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Building Automation: Connecting Creative Communities

By Ken Sinclair

We are just back from an amazing event: Controls-Con. Thanks for making me part of your community and connecting me to your creative communities. This is a quick summary of social media posts and videos from the event.

I am on my road trip still singing the praises of the value of connecting to communities of practice (CoP). Your company's total worth is based on the combined value of your people and your connections to the support of valuable communities of practice. This combination defines your staying and growing power plus the acceptance of your companies as strategic partners with clients.

More than ever we need to connect to existing creative communities — use them to quickly become re-educated while growing younger with new people. In addition, we need to be constantly searching for new CoP that will update us to new industry trends and techniques. Naturally, we will also have to let go of those that have not been mutually beneficial. Of course, our core communities cannot be altered as they define our companies and their missions.

Our communities shape us as we shape them when we are viewed on social media or create our bio. Our connected communities paint a vivid picture while expressing our interests and understandings and the value we may add to our clients' equation.

Some communities you will want to belong to add to your credibility and create the understanding that you understand the importance of these communities to your purpose. It is important to volunteer and become part of “the pay it forward" support to help create, shape and enhance these communities.

For me, these would be communities like: 

ASHRAE. I am a life member but the rumor that I joined in 1894 is not true, though I am a founding member and past president of the local chapter.

ASHRAE, founded in 1894, is a global society advancing human well-being through sustainable technology for the built environment. The Society and its members focus on building systems, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, refrigeration and sustainability within the industry. Through research, standards writing, publishing and continuing education, ASHRAE shapes tomorrow’s built environment today.

BACnet International. I am a BACnet fan and promoter since inception. Notice that BACnet is a subset of ASHRAE.

BACnet International is an industry association that facilitates the successful use of the BACnet protocol in building automation and control systems through interoperability testing, educational programs and promotional activities. BACnet International oversees operation of the BACnet Testing Labs (BTL) and maintains a global listing of tested products. The BACnet standard was developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and has been made publicly available so that manufacturers can create interoperable systems of products. BACnet International complements the work of the ASHRAE standards committee and BACnet-related interest groups around the world.

Project Haystack. Been a fan and promoter since inception. BACnet now supports Haystack. Do you see a pattern developing? New CoPs are often part of existing ones. 

Project Haystack is an open source initiative to streamline working with data from the Internet of Things. We standardize semantic data models and web services with the goal of making it easier to unlock value from the vast quantity of data being generated by the smart devices that permeate our homes, buildings, factories, and cities. Applications include automation, control, energy, HVAC, lighting, and other environmental systems.

Does your connected community provide certification? Further education? Training? What is their value to you? Of what value are you to the community? You need to be part, not just joined. You need to participate to gain the value and gain the feeling and respect of the community.

Very important to understand that communities beget communities and the evolving splinter groups are how new CoP evolve and how new companies are created which in turn create more COP and more new companies.

In addition to our core communities, we need to be part of many other communities. I belong to more than 50 LinkedIn groups

On my road trip, I am connecting to the communities that are hosting events. You may find some of the CoP valuable to add to your virtual tool belt to increase your connection (your stickiness) to your industry purpose.

It is important to understand those that support our communities with their time and money add and help create the core values. These supporters have demonstrated that they have created a viable business out of the beliefs of the community. You need to understand their function in "the pay it forward" support they provide. Try to understand their business model and how it fits with enhancing and supporting. 

I will keep using myself as an example. Our community virtually supports our global online magazine for large building automation and allows us to provide our services free to you. Please join me in thanking our sponsors.

The events I will attend are all supported by members who well understand the power and purpose of supporting their community. Click on the sponsor tab to see a complete list of who helped make Controls-Con happen.

The event showed how to create commerce out of community. Here is an excellent example: Return on Investment for Smart Building Technology by Scott Cochrane.

Things are a changing… As we incorporate new technology into the control systems, there are new opportunities for return on investment.  We are still automating the mechanical and electrical systems for autonomous control and saving energy, but with new technology, we are also adding new features and capabilities to our control systems. Those new capabilities mean new system value to the end user that, in turn, translates into new ways for the owner to benefit financially from their technology decision(s).  Let’s dive into these new value concepts: Business Efficiency | Customer Experience | Worker Recruiting and Retention.

Business Efficiency through Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS)– A goal of every business is to improve productivity.  IPS can be added to lighting, Wi-Fi, or a mix of systems along with an app or beacon to allow us to track people and assets in a building.  This new information can be utilized not just by the maintenance group, but it can help business managers make important decisions on how to utilize the space better and/or manage their teams better. 

For a list of the community support for the Haystack event go here

This article just online shows great connection of communities. Raspberry Pi based BAS controllers provide Azure cloud connectivity out of the box. The Azure cloud gives users great flexibility and ease of setup in their “IoT Central” portal. Provisioning the BASpi in Azure IoT Central is very simple and straight forward, even kids can do it. Be sure to catch our BASpi presentation in the general session and pPitchfest track – “BAS Controller With Haystack Powered by Raspberry Pi.” 

Plus this company uses the CoP to create product: A Lightweight Yet Informative HTML5 User Experience. The product uses a standard naming convention defined by the Haystack tags. These tags are also referred to as semantic tags or meta data tags and were developed and agreed upon by the Project Haystack community, where Conserve It is a founding member.

Can events we attend unhinge your mind and open your thoughts to change?

Yes, as you can see by the above events plus REALCOMM, which has an amazing amount of supporters.  

I went to each of the exhibitors' websites listed at the above link to try to understand their play, which was an interesting exercise. My conclusion: A future proof building now needs a strong wireless network 5G capable.... We now buy and own the network cable. Why would we not want to own the airspace?

Are we at the point to stop specifying wired Ethernet/IP networks? Will we force all suppliers to provide wireless connections only?

Will this cast more doubt on POE as a viable solution? Low voltage power would come from the nearest LED light fixtures. The IP network will be wireless everywhere. This is a serious head shake.

This is worth a read on wireless ways. Today, the vast majority of commercial buildings tend to lack this infrastructure and the reason has largely been due to cost. Owner-funded solutions are expensive capital outlays and often unreliable. Carrier-funded solutions are a rarity and do nothing to ensure multiple carriers are supported inside the building. Airwavz set out early to figure out how to reduce costs and get all carriers connected.

This is still going to be a big issue. I don't know that the value proposition to all this is yet clear. I'm not sure we get why we should "own the air." That case has to be made crystal clear, in that you can calculate an ROI on the investment. The number of products on the exhibit floor that lean heavily on a wireless world may contain the ROI answer.

At Realcomm, I am a moderator of two panel discussions: “Autonomous Interactions — Integrating the Occupant Experience into Smart Buildings” and “Connecting to the Enterprise — The Fast-Changing World of HVAC.” 

The wireless way is a big part of both discussions. OEM connections, way finding, and the value of location services all only occur when you control your airspace, the wireless network. We need to consider this future-proofing of our building networking airways.

This is a new concept for our large buildings, but in your house, you control the wireless network. If you want to add location service, way finding, IAQ sensor, Hey Google, Alexa, or anything else, you can. You have complete control. Users will sign onto your secure network for connection to services. You decide what they can and cannot do. We need to create value with air space services, i.e., way finding, location service, and autonomous interaction ("AI") with proximity to things and edge devices.

 Will future-proofed large buildings control their airspace, wireless signals, and approval of all wireless hardware that is allowed in their buildings controlling the airspace? The answer is Yes.

This raises the issue of IoT Standards: The End Game.

Quite regularly I get the question: With all these standards around, what should I choose? Zigbee, Thread, Bluetooth Mesh, or Wi-Fi? Or maybe LoRa? Or is it better to wait for 5G and NB-IoT?

Of course, these questions create confusion and slow down the adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT). Part of this confusion is because it isn’t always clear what standards are suitable…. In addition, marketers make unsubstantiated claims about new standard capabilities like latency (“in the milliseconds!”), as if that’s really important. Not so. Most applications can deal with a latency of seconds; even live TV delayed a few seconds is still live TV.

So, how does one answer the question, “What standard should be used?” Usually, I answer this question with another one: “How can you make money?” Typically, the determining factor isn’t the radio standard. For radio, most apply “good enough is good enough,” and making money is determined by the value created by the application that runs over wireless. Wireless is just wireless like a wire is just a wire.

And keep in mind: Whatever wireless standard is leading the pack today, in 5 to 10 years things will have changed anyway, so upgrading your network will be important. But waiting for “the final and ultimate” wireless networking technology will take a long time.

Beyond these thoughts are LiFi Technology. LiFi is a wireless technology holds the key to solving challenges faced by 5G. LiFi can transmit at multiple gigabits, is more reliable, virtually interference free and uniquely more secure than radio technology such as Wi-Fi or cellular.

I am always on the edge of real and unreal. Are these trends real? Seems a lot to absorb.

Why are there so many folks at Realcomm selling these solutions? Can we assume that someone must be buying?

Not sure the cost is as high or as extra as you think. Buildings are spending a lot on DAS just to keep cell phones working in the buildings. 

This wireless infrastructure cost will likely be done independently of our wired networks. In the past, there was dollar saving by putting our IP networks on the IP building wired network backbone. This is just the next evolution our stuff, and everyone else will be wireless.

Our new stuff will share the air with cell phones, providing a new mashup of location services and indoor navigation on the edge.

5G will come at no cost to us, but it is just not the next speed improvement because it approaches or is faster than wire, though it needs to connect to fiber to be useful.

As the old controllers fail they will be replaced with the new low cost breed of edge control which are wireless by design. Once this starts happening, traditional DDC folks will magically offer you low-cost wireless solutions I believe they all have solutions; you just need to hold their feet to the fire to have them use them. It is sort like how the majors dragged their feet when moving from proprietary to open BACnet. This is very open wireless IoT.... Yikes — we have arrived.

The wire-pullers are going to resist the wireless-everything concept hard and will tout POE as their solution. But if IP networks come wireless to all the devices low voltage DC power can be tapped from the closest LED light fixture.

The battle of what is above the ceiling is evolving daily as we move from high voltage to low voltage lighting and to wireless networks all providing major disruption and re-thinking of our old models.

"What is reality?"

Thinks about compact fluorescent lamps and LEDs. Why did we keep using compact fluorescents even after LEDs began to reach the market?

Because it cost too much and the functionality wasn’t there. Yet it seems like a very lame excuse because we knew it would come and if we had abandoned the compact fluorescent earlier the new technology would have come quicker and prices would have dropped soon.

Sometimes we need to push the envelope and ask, "What is reality?” Will this for sure happen? Do I need to invest in future proofing?

The other thought is replacing today's wireless with the newest greatest future wireless will be an easy upgrade, but replacing the wired infrastructure will always have a higher cost and cause greater building disruption.

This is a good plug (pun intended): Video for POE. But it presents its case on the basis of traditional IP networks. What if traditional IP networks disappear? Then traditional networks become an expensive way to carry low voltage power to devices.

Ultimately I feel POE will go the route of the low voltage power t-bar ceiling grids. LED lights with their low voltage requirements made the grid part of device, plus there not enough POE competitors so is too expensive and not flexible enough. Open flexible solutions are required.

If you are sensing desirable delightful diverting disruption you have not seen anything yet. This article pointed at our industry shows how quickly change can and must occur:

Another industry that has caught my eye recently is particularly ripe for disruption.

It represents a 100 billion dollar market today, and is set to grow to nearly four times that size by 2050. It is based on a technology that has not fundamentally changed since its invention (or rather, accidental discovery) over 100 years ago. A handful of companies dominate the channels to market, and generally spend far more on advertising than they do on R&D. It produces something critical to people’s health and productivity (especially in the developing world) that are also going to consume as much electricity as the entire U.S., Germany, and Japan do today —- combined. And, most critically, those widgets are going to account for 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming by the end of the century — assuming business-as-usual.

 “Disruption” is a word that gets overused. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that shaking up entrenched, complacent industries can do a world of good.

Why did this disruptive wireless discussion with myself appear in my article about connecting creative communities? Major CoP wars play out at these events all the time, and it important to hear all sides so you can make the correct decision for your application to plan your future.

Build your company identity with your core CoP. Hire your people based on their autodidact job-crafting abilities to self learn and influence a variety of communities. Hire folks that have different CoP than your core ones to build a strong mosaic of interests and skills. Moving forward you will like to hire someone because of their close connection and knowledge of one or more creative communities.

Ken Sinclair is the founder, owner, and publisher of an online resource called AutomatedBuildings.com. He writes a monthly column for FacilitiesNet.com about what is new in the Internet of Things (IOT) for building automation.


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posted on 5/13/2019