We’ve been covering a flurry of technology partnerships on the smart grid-smart buildings front as of late -- demand response from Schneider Electric and IPKeys, building energy efficiency from EnerNOC and SCIenergy, and building data analytics from IBM, Honeywell and SkyFoundry among them. Indeed, pretty much every big building controls vendor has a cloud-based platform to back up their service-based energy services contracting (ESCO) work, with names like Schneider’s StruxureWare, Honeywell’s Attune, Siemens’ Apogee, and the like venturing into the space.

Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls rolled out its own platform last year, called Panoptix, which mirrored its competitors’ platforms in tying together the heterogeneous, largely legacy technology of lots and lots of building control systems into an enterprise management and controls architecture of some kind.

But Johnson Controls has also opened up its Panoptix platform in some interesting ways. The latest this month is a new applications developer program, aimed at inviting third-party software into the fold, with noteworthy building efficiency technology players like BuildingIQ, FirstFuel and Lucid Design Group already on board.

Integration can run as deep as direct, real-time control of building management systems. On Tuesday, Johnson Controls announced that BuildingIQ’s HVAC optimization software is now up and running for subscribers to the cloud-based Panoptix service. That makes it one of the first cloud-based software platforms to “enable real-time control of the BMS in order to directly reduce energy use and peak loads” within buildings -- that is, to turn over direct building-system control to the cloud.

But Panoptix is as much about managing data -- and customer service -- as it is about managing building energy. As part of Johnson Controls’ broader energy services business, Panoptix helps connect big corporate and government clients to the company’s on-site staff, normalize disparate building and energy data into portfolio or business planning categories, and manage efficiency programs and retrofit projects from inception to reporting and continuous commissioning -- essentially, all the things any big energy services giant does in a day's work.

“It’s hard to get data from multiple sources and put it in a format that’s useful. We did that with our Panoptix platform and our APIs,” Laura Farnham, vice president of building technology and services for Johnson Controls, said in an interview last week. (Johnson Controls will have the latest from Panoptix at its booth alongside hundreds of other companies at this week’s GreenBuild conference in San Francisco.)

From last year’s launch, Johnson Controls has grown the number of apps that Panoptix provides from six to seventeen, with five of the new ones coming from third parties -- utility efficiency data analytics startup FirstFuel, meter data-mining and trending software startup EnergyAi, building energy dashboard company Lucid Design Group, hospital energy-efficiency expert TG4 and resource management software vendor EnergyPoints.

Panoptix has also added an interesting social media angle to its platform via the “Connected Community” section of its website, Farnham said. The idea is to offer customers a place to share efficiency ideas, leads, experiences and the like, complete with a discussion board that’s currently featuring such early-stage posts as “Is there a Demo Site? If not, when will one be available?”

This kind of community approach isn’t unique to Panoptix -- startups like Honest Buildings, SPARC and others are collecting data from the people inside buildings, whether facility managers or temperature-sensitive tenants, to try to balance efficiency with the task of running a building for its suited purpose. Of course, startups don't have the deep integration that JCI has in building systems. But does Johnson Controls (or Siemens, or Schneider Electric, or Eaton/Cooper, or Honeywell, or etc.) do software well? That’s been a key question from industry experts, and one that the Panoptix push into third-party software is likely to help answer.