August 2014

Innovations in Comfort, Efficiency, and Safety Solutions.

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You and Your Collaboratory Creating Open Cloud Services

Are your building automation data and analytics sitting somewhere in the cloud? How open is your cloud vendor? That could become a major issue, but just one issue, as the buildings and BAS industries try to manage the naming of things in this critical environment. Another key to success: pay attention to the mistakes of the past and the minds of the future.

Ken Sinclair

As published
Engineered Systems 
  August Issue

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Your cloud and the cloud services you create for your clients on your journey to the Internet of Things (IOT) are a virtual extension of everything you have ever done in the past, with the added power of a mobile cloud services future.

Smartphones have pushed cloud management into our daily life. Where is our email, calendar, contacts?  Can we update and view from any device, anywhere? The answer  is yes, so why can we not do this for all our building information? We can and you can. Actually, you must get involved in the IOT mobile cloud revolution moving to our future, or your services will fall from demand.

Building energy data is likely the first information to be put in the cloud, and analytics of the same will follow. Analytics will identify the value of adding dynamic operational data from open data protocols like BACnet. Dynamic operational data as a web service begets more and deeper analytics. This leads to likely providing analytics as a cloud service. This service may have a cloud visualization piece as part of analytics or as a separate cloud service. The value of the deep analytics with powerful visualization will uncover the need for more information, plus more cloud services such as fault detection and mobile device interaction. This pattern is being followed in most buildings and complexes today as the lowest-cost, highest-ROI plan. Cloud services are very powerful and very cost-effective.

How you create your open cloud and how you build your collaboratory (dynamic collection of people, things, and internet interactions) around you depends on your understanding of where surrounding technologies are on the adoption curve.

My thought is that we need to take more ownership and control of the cloud, working hard to keep it open and provide classification and naming of all information for building operations and design. Structural naming in the cloud environment is mandatory to leverage successful cloud services.

Later I will speak to the concept of “U R our Asset,” but first, let me talk of the power of your collaboratory.


In our education sessions at the AHR Expo in snowy New York this year, one clear component of all successful energy integration projects was a team of champions who asserted ownership of the project’s collaboratory.

Another observation was that the projects were truly morphing into a dynamic collection of people, things, and internet interactions: a collaboratory, not just a project.

“…a collaboratory is more than an elaborate collection of information and communications technologies; it is a new networked organizational form that also includes social processes; collaboration techniques; formal and informal communication; and agreement on norms, principles, values, and rules.” (Cogburn, 2003, p. 86)

We need not to just be part of a collaborator; we need to impose the “Ownership of the Collaboratory” that surrounds each project. The importance of keeping our data free inside the collaboratory was also highlighted, a lesson we learned in the past but somehow have to keep relearning over and over. The data not only needs to be free, it needs to benamed and organized in a predictable, agreed-on format.

This article provides insight to collaboration: “The Value of the Collaborative Community Collaboration” simply means to work together with a shared vision and desired outcome for the future. It’s on our site and authored by Marc Petock, Vice President, Marketing, Lynxspring, Inc. An excerpt:

Today, many innovations are being fueled by collaborative, connected community efforts. We see it most clearly in the internet and web, where new capabilities are continuously developed by communities that build on the work of others, creating “mashups,” and new complimentary applications. We also see it in M2M and are beginning to see it to some degree in our very own industry. Collaborative community efforts are helping drive new ways to extend the value of our building systems and effecting change and innovation. …

Project-Haystack is a good example of a collaborative community coming together. Those of us connected to Project Haystack have come together around data and how to make sense of it. We are awash in data today, and most facility operational data has poor semantic modeling. The result is that any effort to use that data requires a manual, labor intensive processes to “map” the data before one can begin capturing the value from the data. To help address this need, the Project-Haystack community has come together and is collaborating around the use of naming conventions and why taxonomies can make it more cost effective to analyze, visualize, and derive value from our operational data.


This is one of the first attempts at describing what defining “open” in the cloud might mean.

If we are not clear on “keeping the cloud open,” there is a dark side, a concern of an evolving trend towards proprietary cloud. I grew up in the industry during the DDC revolution and saw the floundering of the early proprietary DDC systems that evolved quickly with amazing capabilities but which also rapidly became obsolete and impossible to maintain. Several early DDC system companies failed, and those that succeeded were liberated with the development of open protocols with total project integration and interaction with several vendors.

Large automation companies resisted “open” until forced to open their proprietary ways by their clients. Open meant losing control for these companies, which is, of course, what the client needed and wanted. A new paradigm is in the definition of large companies. In the past, large companies were limited to large building automation, but in the cloud, the likes of Amazon or Google dwarf these companies and raise new questions as to data ownership and interaction.

I fear a repeat of history for some upstarts that are ignoring known open standards and protocols while attempting to claim ownership of your data. Their fate is known, but it may be painful to you if they are your present cloud service provider.

I am concerned about companies providing proprietary cloud to gain control. The term “proprietary cloud” is not normally used because of the negative connotation, but words like “closed vendor” cloud or “managed cloud” are used to politely describe my concern.

Cloud standards or flavors are not well understood, or specified or requested, and this allows large companies to build fences around your data and control your web services. The very thing pitched to set you free may trap you. Understand and take ownership of your data and insure “cloud openness,” which is yet to be clearly defined.

We have provided a review of open cloud definitions as a first step to start our journey to understanding the true implications of keeping our cloud open.

From my article, “Classification or what ‘things’ are called”:

One of the key components of keeping the cloud open is controlling what things are called and understanding the meaning of the data they produce.

Conclusion: If we are to keep the cloud open and as useful as possible, you cannot allow unstructured naming of anything. You must take ownership of your classification or what “things” are called.

The dangerous potential trend to a proprietary cloud is fueled by overall security concerns and the instant value of included web services in the proposed proprietary cloud.

How do we avoid proprietary cloud while still involving our clients and the many vendors and our new and existing web services?

How do we build “open cloud” that allows us to mix and match web services to our corporate enterprise goals?

Our past open progress could be lost in a cloud if we do not heed our past experience of 30 years. We may be giving up control, rather than gaining it, while we move to the IOT.

This article helps us: “Understanding The Facets of ‘OPEN’” by John Petze of Skyfoundry. There are a number of facets of openness that affect building owners and those of us that work with automation systems. An excerpt:

One of the most talked about subjects in our industry is that of “open.” And yet even with a volume of articles and commentary there is still confusion. I think much of that stems from not starting by defining what is meant by the term “open.” There are a number of facets of openness that affect building owners and those of us who work with automation systems. We can better evaluate whether a product meets a level of openness we require if we start by categorizing the various facets of openness.


The people of our industry are our cashable assets, not our technology.

I find it interesting that in the blur of technology, it is the people of our industry that are our cashable assets, not our technology.

Geoffrey Moore’s pragmatic and systematic approach to the chaos created by technological innovation provided insight and guidance to the adoption journey (

This is an excellent message for us all to get our heads around — where we are on the adoption curve? Geoffrey maps out all the milestones of the journey and clearly defines the chasm we must cross.

My observation is that your understanding of your location on the adoption curve provides the value you bring to your company and our industry. Or to put it in text-friendly form, “R U the Asset?” To invest and grow our companies’ assets, we need to clone your knowledge and understanding. We as an industry, and you as a company, need to invest more of you (time and money)in the training and growth of those around you.

Mentoring is an amazing feel-good, do-good vehicle, and every mentor should have a mentor. Those that are being mentored need to pass it on and be mentors to someone else, all working to create a network or brain trust to be part of your company culture’s collaboratory.

For the survival of our industry, we need to reach out and engage the bright minds who have grown up with the chaos created by technological innovation and share with them the wisdom and reason of our grey hairs and our lives of planting, growing, and nurturing truly smart intelligent buildings. Engage in mentorship, and you will be amazed at what you learn from these bright minds.

Create a new collaborator around your world that includes their world. You will be amazed at how this will increase your assets and general understanding of the blur and chaos that is our new reality.

How do we build this valuable people asset?

“Addressing The Skills Gap” by Paul Oswald (President, Environmental Systems, Inc.) speaks well to this and does an amazing job of defining the task at hand and is a must read for all. It’s time we as an industry begin to focus our efforts on investing in the people necessary to properly apply all the great technology we have in order to deliver quality solutions that provide real value to end users. An excerpt follows:

Inevitably conversations in our industry focus on technology; new or old, doesn’t matter, we like to talk about technology; even to the point where we lose sight of the other things that make our industry work. The most important of these nontechnology issues is the skills gap.

For most of the system integrators in this industry, they have only one asset — people. Contractors may have trucks, tools, and inventory, but their number one asset is people. Let’s face it, integrators and contractors don’t manufacture anything, they typically don’t have any patents or licensable IP. They have one primary asset and it goes home every night.

Yet, how do we manage the number one asset? What do we invest in it, how do we attract it, how do we retain it? For most services firms, their real point of differentiation is their people, not the brand of product they represent or the geography they conduct business in.

They need to ask questions such as:
• What’s the average age of your talent pool?
• Do your people have the right skills?
• What’s your talent attraction strategy?
Do you have one?
• What’s your talent retention strategy?

Firms engaged in the business of providing solutions in our industry should understand that the value they bring to their customers is proportional to the knowledge and skills of their people; not the brand of the products they represent.

And as history shows, if you’re not consistently adding value to your customers, you will be replaced.

Once we understand where we and our technologies are on the adoption curve, and we understand that the asset in our firms are us, and then we invest in increasing our asset of the knowledge and skills of our people, we can start on our journey to change the world one cloud service at a time.

Sinclair is the editor and owner of

Sinclair is just starting to assemble his 16th year of free education sessions for the AHR Expo in Chicago for 2015. Come to these two sessions to interact on some of the topics discussed in this article.

• Addressing The Skills Gap, January 26, 1:30 p.m.
• Connection Community Collaboratory meeting on January 27, 1:30 p.m.


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