Building IoT Builds on Systems, Tools, Already in Use
First of a 2-part article on knowing your current systems and IoT’s basic building blocks
The term “Building Internet of Things” can be daunting, suggesting a vague yet overwhelming set of new technologies. In fact, the Building Internet of Things (IoT) builds on systems and tools that are already widely understood and often commonly used in buildings today.
Indeed, the goal of the Building IoT is simplification. “In our mobile world, people are used to simplicity,” says Chris Purcell, chief technology officer, McKinstry. “Similar to any major system project, the success of a Building IoT initiative is tied to your ability to quickly use the tools and maintain them as requirements change.”
To describe how Building IoT can simplify a building’s technology, Dev DuRuz, a senior consultant with Paladino and Company, offers the analogy of the On-Board Diagnostics (specifically the OBD-II standard, introduced in 1996) systems used on automobiles, and how its advent simplified maintenance and repair for automobile owners and technicians. “You can plug into a common interface port of any manufacturer, and it allows anybody to see what the engine is doing,” he says. “IoT represents that possibility for buildings. You can unlock building data anywhere for independent reporting and action.”
DuRuz’s analogy assumes a car at least has an engine to be diagnosed. Similarly, buildings must have in place a minimum of technology to best reap the rewards from the Building IoT. Broadband Internet access, for one, says DuRuz. As well, well-established network security and a good working relationship with IT are obvious prerequisites.
But beyond the basics, a building automation system, meters, sensors, analytics software, and a common communications protocol allowing for some degree of interoperability are all the load-bearing I-beams of a building IoT system.
“If you have a BAS, you’re halfway there,” says DuRuz. “You’re already acting on data from existing systems.” Deploying Building IoT, like any building system, requires you to “begin with the end in mind,” says Purcell. You need to determine what you hope to gain from an IoT system — energy efficiency? Simplify how people in the building interact with the building? Improve the experience for visitors or customers? Streamline an industrial process?
Whatever the goal, or combination of goals, it’s critical to analyze your current system to understand limitations and possibilities of the future system, says Purcell. “Your technology choices for your future environment will be limited or expanded by your current architecture.”
Understanding what is currently in place is essential, says Mike Grush, a technology solutions engineer with McKinstry. “Documenting the existing systems is a good place to start on that task, since detailed documentation of the existing situation will be needed to develop upgrade plans and to prioritize projects,” he says.
This may not be as easy at it sounds. “BAS deployment has left us with a jigsaw puzzle of legacy and new systems that aren’t always backwards compatible,” says DuRuz. “If you manage 10 buildings in 10 states with 10 different control brands, and 10 different service vendors, you have a muddy picture of what’s going on.” But even in the same building, if systems like irrigation, fire/life safety, security, vertical transportation, HVAC, and lighting are siloed or not connected to a central system, much less speaking the same language, you might have trouble, he says.
A first-step solution, says Grush, is BACnet. “If you specify BACnet controls, they can talk to each other without requiring an integration system, intermediate gateway, or driver,” he says. “This enables devices from a huge variety of manufacturers to belong to the same internetwork and interoperate together.”