April 2012

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Building Communities

Open Connection Communities are set to shape the future of the building
automation industry.
Ken Sinclair,

Article as published by
Control Engineering Asia
March 2012


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One of the privileges of being the publisher/editor of AutomatedBuildings.com is that it requires that I read and assemble many articles, interviews, news releases, and new products for the large building automation industry every month. This task allows me insight to make comments on trends and shifts in direction in the industry based on the rapidly evolving information published on our magazine/online resource monthly and gleaned from industry events.

AHR 2012

My overall takeaway from AHR Expo 2012 (www.ahrexpo.com) in Chicago was the growing importance of being part of several strong Open Connection Communities. Who we are connected to and the value they bring to our products and services defines who we are and likely who we are to become. Open Connection Communities will shape building automation’s future. The communities that we connect to must be open so every member can build on the resources of that community.

To put this into perspective the Apple app connection community comes to mind: over half a million apps with millions of people working on them. You can argue that Apple is an open dictatorship but Apple has done more than any to define smartphone and tablet expectations and standards. In addition to defining standards they have clearly shown us what these devices are capable of.

Now Android must create even better apps and devices with their community, further raising the bar for those to follow. The example of Blackberry and its failure to create an open community platform has shown the significance of engaging your users.

Why am I talking about smartphones, we are in the automation industry correct? Yes, but our industry is now becoming very visible and is converging rapidly on evolving connection communities that are reshaping our lives and our businesses.

It has become crystal clear that as an industry we cannot afford to develop custom solutions as we have in the past. We must be part of viable connection communities and dovetail their amazing services and connections into our products and services. We cannot compete with the millions of man-hours being spent developing amazing services that are everywhere and anywhere on all platforms. Anything that is less or
different than these interfaces is very susceptible to rejection by our clients.

We need to let go of the ownership of our data and mesh with an open information world. We need to interact with other connection communities like Google and Bing. We need not to own this data just to find the most effective way to utilize it to grow our respective communities.

In essence, we have our standards plus the knowledge of our industry but we no longer can grow rapidly enough without being an integral part of several connection communities.

Getting together
I was extremely pleased to see our connection communities on the AHR Expo exhibit floor. The newest community that became very visible this year was EnOcean, providing a strong connection to the wireless products communities. All their members have the ability to bring solutions to market that interact with the community providing more value than just the original product.

The EnOcean Alliance, a leading consortium of 250 companies working to standardize and internationalize energy harvesting wireless technology for green intelligent buildings, had the participation of almost 30 Alliance member companies on the exhibition floor.

Enocean Alliance

This is a great example of a community working out their problems and just getting on with it. Some of the other protocols have not been so successful at creating aworking community or working products.

Of course, strong traditional communities like BACnet, Niagara, and LonMark were also showing the power of their connection communities and the host of new products and applications they have built to share with our industry. The power and reach of these communities has grown greatly over the last few years.

The quest as an industry to be anywhere, any platform, anytime, while entering the new world of analytics has created middleware connection communities that allow the power of what is already available to be added to our real time dynamic data. Since our data in real time arrives through a myriad of networks with different time constraints, the concept of a stored data base has evolved as asolution for all.

As the Apple example has shown us, sometimes the best way to grow rapidly is in a quasi-dictatorship. Once the direction change is shown the true open communities can
follow and build on the original community’s success, similar to what is now happening with the Android community.

NiagaraAX and Sedona Frameworks have created an amazing community over the last several years with hundreds of products and services that all interact with their open platform, and provide connection to many other connection communities. Once these connections are built they exist for the complete community, which is very powerful.

Of course, truly powerful products have the ability to straddle many communities and build on the power of all. We must clearly define which communities we are part of or create our own.

The reality is you need to be part of many connection communities – such as Project Haystack (http://project-haystack.org). This is an open source initiative to develop naming conventions and taxonomies for building equipment and operational data. It defines standardized data models for sites, equipment, and points related to energy, HVAC, lighting, and other environmental systems.

Here are some others:

I took time to walk the floor at AHR Expo in Chicago and look at the new heavy metal for our industry (chillers, packaged air handlers, heat pumps, etc) and was pleased to hear
the names of connections community such as BACnet, LonMark, Niagara and EnOcean being bantered about as the connection medium for this equipment. Another community I heard a lot mentioned was the Wi-Fi community, particularly in the heat
pump market.

This year’s AHR Expo 2012 Innovation Award went to Geofinity Manufacturing for recognition of its ORB technology, a patent pending, fully integrated equipment
intelligence system offering operating, monitoring, control and diagnostics capabilities. It performs the functionality of a total system management and reporting platform that provides real-time data trending and analysis, whether on-site or via email or website
information transfer.

Innovation Award Winners

Rick Cox, president of Geofinity stated: “Smart thermostats and building automation systems claim they control and monitor equipment, however, without the integration of such ‘intelligence’ actually being built directly into the equipment, absolute confidence
in system performance and optimization is impossible – the ORB is the answer. “With this technology we have revolutionized the future path of product development by demonstrating the critical need to design and manufacture HVAC equipment that possesses internal intelligent controls located directly within the systems.”

Invisible to visible
The marketplace and client needs for building management systems (BMS) are changing significantly as buildings and building management are becoming more complex. The pressures are coming from the need for greater visibility and transparency in energy consumption, the introduction of new technologies, and the evolving skill sets and knowledge required of facility personnel.

Our real-time network connections transport the invisible via the cloud but it is the graphics and their dashboards representations that convert the Invisible to Visible. What are the tools that make this possible? Improved or advanced BMS systems will need to have “middleware” software tools and be able to standardize data from a variety of sources and systems into an open database structure.

Jim Sinopoli, managing principal of Smart Buildings, which provides engineering and consulting services for the design and operation of integrated building technology systems, gives some great advice sourced from projects he is presently involved in:

[an error occurred while processing this directive] And then proceed with a plan for implementation:

  1. Identify the level of integration
  2. Develop a data plan
  3. Bring IT in early in the process
  4. Standardize naming conventions
  5. Use analytics and data mining
  6. Validate data
  7. Organize document management
  8. Understand the psychology and purpose of dashboards

Becoming open
“Open” is a fundamental key word that has driven the BAS industry over the last decade and will continue to drive it in the future. Open standards, open protocols, open architecture and open web are some of the key concepts.

Building automation systems have made it fairly easy to collect and control vast quantities of data from our buildings including environmental conditions, equipment operation, and energy usage. However, the reality today is that this data only exists in a low-level, unorganized format, which is difficult to analyze to find patterns, issues and opportunities for improved performance.

Benefits of open communities include creativity, i.e. the ability to create product extensions beyond the vision, capability and interests of a single manufacturer, plus also the creation of competition, which advances the state of the art. And from the “long tail” concept, addressing of niche opportunities that might not meet financial hurdles of the platform creator.

A growing community of third party developers are extending data analytics platforms with engineering tools, complimentary applications and service offerings that help the industry move forward and improve how buildings operate.

Companies like Johnson Controls are integrating extensive expertise from products like Metasys into its Panoptix solution, a suite of applications and support that work hand-in-hand with a BMS to provide the analytics and actionable information necessary
to ensure a single facility or an enterprise operates as efficiently as possible.

According to Dave Eidson, director of architecture and technology building efficiency, Johnson Controls, “This cloud-based solution combines BMS data with other important data, including utility consumption and weather data, to provide in-depth analysis. In fact, it can utilize data from buildings, business and specialty systems and is most powerful when provided with as much data as the user can provide via the existing BMS and other building systems. Users receive improved visibility into their building systems and can begin to operate in a more proactive and efficient way.

Panoptix Solution

Eidson also notes that Panoptix solution customers can take advantage of connectivity – to online and by-phone Live Guide support and to an online Connected Community of peers and experts committed to sharing best practices, news and resources.

“Organizations are becoming more comfortable with sharing anonymous analyses of their data with a wider audience, including research institutes, city planners and government associations, to name a few. Information that was once invisible to the outside world is, with increasing frequency, becoming visible and encouraging the
development of solutions to address common challenges.

“In some cases, entire cities are bringing together data regarding building equipment and systems in their schools, police and fire stations, libraries, government offices, etc. to help make decisions at the city level – decisions related to energy use, budgeting, staffing, communications, etc,” explains Eidson.

From William Rhodes, market analyst, building technologies, security & fire, IMS Research, comes this prediction that requires connected communities to implement.

“IMS Research predicts the two main forms of cloud based building automation solutions will be hosted building management software (BMS) and cloud based active management analytics.

“Hosted BMS allows users to remotely administer and manage their system through an internet browser. Facilities managers and other users can access the features and functionality of their system from anywhere in the world, from any device with an internet
connection. The building automation software as a service (SaaS) model is likely to have the greatest pick up for users with a portfolio of buildings spread over a wide geographic area. From a central location, the energy performance of each building in the portfolio can be compared.

“Active management analytics allows building owners, facilities managers and others to continuously commission their buildings. Active management compares real-time data against the potential performance of the building given the weather conditions around
the building and the orientation of the building. Rather than wait to the end of a quarter or month to receive a bill; owners, facility managers and other users can actively impact their energy consumption on an hourly or daily basis.”

Rhodes believes that 2012 could likely be the year many of these types of solutions turn from hype in the industry to real revenue growth, and also the year when continuous commissioning of building automation systems gains support through regulations such
as the ISO 50001 energy management standard.

I could cite many more examples but my point has been made that moving forward in today’s cloud will require embracing several truly open connection communities.


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