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By Rita Tatum
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Even with open standards, Building IoT negotiations can be tricky. “Be sure that you own all the data perpetually at no additional cost,” advises Tom Shircliff, co-founder of Intelligent Buildings, LLC.One reason for this caution is that IoT solutions can have short lifespans, as anyone who owns a smart phone knows. Building data can be analyzed many ways.If the data is stored in a data neutral cloud location by facility management, changing analytics vendors becomes a matter of turning off one port to the incumbent and then opening that same data to another vendor, explains Rob Murchison, co-founder of Intelligent Buildings, LLC.Powerful Building IoT devices that directly communicate through machine-to-machine connectivity are just emerging in the commercial building world today, according to Thomas Grimard, associate partner of Syska Hennessy Group, but given the speed with which new technology emerges they may be more commonplace or an industry standard only a short distance down the road.
Grimard sees energy-harvesting IoT devices; software as a service (SaaS) for building analytics, fault detection and diagnostics, and retrocommissioning; and mobile smart phone apps to monitor and control building systems as some of the best offerings.Business plan vs. jumping inEven when a facility manager realizes that he or she needs to embrace the Building IoT to stay competitive, it’s hard to know where to start, given that there are literally thousands of applications and devices on the market.
Incorporating IoT concepts into buildings is a process that begins with “understanding what you are trying to achieve or accomplish,” Karnatz says. “Then make a solid business case that includes return on investment. The business case should support the goals of your organization. Also, make sure to model the outcomes. Do not choose an IoT solution just to do something.”
To set goals, start with the big picture, advises Herbert O. Els, senior vice president and national leader of building technology systems for WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff. “Identify your business model and then look for solutions that get you close to your business goals.”For example, Shircliff points out that digital signage is great looking and has its place, but for a clean laboratory, smart sensors for air quality may make more sense.“Make sure what you are considering is optimized for your enterprise’s mission and priorities, which can differ greatly between organizations,” says Murchison. “That might be occupant productivity, energy, sustainability, financial return, etc.”Put your house in orderFacility managers who are guided by their business plans may find that there are other issues to be addressed before worrying about what IoT concepts they should address.Oswald sees a number of buildings where overall property conditions are poor but the client wants to leap into Building IoT. “If deferred maintenance is through the roof, that needs to be addressed first,” Oswald says.Once facility operations essentials are under control, facility managers can then move on to IoT. “What problem needs to be solved or what outcome needs to be achieved?” asks Oswald. “What can IoT offer to help solve that problem or achieve that outcome?”After facility managers have investigated Building IoT solution options that offer a specific business case ROI, the ever expanding “experience ring” of IoT can be used to improve overall occupant experiences, productivity, and maybe even corporate branding, says Murchison. For facility managers who do not have a five-year business plan, Oswald suggests they at least define the problem they are trying to solve. “Once you understand that, you can see if IoT is the right way to get you there,” Oswald says.Learn to use dataModern BAS are capable of generating and presenting gigabytes of data. Currently, however, much of that data is not used. Facility managers interested in making their buildings run more efficiently should begin by learning how to use that data in smarter, more constructive ways, says Oswald. Naturally, analytics and fault detection come to mind as ways to reach that goal.“The important thing to remember about analytics is that it’s like a medical MRI,” Oswald explains. “An MRI identifies the problem, but it doesn’t fix it. Analytics is a tool in your toolbox. You need to be surrounded by smart people with domain expertise and defined processes who know how to do something with it.”Bundles or silos?Some modern building systems and subsystems, notably HVAC, have opened segments of their individual machine code silos through, for example, BACnet XD compliance. In other building systems, such as some lighting and access control devices, proprietary machine codes actually run the system. How to blend those disparate silos of information poses a question for facility managers. Is it best to turn to a single source that can bundle the different silos together into a BAS system rather than a converged IT network on which BAS resides?That’s a tough question. Ehrlich says the answer depends on the facility type and operations. “A school district or college campus is not managed the same as a real estate investment trust,” Ehrlich points out. “They have different needs so their choices will be different.”The advantage of bundling building low voltage systems is that it provides a single point of responsibility, with one service contract and licensing agreement, points out Grimard. The disadvantage is that bundling limits the competitive edge facility managers get by having separate service and licensing agreements.Cyber security issuesAlmost weekly it seems some major corporation or organization has been hacked and suffered serious data breaches. In today’s Internet-connected world, privacy is a 20th century concept. Estimates suggest that 80 percent of the average Internet-connected person’s private information already has been shared.“Cyber security hangs over everyone’s head,” says Els. “Even the best designed and implemented cyber security must be continuously updated and secured.”Els believes using a single platform for all Internet connections is easier to defend with firewalls and cyber security apps.“You need to evaluate existing network firewall capabilities,” says Grimard.Ehrlich admits cyber security is challenging. But he cautions facility managers to “balance cyber security decisions against what you are trying to protect.”Eyes on the futureAlthough moving to the Building IoT takes time and money, the end result can make all the effort worthwhile.“Look for IoT and technology solutions that help you do what you already are trying to do faster, cheaper and with less risk,” recommends Shircliff. “Do not lose sight of how you are measured today and how the IoT supports that.”
Els cites four Building IoT advantages. The first, of course, is operational efficiency, as more building systems communicate with each other. Another IoT advantage is better ways to safeguard facilities. Individualized building occupant comfort for a better work experience is another IoT plus. Finally, IoT can offer revenue generation.“The genie’s not going back in the bottle,” notes Shircliff. “Facility managers need to be looking for ways to be compatible with the Building IoT and big data.”For facility managers hesitant to venture forward, Karnatz recommends they “seek independent knowledge.”A key question facility managers need to answer is, “Do they have the time and talent to apply Building IoT themselves?” Oswald says. If not, hiring a smart building consultant may be a better option.Before facility managers take that step, they should do the same homework they do when hiring a plumber. Ask for references and vet those references. Rita Tatum, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, has more than 30 years of experience covering facility design and technology.Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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