By GREG THOMAS Real estate writer July 24, 1998 Publication: Times-Picayune, The
Despite society’s increasing dependence on sophisticated electronics,
most of us still can’t program a VCR.
The same high-tech frustrations apply to managers of high-rise office buildings and sprawling commercial centers. Electronic systems have managed building functions since the 1960s, controlling when the lights go on, what temperature a room should be at a particular time or whether security or fire alarms should go off.
But building engineers are not computer technicians or electrical engineers, and while they may understand the intricacies of a heating and cooling system for a towering 1-million-square- foot building, they probably haven’t a clue how to service pre-programmed automation systems.
Marketing pure simplicity, the New Orleans company Computrols Inc. is racking up orders
designing, manufacturing, installing and servicing its own line of automation systems. The
company’s business hinges on the promise that building engineers can trust their own
employees to operate Computrols’ automation systems instead of paying for high-tech training
or relying on expensive service contracts with other system manufacturers.
While a handful of companies across the country, including Honeywell and Johnson Controls,
have dominated the building automation industry, Computrols has carved a niche utilizing a
single premise: Keep it simple, stupid.
Since a lucrative part of the automated building systems industry is service and repairs,
Computrols is gaining an edge by saving building owners time and money.
Computrols systems operate on English commands, not computer code. While other systems
may require lengthy, on-site computer board repair, Computrols systems are designed so that
one board is lifted out and replaced with a new one. The old board can be discarded or sent for
To date, Computrols systems have been installed in high-profile properties such as the U.S.
Treasury and National Archives buildings in Washington, D.C., and the Statue of Liberty and
Ellis Island National Monument in New York Harbor.
The futuristic Enron building, ranked the top building in 1997 by the Building Owners and
Managers Association, and the sprawling Conoco Corporate headquarters, both in Houston,
have installed Computrols building automation systems. Local users represent most of the
Class A office towers in New Orleans’ skyline, from One Shell Square to the Pan-American
In New York, at 919 Third Ave., a 1.4-million-square-foot 47-story building installed a new
Computrols system in 1996, replacing an outdated system installed when the building was
erected in 1970. Building manager Ralph Ardolina is a happy customer.
“Not to put the other manufacturers down – they all have good systems – but this one is more
user-friendly. Eventually, all of (the competition) will be doing what they’re doing,” Ardolina
Computrols President Royden Lynch Jr., his brother Kevin and electrical engineer Mike
Donlon began Computrols in 1983 when they were in their early 20s. Today the partners run a
firm with four offices across the country and one in Moscow. Computrols is expected to gross
$5 million this year and has an annual payroll of more than $2 million for about 50 workers.
Royden and Kevin Lynch, who spent their formative years on a fishing camp in eastern New
Orleans, started Computrols to service existing building systems.
The Lynch brothers soon learned that servicing systems was cumbersome and expensive.
“Quite simply, the systems were designed by engineers for engineers. And it took technicians
with years of training in a specific product line to be able to work on a system,” Royden Lynch
Lynch likes to show visitors a wall-to-wall bookshelf filled with manuals that technicians have
to learn in order to use his competitors’ systems.
And technicians can spend hours rewriting complicated computer codes for tasks as simple as
changing the trigger temperature for an exhaust fan to kick on
So the Lynch brothers, along with software expert Donlon, didn’t design a better mousetrap,
just an easier one.
“Put a bunch of engineers in a room and ask them to design something, and they’ll come up with something only engineers understand,” Lynch said.
To combat that, Lynch doesn’t approve new software or hardware unless someone with little
electronics background can understand how to operate it.
To date, Computrols has distributed its own systems, but Royden Lynch is seeking national
A new software line utilizing Microsoft Windows software is on the way, but Computrols
programmers “haven’t gotten it simple enough yet.”
Computrols plans to invest $650,000 in new equipment that incorporates surface-mount
technology to build computer boards. While most boards take one of a dozen technicians about
45 minutes to complete, the new equipment will produce a board half the size in one minute,
Royden Lynch said.
Those technicians then will test boards rather than assemble them