufacturer using BACnet to cost effectively introduce their Operator Workstation (OWS) and global control technology to any building previously instrumented with the JCI Metasys N2 technology. These S4 partners could quickly improve building operations and efficiency utilizing their technology. Then, over time, migrate the entire building to their own technology. Although the “Making Buildings Smarter” initiative was not yet created by the Monday Live! Group, that is exactly what we were enabling.

Fast forward to about five years ago and another change in our mission was introduced. Innovators learned how open BACnet was and that it could be utilized to gather information from current generation BAS installations to drive their value-added applications. Energy management, analytics, fault detection and diagnostics (FDD), and continuous commissioning are a few of the applications that formed the building blocks for Smart Buildings. A smart building helped to drive the mission of the business inhabiting a building and was able to evolve, change, and be enhanced when the mission of the building occupants changed.

That was great news for buildings instrumented with current generation open BACnet BAS systems. But it left the huge installed base of buildings with legacy BAS installations out in the cold. It turns out that this was a perfect opportunity for S4. Without changing any of our code, we could recast the S4 gateway products as an on-site agent to enable any value-added application utilizing the BACnet protocol to make these buildings with legacy BAS installations smarter without resorting to the traditional approach of rip-and-replace the legacy BAS with current generation BACnet building controls.

BAS Manufacturers, their branch operations, dealers, master system integrators, and independent BAS contractors embraced our products. Today, we have relationships with all the major players in the industry. One of the important reasons for this is that early on we made the decision to put bounds around what we do. We positioned our products as the enabling technology that facilitated the introduction of any BACnet application or service to buildings with legacy BAS installations. This strategy enabled us to partner with everyone in the industry without any concerns about competition.

One of the business development activities that we have been working on for a long time at S4 is trying to find ways to describe what we do and influence the specifications for RFPs and contracts for retrofit and upgrades of BAS installations. Even though S4 is well known in the technical community, building owners, consulting engineers, architects, and other trusted advisors to building owners continue to write specifications that do not include the integration provided by S4 gateways as an optional approach to quickly and cost effectively upgrading BAS installations.

Recently, through the Monday Live! Group, I was introduced to the Smarter Stack concept, and the concept of “Making Buildings Smarter” as opposed to a one size fits all Smart Building. I was encouraged by Ken Sinclair to create a Smarter Stack for our S4 products. The article will also be published on I was amazed at the outcome! The Smart Stack for our current production release of the S4 Open: BACnet-N2 Router follows.

The Smarter Stack very elegantly shows the role of the S4 Open Appliance (gateway) as the enabling technology for making legacy buildings smarter! It provides a way to graphically show the value proposition of the S4 products to non-technical, and technical people, alike. For those of you who want to drill down into the details of our value proposition, listen to this module on our YouTube channel.

The Smarter Stack concept provides us a very nice way to show how specific value-added applications interact with the S4 technology by editing the Smart Stack to include their products in the appropriate layers of the Smarter Stack graphic. It also provides a nice way to introduce enhancements and new capabilities of our products highlighting their flexibility, extensibility, and scalability.

We will immediately start to use this Smarter Stack in our marketing, outreach, and educational activities. We believe that it will help us reach an audience that previously was hard to communicate with in a way that can be directly tied to the success of their business. You too can create your own Smarter Stack at Monday Live!. The Smarter Stack is open-source. So are the associated Div 2525 specs the Monday Live! Group is working on defining. Thank you Monday Live! for a job well done and a tool that will be instrumental to the growth of our industry.