Jason Falbo, Chief Technology Officer, Mircom Group, discusses how the company uses technology to make buildings smart for the benefit of tenants and oc...
“We work hard every day to modernize the real estate industry, which from a technology standpoint hasn’t changed as much as other industries in the last 50 to 100 years,” says Jason Falbo, Chief Technology Officer at Mircom Group, a Canadian leader in the smart building space. “Our goal is to make buildings safer, smarter, and more livable.”
Tracing its origins back to the 1960s with founder Tony Falbo’s involvement in predecessor company Mirtone, today Mircom remains a family business that nevertheless competes with the largest corporations. “We've seen great consolidation amongst the competitors in the market and we now find ourselves one of only a handful of global players in the fire and life-safety industry. Our competitors are behemoth companies, all multi-billion-dollar, multinational firms. Fire is a very small part of their business, whereas, it's our primary focus and the biggest part of what we do on a daily basis.”
Mircom offers a broad range of products and solutions for the modern smart building. From a long-established core of fire detection sensors and alarms, to security solutions such as perimeter protection, intercoms and access control, the company rounds out its offering with building automation products covering heating, ventilation and cooling, lighting and power metering.
Since 2010, it has also offered its flagship OpenGN building intelligence product, based on a prediction that building control systems were only going to become more integrated in the future. “We developed award-winning 3D facility management software called OpenGN, which ties together the monitoring and visualization of hardwired or wireless building sensors in a way that’s simply beautiful and easy to navigate,” says Falbo. “It’s a software package that is scalable for the modern smart building and supports both Mircom and third-party products through interfaces and open standards such as Modbus. Recently, we’ve been prototyping the next generation OpenGN, which will be cloud hosted and available as a subscription software offering”
That level of flexibility is important when considering the different vintages of technology employed by its customers, as Falbo explains. “It's very important for us to maintain legacy wiring and communication options for many of our products, in addition to offering IP and POE solutions, because we understand not all of our users are cloud ready today. Although it's becoming increasingly popular, we have to be able to migrate along timelines that are comfortable for them.” Nevertheless, Mircom’s cloud offering is robust and comprehensive, from mobile apps to a service known as the Unified Building Solution (UBS). “We partner with several companies to deliver this service to our end users in the real estate and property management market,” says Falbo. “Microsoft, Dell, and Arrow Electronics are all considered key partners and they're helping us to deliver on our smart buildings as a service model. We've modified, enhanced or adapted existing products and solutions that we've been offering for almost 30 years now. We’ve developed an enterprise solution that uses a connected service bus that pulls data from different edge devices covering the domains of fire, security and automation within buildings and campuses. The previously siloed system data is then pushed to tools like OpenGN for enterprise monitoring manifested as visually stunning dashboards.”
Data is the lifeblood of smart buildings, with the data produced by sensors being fed back into the building to drive efficiencies and optimization. Consequently, the data Mircom collects runs across all the areas its products cover. “We collect environmental data, especially on the fire and life-safety side, looking for things like smoke, heat and gas levels that might create a hazardous issue for building occupants. On the security side, we're collecting data that tells us who is in the building, where access has been granted or denied, who let the visitors in, at what time, which doors are open, which doors are locked, whether there's an intrusion alarm going off in the building. Then there's general building performance data. Things like the temperature of different zones, the humidity levels, power consumption, light levels. All of those pieces of information can be used to optimize building comfort for the occupants and to keep the operating costs down for the management companies.” Gathering this data typically involves a hybrid cloud architecture wherein edge devices act as gateways, promoting data to the cloud for monitoring systems. Securing that data, meanwhile, are best-in-class Microsoft cloud services, with all data written to Azure Storage being encrypted and access tightly controlled.
With such a volume of data, there are many opportunities to use AI to gain insights into a building’s performance. “AI plays a really important role for our end users,” says Falbo. “The building data that we collect allows operators to lower the total cost of ownership of their properties. AI can support the implementation of energy strategies based on consumption data, with predictive analytics to tell you, for instance, the best time to turn off the lights automatically.”
Aside from the technology it offers to customers, Mircom has experienced its own digital transformation, with cloud-based technology at the core of their systems. “We have a number of servers that were previously deployed on-prem that are now moved entirely to the cloud. Things like an active directory for our account credentials management, our email server, which is now completely on the Office365 platform, a corporate intranet site for data storage and sharing. We use SharePoint as well, which is also hosted on the cloud. Then we also have several areas where we've leveraged cloud, not necessarily for primary application delivery, but for either scalability or backup purposes.” Alongside the introduction of new technology, Falbo emphasizes the intertwined consideration of culture. “Our opinion is that employees should not be left alone to deal with the challenges of digital transformation. Executive leadership should be involved from the CEO's office to the front line. Digital transformation is more of a business strategy than an IT strategy these days. As a smaller player in the industry, we recognize the need to be nimble and quick to help our people adapt to new business models and tools. That’s one of our advantages we have versus our bigger, more bureaucratic competition.”
Due to such an approach, Mircom has positioned itself as a go-to partner for the real estate industry. “We see ourselves as the digital consultant for people putting up buildings today,” says Falbo. “If you're looking for financial advice, you find a financial advisor. If you're looking for building advice, we’re the people that you can count on to guide you through the considerations you should have, not only for providing application specific solutions, but also ensuring those solutions form a cohesive, integrated environment for the needs of your occupants and tenants.”