Troubleshooting Via the Info Superhighway

November 21, 2000
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Imagine getting a call late one night while you’re on the way home from work. One of the facilities your company manages is having a heat control problem in its computer room. The building is in Denver, CO, and you’re cruising the back roads near Houston, TX.

No problem — just pull off the road, plug into the Internet with your handheld computer, punch in the access codes at your website, and run an analysis of the building control systems.

After finding the problem, make the necessary adjustments. The computer room is operating in a normal temperature range.

Welcome to 2000 and beyond. Welcome to Coactive Networks, too. The company, located online at www.coactive.com, describes itself as being “dedicated to enabling the Internet to reach every electronic device in our lives.” The buzz-phrase Coactive uses to describe this connection is an e-service gateway.

“This gateway has local building control systems and residential thermostats on one side and the Internet on the other side,” said Adam Marsh, company cofounder and vice president of marketing.

How It Works

More and more homes and businesses are being built with technology that allows everyday appliances, comfort control systems, and security systems to be manipulated via a wireless Internet connection.

According to Coactive, “With a single, affordable gateway delivering Internet access, multiple home networks, and local intelligence, the Internet becomes the vehicle that allows the networked home and office to become an integral part of daily life.

“You can check up on an elderly relative, see whether you left the stove or iron on, remotely disarm the security system to let a neighbor in, and receive instant alerts upon detection of intrusion, water leakage, or unusual temperatures.”

The company’s products are “intelligent, embedded networking devices designed to be flexible, scalable, and cost effective.”

For a better analysis, here is a description of the Coactive Connector® 2000 Series: “It links home devices and appliances to the Internet via shared phone line or broadband connection such as DSL or cable modem. It delivers the targeted features required for telemetry e-services, including datalogging, local service programs, and real-time remote monitoring and control.”

Marsh added that selling Coactive products to facility managers is made easier by the fact that buildings “plugged into their local Ethernet can be controlled floor-by-floor from the [manager’s] PC at home.”



How Contractors Fit In

Although the company does not sell its products directly to contractors, it does market its services to familiar hvacr companies like Johnson Controls and Invensys. Coactive is also working closely with utility companies like Detroit Edison to set up a series of business services that goes beyond building controls.

Contractors who have aligned themselves with utilities through partnerships or buyouts have found out the benefits of selling Coactive systems.

“The contractor-utility partnerships are key to bringing these gateway products into peoples’ homes,” said Marsh. “Electric utilities are taking advantage of their relationships with hvacr contractors who service residential and commercial customers.

“Contractors who buy their controls products from manufacturers can have our services added on,” Marsh said. “The manufacturers pretty much sell our products under our own brand name.” But he said that “Homeowners and facility managers don’t need to talk directly to us. They don’t need to understand the technology itself. The gateway can be upgraded and programmed remotely.

“From the end user’s perspective, it just works.”

And what about customers who are concerned with Internet security? Marsh said his company can embed encryption devices at a security level, which is only limited by the “hassle” building owners and managers are willing to encounter (and by industry rules and regulations).

“Encryption levels can be very high,” he said; “so high that some customers have higher security levels than banking institutions.”

If the future of facilities energy and security management is based on Internet communications, it’s probably a good time for hvacr contractors to explore the added selling features of the control systems they install and service.

Publication date: 11/27/2000

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