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Today's competitive business environment is finding more building automation systems supplying crucial operations information to corporate IT networks or enterprise systems. As a result, facility executives may find themselves navigating a computer maze, as CEOs ask for real-time information about energy pricing or equipment operations.
The rewards are great. Real-time pricing for energy can provide the company with savings that help it to remain profitable. Asset management that permits proactive maintenance can extend the lifetimes of crucial large-ticket equipment, such as HVAC systems. Tenant bill-back for actual energy consumption offers a revenue stream. Reporting of true energy costs for departments means accountability and can point to additional savings.
CEOs and CFOs really are not interested in point-by-point assessments of this controller or that one. They want the big picture. However, that picture is based on those thousands of points facility executives track. The way to get from those points to the big picture is to extract and compress building automation data into formats such as dashboards, reports and spreadsheets that top executives can use.
Many in the industry believe that the integration of building automation and enterprise systems is the wave of the future. But getting those systems to communicate is a different process than expanding or upgrading the building automation system. Because it involves the corporate network, IT is far more involved. And that introduces a whole new language into the process. Understanding these terms can smooth collaboration if IT and FM departments need to work together either to evaluate a vendor, draft an RFP or work on an internal project.
How important is it to learn the terms? At this point, it depends. All major BAS manufacturers offer integration solutions through their own systems integrators. Facility executives with proprietary systems can therefore turn the project over to the BAS manufacturer. But that risks leaving the facility executive out of the loop when choices have to be made. And because facility executives can't bid out the work, costs may be higher with a proprietary system.
Facility executives using independent systems integrators have more reason to try to pick up some new terminology. It will allow them to communicate building information needs with the systems integrator before and during the linking of BAS to enterprise systems. It also allows them to explain when things go awry, so the systems integrator can isolate the problem more quickly.
For those facility executives who want to dive more deeply into the growing merger between the building automation and enterprise systems, here are a few key terms to know.
Web services are a common method for linking BAS to the enterprise system. Web services software supports interoperable machine-to-machine actions over a network. It is the primary communications path building automation data and enterprise systems information travel. Asset management, security, financial management and building operations interact with Web services using various software methods to present simple object access protocol (SOAP) messages.
Extensible markup language (XML) follows the SOAP standard, so XML generally is used for messages. To get XML messages to their destination, hypertext transfer protocols (HTTP or HTTPS) are used. When information is sensitive, such as customer financial data, corporations generally use HTTPS because it provides encryption and protection of sensitive information.
If the information from the BAS or enterprise system is being displayed on the corporation's Web site, it will be in hypertext markup language (HTML). For example, a company may wish to highlight its environmental commitment on its Web page by indicating its carbon footprint in real time.
The main network being used for BAS to enterprise system data exchange is the Internet, which has its own rules of the road. Internet Protocol Suite, often abbreviated TCP/IP, offers protocols for communication over the Internet and similar internal corporate networks such as LANs (local area networks). TCP is the transmission control protocol, while IP is the Internet protocol.
The Internet Protocol Suite operates on four levels, called layers. In the top application layer are such protocols and standards as HTTP, HTTPS and SOAP. The next layer is the transport layer, where TCP and BACnet Web services universal (or user) datagram protocol (UDP) are operating. At the Internet layer is IP. The bottom layer is the link layer, often Ethernet or other media access controls (MAC).
Facility executives using BACnet Web services use UDP to transmit data. UDP applications send messages to other hosts on an IP network without needing prior communications to set up transmission channels or data paths.
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