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Building Automation: Developing a 2020 Vision

By Ken Sinclair

Just returned from an extremely successful Realcomm in Nashville in which “Recalibrate” was the theme. I learned lots, and I am still convinced that we are becoming the Internet of Things and most of what we do not know revolves around our evolving new identities as walking and talking IoT.

My many years in the building automation industry has taught me when recalibrating, a deep knowledge of what we are recalibrating and a history of the past is very important.

Definition of recalibrate: transitive verb: to calibrate (something) again … these systems gradually drift off course so that the navigator periodically needs a fresh point of reference to recalibrate the navigation system.

With a plethora of enterprise software platforms and new connection standards like 5G CBRS presented at the event, we are reminded of the dot-com days of radical change.

Can so many platforms exist without dot-crashing? Hard to say, as these platforms require an amazing community of practice to be successful, which has more value than the actual platforms. Maybe a better way to view each platform is as a community of practice (COP), not a software identity. I feel success can be achieved using the COP that created that platform. It is not the secret sauce of the platforms but the people that bring the solutions and structure and never-before-done features. When they are removed, the platform value comes into question.

Just in from our Contributing Editor, Therese Sullivan: Mike Westerfield of Tridium connected each one of the logos to a community of practice. He goes a step further than my own thinking on this CoP concept. Also, he builds his narrative around the idea that it is these CoPs that keep evolving the technology that makes buildings “living, breathing.” You'll find his voice from about MIN 8 to MIN 16. He also talks about how Microsoft Azure and Niagara will connect through a new driver developed by MSFT and about to be released as open source.

All the successful platforms were created from the success of people, a COP working closely with owners to solve the problems at hand, all focused on the creation of the platform. The platform value is in the COP of creation, not the technology — at least in my humble opinion.

AutomatedBuildings.com, "our online magazine," is going into our 21st year, just like Realcomm/IBcon. We both started in the days of dot-com. Our startup article of over 20 years ago points to the power of dot-com: Your Building Address as a .com? “The concept of a large building as an internet identity with its own web address is now the latest step in presenting and managing your automated buildings.” Era 1999.

“We have selected this article to be in our first launch issue because we think it sends us all a wake-up call as to how significant the internet is going to be in the future. Our site is aimed at the automation of buildings and integration with the internet will become just another step.”

What is similar in this 20-year-old article to today's recalibration?

Building as a website has evolved to enterprise as a platform of which we now have an increasable amount of choice and ease of access to all envisioned data.

The concept of "your building as an ISP (Internet Service Provider)" was not as strong a dot-com trend as suggested by the article but is now being revisited with 5G and CBRS being deployed by building owners as their own ISP service. When connected to fiber it can provide fast wireless internet with the added value of location-based services.

The direct digital control (DDC) microprocessors have now evolved as extremely low-cost, fully functional microcomputer edge devices with 5G connections and extremely low cost storage that allows self-learning and AI location-based services.

More leading edge features could be access to real-time temperatures and IAQ data, virtual thermostats, and lighting interfaces. The high speed inter-panel communication requirements for the building’s DDC system could use this same Intranet network with either TCP/IP, BACnet, LonTalk, or custom protocol.

This is now all part of the enterprise platform. TCP/IP and BACnet have stood the test of time and are still present.

I find it interesting that in this 20-year window we are not talking about a radical change in the industry, just a recalibration and new delivery trends. 

5G & CBRS Network Architecture

CBRS is citizen broadband radio service. In 2017, the FCC completed a process to establish rules for commercial use of this band. Commercializing this band enables service providers/wireless operators to use it without acquiring frequency licenses. CBRS frequency spectrum shall help 4G/5G mobile networks deployment quicker and easier. CBRS band is also referred to as 3.5 GHz band.

The connection of 5G to fiber in the building by the owner, who then sells this in building services to existing service providers with the new reach of CBRS in building and even near building, does conjure up a vision of change.

5G connections in North America in 2019 will be around 4 million, and that total is expected to grow to over 400 million by 2025. (FierceWireless; CCS Insight, 2018) 

New this year, the Realcomm | IBcon 5G & In-Building Wireless Pavilion featured top vendors that are focused on bringing in-building wireless solutions to the commercial and corporate real estate market. This included manufacturers, integrators, service providers, consultants, and others. 

This year’s program dedicated an entire track to 5G, CBRS, and other in-building wireless technologies. It featured industry speakers who are at the forefront of these emerging topics. Microsoft had a large presence at this event

I attended a Microsoft executive briefing: "An IoT Platform for Experiencing and Managing Commercial Real Estate." Loved that we were advised the Windows division of Microsoft has finally been shut down. The end of an era and end of licensing software in empty cardboard boxes to a transition of providing software as a service from the cloud.

The term “smart building” was coined in the 1980s after networking and connectivity changed what could be done in the built environment. Today that term is taking on new meaning, driven by growing possibilities for a new, more elevated idea of “smart.” The Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence have great potential to help building owners, operators, and occupants manage and dwell in buildings with greater efficiency — saving costs and energy, and organizing space in a way that best fits a company’s culture and goals. Microsoft's goal is to empower every customer to transform their businesses, and the world at large, with connected solutions. 

Also worth a read: Accelerating smart building solutions with cloud, AI, and IoT, posted on June 13, 2019, by Matthew Vogel, senior program manager, Azure IoT.

“This year we’ve returned to Realcomm | IBcon, joined by over 30 partners who have delivered innovative solutions using our spatial intelligence and device security services to provide safety to construction sites, operate buildings more efficiently, utilize space more effectively, and boost occupant productivity and satisfaction. Here we’ll tell you more about a selection of these smart building partners who are accelerating digital transformation in their industries.”

More on Microsoft: “When Microsoft embarked on a renovation of its Amsterdam headquarters, the software giant adopted a data-driven approach….

“Microsoft opened its renovated Outlook building last October. Data gathered before the renovation led to a 25 per cent reduction in the amount of space required and one-and-a-half newly available floors of the building were let to a co-working operator.

“Employees now use an app to locate colleagues and book a wide range of workspaces, including and silent zones. Sensors measure occupancy, temperature, humidity, light and noise levels.” The article quotes David Williams, an innovation architect at the company: “We’ve completely redesigned the way we work.”

My speaking partner at Realcom/IBcon, Joseph Aamidor, senior product management consultant / managing director, Aamidor Consulting provided this wisdom in his review of the event:  

“New technology leadership. Many real estate firms are hiring senior IT leaders to focus on building and real estate technology. This may accelerate the IT/OT (information technology / operational technology) convergence. This also will help vendors identify the right target for their sales efforts and may expedite the budgeting process for new technology investments. We spoke with a few of these IT leaders who recently moved from other technology projects at their firms. One common opinion: a lot of building technology could be modernized.”

Joseph and I did a session called “Connecting to the Enterprise – The Fast-Changing World of HVAC.” It went well but one observation from the conversation was that the connection and need for data and our new focus on the user experience is moving the industry to compartmentalized thinking rather than central systems.

Amazing amount of industry thought here: https://www.youtube.com/user/RealcommEvents/videos. It’s a good view of the width as well as the depth of this conference.

We are becoming our own strain of IoT/OT.

In this video, Brian Turner and Scott Cochrane join conversations around the emergence and intersection of IT, OT, and IoT in smart buildings.

Leon Wurfel, founder and CEO of BUENO, offers a fun take on the evolution of data-driven operations.

Smart Buildings Integrator Summit focused on the master systems integrator: “And Realcomm|IBcon 2019 begins...Ken and I spent the yesterday listening to some of the most intelligent minds in smart building controls business. These are the minds that are shaping the future of smart buildings.  And yesterday was just the pre-con event!....

“This is one of the videos we live-streamed yesterday. Conversation included how owners are profiling smart building controls master system integrators, and how they are learning to  specify the MSI role before the project is bid to protect their smart buildings interests.  It is a must watch for anyone wanting to be successful in today’s evolving building automation market.”

I was the moderator of this part of the summit, “Autonomous Interactions – Integrating the OCCUPANT EXPERIENCE into Smart Buildings.”

More interviews about the event here.

The following links not from the Realcomm/IBcon event are worthy of your considerations.

Can your ‘Smart IoT’ building achieve JLL's 3:30:300:3000 rule? The 3:30:300 rule refers to the ratio  of the cost of energy to the cost of space to the cost of employees per square foot. “The ‘3000’ figure relates to the unexpected benefits of highly interconnected building systems and their devices and sensors in delivering device level value data that can be turned into incredibly valuable real-time business operations data. This is a combination of space utilization information plus productivity data set against a given set of environmental conditions, heat, quality of light, air quality, ease of space control and use, furnishing, social interaction and more.”

In this great article by Sudha Jamthe, Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Data Business, if you exchange the word vehicle/car with building it speaks well to the present transformation that is occurring in our connected smart building industry. Our industry is on a journey towards automated intelligence and that, for now, is the AI we are talking about, along with its interlocking AI, autonomous interaction. Our industry needs to understand better connected and autonomous vehicle/building data business. Another part of our recalibration for 2020 vision.

Ever hear of low-code development platforms? “The power and flexibility that modern low-code platforms bring to the table enable organizations to realize the benefits they have always sought, but with the advantage of being able to create and change applications more rapidly, and to engage non-coders in the development process.

“It’s an enticing promise that is winning converts across the enterprise spectrum — particularly as these platforms demonstrate that they can meet ever-more-complex and intricate needs.”

I hope the above thoughts and linked resources will help you with your 2020 vision.

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 7/17/2019