Use BAS For Onsite Systems and Operations, But Make Use of Third-Party Software As Well
Part 2 of a 3-part article exploring how the BAS is the backbone of any Building Internet of Things initiative.
One option for facilities with BAS is to continue to use those on-site systems for daily building operations, while tapping the strengths of third-party software for functions like data aggregation, fault detection and analytics, performance enhancements, benchmarking, and mandatory reporting.
“We can look to other industries with IoT applications in predicting the future,” notes Andy McMillan, president and managing director of BACnet International. “We see they still have on-premise or local components. For example, the Fitbit sends data to the phone and then to the cloud. In this case, the phone is the local component.”
The concept works similarly with buildings. “The building management system often generates the raw electrical/mechanical data from the various sensors around the building and converts that into meaningful information for the IoT platform,” explains Robert Hemmerdinger, director of business development for Schneider Electric’s buildings business.
“Trying to get that level of analytical data on the building without those systems working together would be almost impossible,” he says.
Another advantage of third-party IoT apps is that they may be monitoring failure data on thousands of buildings. “The third-party IoT vendor can find trends and present cloud-sourced information on a product’s quality,” says McMillan.
A number of mobile apps already offer user control in commercial and institutional buildings. These applications can include heating and cooling, as well as lighting and blinds control, according to Hemmerdinger. They even are extending into segment-specific solutions, such as TV control for hotel or hospital rooms.
To show how mobile apps can add building-occupant value when tied to BAS systems, Modi of Echhelon describes a simple but common need. “Suppose you are in a big building and you want to have a meeting. So you use your smart phone to see if any conference rooms are available. Scheduling says all conference rooms are booked, but the BAS sensors note that no one is in one conference room. It was booked, but is unoccupied. So you can have your meeting there.”
Future-proofing the BAS
No one can completely predict what technology will last and what will be outdated next week. And even when a BAS technology is dated, it can still be useful for on-site locations. Still, planning for future possibilities is important to future-proof BAS and Building IoT purchases as much as possible.
Some factors to consider are basic, but shouldn’t be taken for granted, like making sure that an analytics package will deliver useful information to the people who will use it the most. Other must-do considerations are new, like cyber security. Facility managers still don’t rank cyber security as a top priority when evaluating new BAS options, according to a Building Operating Management survey: Only 8 percent of respondents ranked it as “most important,” while 26 percent called it “least important.”
Sinha of Johnson Controls suggests facility managers look at three other areas when evaluating Building IoT options in light of their existing or planned BAS: interoperability between the new system and the older one; the incremental value provided by the new system; and the way that the new technology will impact the organization’s revenue and cost stream.
Don’t overlook the possibility that the existing BAS may have more capabilities than you are currently using. Fault detection and diagnostics capabilities are a case in point, says Drew DePriest, midwest regional sales manager, Automated Logic. Existing BAS software and controllers may be able to perform some real-time fault detection calculations. “There’s quite a bit that we can do, that pretty much anyone in the industry can do these days, with regard to FDD (fault detection and diagnosis) at the edge,” he says.
For facility managers who want more advanced analytics than the current BAS can offer, software overlays are an option. These packages pull data from the BAS to analyze it, while the BAS continues to control the building, De Priest says. When evaluating those options, he says, facility managers should ask, “How much human intervention is required to set it up to tell it what to look for?” Also important to know is whether the software will be installed within the building or in the cloud.
Regardless of whether the facility manager uses a BAS or a software overlay for analytics, it’s important to think about the way that the data will be managed. Zaban of Reliable Controls says facility managers should ask questions like these: “How do I access my data? How flexible is the reporting system in terms of creating reports? How easily can I sort through the mountain of data that’s there to extract intelligence out of that data set? Those are always the challenges of Big Data.”
When upgrading or adding new BAS systems, Modi of Echelon suggests checking to make sure they are using well-established communications standards that work across multiple applications and media. “You want your BAS to use standards that can evolve to meet future requirements,” he stresses.
And that’s exactly what’s happening today. Responding to the IoT evolution, BACnet Addendum 135-2012am defined new RESTful Web Services to replace the current SOAP-based Web Services in BACnet. RESTful Web Services moves BACnet into supporting IT technologies as well as integration with enterprise level applications, clouds, and modern user interfaces.
The BACnet addendum also introduced BACnet Extended Data Model (BACnet XD). Other addenda add device descriptions based on BACnet XD and updates for primitive value objects and revised event reporting. These addenda are now part of BACnet standard 135-2012 and are expected to flow into the new baseline 135-2016 edition.
Meanwhile, Echelon has developed a smart multiprotocol chip with BACnet, LON, and IP protocol stacks. The smart transceiver offers a platform for third-party vendors to develop products compatible with BACnet and LON devices as well as IP-enabled building control devices.
“As the technology changes and evolves, BAS will also need to adapt to these changes,” says Hemmerdinger from Schneider Electric. “A good BAS will be ready for that change today.”
Rita Tatum, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, has more than 30 years of experience covering facility design and technology.
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This is part 3 of our ongoing Building IoT series. To read part 1 about data, go here. To read part 2 about startups, go here.