January 2019

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Cheating “Death by 1000 cuts”

The technological approach to a more sustainable future will most likely lie in harmonizing BACnet and IoT underneath a BACnet umbrella, utilizing Haystack and the likes to get things to talk together in a better way and to make it easier to apply analytics as well.  Part 1 of 2

Part 2 of 2

Enabling an open innovation platform for the Real Estate sector

Nicolas WaernNicolas Waern

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The thing is, we just want to make people healthier, to help reduce global heating faster than ever before, as well as democratizing smart city innovation for the greater good on a global scale of course. Luckily, we think we’ve found the recipe!

The technological aspects were the focus in my last post, and this time I’ll elucidate more on the business side of things. I copied a couple of questions below from my previous post, which hopefully will get you up to speed faster.

What if Real Estate owners could get their buildings connected, up to a point. And then let others innovate with their assets in a standardized way?

And what if end users could come up with the solutions themselves? We are already providing open modular hardware towards system integrators and the maker space, but what about the tenants? Is there a way to get them involved them in this space as well?

This will be the focus of this article; Enabling an open innovation platform for the real estate sector.

The current state of things

Death by 1000 cuts is not only about the technological integrations that need to happen in order to squeeze out value from existing buildings. It is also about the business models that exist today and where data resides.

The lay of the land today is that system integrators are locked into global giants who want them to use their products exclusively. Which in turn locks in system integrators into their respective solutions and their customers into whatever brand, make, their maintenance guys are
comfortable with, which leads to little or no room for innovation, except limited to the hands of the global giants.

As Ira Goldschmith states here:

BASs that use interoperating controllers from multiple manufacturers (except within the Tridium platform, but that’s a unique case) continues to be an (unfortunate?) rarity.

Tridium and the Niagara framework have fantastic solutions, no doubt. And wherever we go, people are using it. But even though they do the harmonization, everything is tied to their proprietary system underneath. And what this does, is that locks in everyone to their platform making it difficult for others to innovate on, and with, buildings today.

One of the major reasons why the industry has been slow to change is that the traditional business models are mostly about fixing stuff that has broken down. Or visits to sites, not based on real data, but of scheduled maintenance visits. Money gets paid by the time you take to fix stuff, and not so much the value of the service.

And on the other side, we see cool sensor solutions which fix a certain need. But this business model is not sustainable either, and there will be certain death by 1000 cuts, that’s guaranteed.

Real estate owners, consultants, service providers, IoT companies, Energy Management providers, system integrators and tenants have everything to gain by engaging in a more open, and platform-oriented business model. Companies have to disrupt themselves, but that in itself is a hard nut to crack for any industry. Surveying the landscape of companies out there, the only must-haves are the ones owning real estate themselves.

But therein lies the largest challenge, in that they don’t really want to digitize with their assets, because most of them don’t see any reason to do so. This is certainly not their fault, but rather other companies, not being able to show where the value actually is, and why digitalization is a must. And that is the key to the future. To be able to show how the platform economy will spark an era of collaboration, desperately needed to get faster to innovation when working with buildings.

Recently, while attending an event focusing on Real Estate, Architecture and Construction, at Recotech at Slush in Finland, the platform economy was the talk of the town.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Detailing the platform-as-a-service concept - Ivan Nokhrin

Black boxing buildings in terms of technology and opening one API to everything is indeed vital in order to create a standardized path towards the future. This opens buildings for the world of not only analytics but also services to be created in a standardized way on top.

But what does it really mean? And who should be in charge?

An open innovation platform for… everyone?

Having seen the separate worlds and need for harmonization between new technology and existing technology in buildings during the last year, we felt that something needed to be done. We got a very progressive real estate owner onboard, Uppsala Kommuns Fastighetsbolag, who wanted to digitize their assets with Manne Johansson in the lead. In this process, we also managed to get a development firm, Devies, to understand the potential of the platform economy quickly, and an app store for buildings approach. They were quick to develop the onsets of an MVP of the platform to be.

Figure 2 

Figure 2. An open innovation platform for real estate owners

The real estate owner’s idea, which we have the technology for, is to combine the digital world with the physical. The digital twin concept is in focus, and we have partners signed up to convert any physical space into the digital realm.
And during our initial discussions, we could see a need for transparent and aligned business processes from a vertical and horizontal perspective, inside and outside of the company — increased efficiency, platform-based automation and integration of solutions as well as more modern applications for any user.

“The focus should be on a fluid interaction between the digital and the physical, viewing technology as an enabler for an improved quality of life and a more vibrant city.” – The building whisperer

They have also seen the need of collaborating amongst different stakeholders with their buildings in focus. But instead of just tying documents to certain assets, they want to leverage the digital twin concept and pool all work around the real/digital assets. And this is exactly why we are utilizing a part of the world’s leading automation protocol as “an adapter” to get data in and out of buildings in a standardized way.

Tying ERP Systems, CRM Systems, Accounting, BIM, EAM systems, together with the existing portfolio has never been easier, and this is exactly what their intent is. And, obviously, we are finding this really exciting, because this is exactly what BACnet Web Services is made to do! (NB. The article is from the legend Steve Tom, Ph.D., P.E, and was written in 2004!)

Figure 3 

Figure 3. Digital twin of one of the areas of a Mall in Sweden

One of the first things we are in talks of doing next year is to bring all their buildings into the cloud, reaching a normalization of digital maturity. We have already done this for over 500 buildings in Norway, working closely with system integrators.

The benefits of the platform economy are to easily attach any services outside the traditional BAS-world into the world of BAS, thus making any building Cloud-, and Go-IoT - ready.

 We enable this with our software stack attaching sensor data from anywhere, and black boxing it together with existing data, thus allowing for split-second visualization and analytics. Below is a screenshot from our video enabling Grafana reading data from BACnet objects, in this instance, BACnet trend logs.

Figure 4

Figure 4. Grafana visualization from 8 years of Airport data

We have also done this with Node-Red, DGLux, and we are partnering up with dozens of companies right now in order to get the best package solution for our customers. Because that is what is the logical solution to the 1000 cuts problem: a platform for everyone, democratizing smart building, and city innovation.

But who should be in control?

Is there such a thing as controlling the platform economy?

Talking to especially real estate owners, we see that the “you can do everything approach” doesn’t work. And the “death by 1000” cuts approach doesn’t cut it anymore either. Well, that’s not true. It does, and that is the problem. New entrants might not have felt it yet, but the ones with some foresight will see that there will be integrations challenges down the line.

By enabling an open innovation platform on top of buildings, we can easily see a lot of interesting benefits. At first glance, it might be for real estate owners primarily, but I would argue that there’s more to meet the eye.

System integrators, FM companies, as well as any “IoT – Proptech” company are facing integration challenges everywhere. Bringing up older buildings to make them wise, is everything but easy. Therefore, a platform economy means that there will be a standardized way of integrating to all buildings. And what this does is that it opens tremendous opportunities for everyone that has an interest in the future of buildings and services, not only real estate owners.

Benefits with the platform economy

There’s no end to the possibilities, and the best part is that it speeds up the time for value creation when innovating with buildings.

Real estate owners can focus on what they do best, and any solution provider will be able to do what they do best, not having to worry about messy integrations. FM companies and technical managers will have a field trip integrating newer technology with existing building automation systems in a standardized way.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]And everything will be open, transparent and utilizing the digital twin concept. Definitely a New Deal 4 Buildings, and people!

Innovation for the Nation(s)

The potential to include other metrics such as weather data, accounting, energy, etc., becomes a breeze. Managers will get answers to questions such as;

These are questions that not only will be answered easily across the portfolio, but they will also be tied to digital twins, enabled by the platform economy.

Let’s say we have 100 buildings; all commercial buildings, with some level of digital maturity. And we buy into the “Smart Building as a Service” – approach. What’s next? We get the platform in place, and it comes with 6 services from different vendors. One could be energy analytics provided by company A. The next lighting control by company B. Strategic consultancy around anything related to their buildings in an agnostic way, company C. BIM/Digital twin creation through company D. And classic Energy Management system as company E. And traditional system integration from a Mass System integrator, company F.

Everything tied to one platform from the top, and with data streaming from all buildings from the edge. Since it is a seamless experience from the edge to the cloud, and with traditional BAS and IoT-> services, sensors, there’s logic to be made to the portfolio, instead of just buildings. And companies are not tied to proprietary solutions anymore, and they can mix and match completely because all the technical stuff will be taken care of.

New ways of making money

Digitizing real estate utilizing the platform economy opens up new ways of not only saving money by making processes more efficient; one of the most exciting prospects of having an App-Store for buildings is that it opens up dramatic ways of making money as well.
Offering new solutions through partners to tenants or any customers in the portfolio will incur new ways of looking at building innovation.

Figure 5

Figure 5. Making money on buildings while sleeping

Making money while sleeping will be the new norm for buildings and we’ll see a shift in real estate value increasing innovation and data generation. This will create a win win win for companies, people, climate and everyone living in cities today. I am sure of it!

Final words

What would you do if you could wish for applications to utilize at work, at home, at the hotel? I for one would love to have personalized lighting and indoor climate settings that I could control at the office, through voice commands of course, if need be.

The solution to the Death by 1000 cuts problem is that companies need to define their box, and if not willing to step out of it, damn sure find someone to partner up with that does. Being close-minded won’t last for long, and there’s so much value to be created on top of buildings that it blows my mind. Just imagine the economic benefits we’ve seen with the platform economy for phones, cars, hotels, etc. Imagine what people could do with a building if it was easy enough to innovate on it.

The technology is here to do all that is required, but the solutions need to be closely tied to that of a business case, and people need to collaborate more. One big question that will come up more and more is

-“How much data per square feet/meter are you utilizing and what’s the cash to data ratio per square meter”?

That’s a question I don’t think many companies can answer today. And the way we’ll be able to answer it will be through collaboration. Getting people in the same room from different disciplines is the key. And hopefully, that room is perfectly ventilated, with outstanding CO2 levels. And if not, let’s pray we have the possibilities to change it fast.

As always, don’t just sit around talking, and reading. Go out there and do something! That’s the only way to learn, and magic happens when collaborating with others.

-    The Building Whisperer


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