July 2014

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Sound Bites, Surprises and Solid Advice from the Smart Building Integrator Summit (SBIS) at IBcon 2014

Their common message was that open-architected, interoperable building automation systems (BAS) are at the nucleus of the next phase of human-to-machine connectivity.

Therese Sullivan

Contributing Editor

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Big-brand tech companies and Rock Star-caliber personalities in real estate management and data security came calling on the buildings industry at the Smart Building Integrator Summit (SBIS) on June 17th, the day before IBcon 2014 opened in Las Vegas. Their common message was that open-architected, interoperable building automation systems (BAS) are at the nucleus of the next phase of human-to-machine connectivity.  There was recognition that the commercial real estate technology industry is, in important respects, way out ahead when it comes to merging information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT). However, the next phase is going to require greater collaboration between IT and BAS technology and service providers to stay out ahead of security threats and legislation, as well as to meet the expectations of occupants who want their workplaces to keep pace with their home automation systems.

In the ‘Owners’ panel discussion, the audience heard both a corporate campus and urban retail/office/residential multi-use perspective on what customers want from system integrators. The panel included Darrell Smith, Director of Energy and Building Technology for Microsoft’s Real Estate and Facilities, and Mike Smith, VP of Building Technology Services Group of Forest City Enterprises, as well as Kelly Millsaps of Related. A common theme here was that System Integrators should work to earn a place at the decision-making table as a trusted advisor. Having a narrow view that emphasizes one brand of building system due to a sales channel relationship won’t serve to build such a relationship. “The SI’s role is to make us look at the challenge through a different lens,” said Microsoft’s Darrel Smith.  Moderator Ken Sinclair had many heads nodding in agreement with his comment that one sign of customer trust is that the SI is allowed to be involved in the definition of the Request for Proposal for the project.  

Paul Oswald, CEO, Environmental Systems Inc. (ESI) and John Petze, Principal, SkyFoundry, brought some realism to the topic of data-driven building decision-making. Oswald covered the topic of hiring, training and retaining great people to do the multifaceted job of system integration. He explained that the fastest, most secure route to an enduring systems integration company was to become a learning organization.  With IT, control, mechanical, electrical, security, etc. technologies rapidly advancing and client business models and organizational structures always changing, integrators need to be always ready to adapt and learn new things. Skills in application development, data analysis, energy aren’t enough, staff needs to know how to sell and manage project too. A constant investment in people is required, with outreach and active mentoring of the next generation, to bring new talent up the ladder of learning because it takes a while to gain all those skills.

John Petze  presented on the topic of databases, analytics (predictive & prescriptive), visualization and advanced integration. He reminded the audience that the biggest effort in setting up a data analytics project has been the task of interpreting the naming of source data and tagging it appropriately. Notably, Project Haystack, an effort to bring together industry leaders into an open source community to solve that tagging challenge together won the Digie award for Best Intelligent Building Technology Innovation (http://project-haystack.org/forum/topic/100). Petze also offered two pieces of actionable advice: 1) start with a shallow-dive project and 2) you don’t have to connect to live data to derive value from analytics.  When evaluating all the solutions now marketed in the building analytics category, he advised to compare 1) whether the data processing occurs in the cloud or on premise 2) whether programmability was available at the customer or project level and 3) what protocols and connectivity are supported, that is, does the system get the data you want to work with.

Billy Rios led the session on cyber security. He has one of the most impressive resumes among the white-hat hackers who work to discover and plug vulnerabilities before the black hats arrive. Rios oversaw the setup of a decoy honeypot by systems integration firm McKenney's in their training center (http://www.cnbc.com/id/101163690) Deployment vulnerabilities far outnumber product engineering vulnerabilities according to Rios. His prescription for avoiding these is 1) lots of employee training 2) logging more of the data traffic to and from the BMS so there is a record to audit and study and 3) better access control over BMS resources.

The last session of the summit brought six big names in commercial building real estate technology to the stage – some new to our industry: Yardi, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft and Tridium. RealComm’s Jim Young moderated and pulled one quotable sound bite after another from each.  With both companies in the ‘Wintel” computing near-monopoly present, there was on-stage consensus that we’re at another inflection point much like when PC technology eclipsed the minicomputer/mainframe. The big surprise came from Intel who announced the intention to play a big role in the next chapter of the building automation industry’s evolution. Rick Lisa, Group Sales Director of Intel’s Worldwide IoT Business Development Group, pointed to partnerships with air-conditioning multinational Daikon who wants to “give every air handler on the roof an integrated Intel-supplied brain” and Dell who aims to enter the systems integration service business. (http://www.dell.com/learn/us/en/uscorp1/press-releases/2014-06-18-dell-innovation-research-smart-buildings)  
All together the sessions that comprised the Smart Building Integrator Summit pointed to exciting times to come in our industry.



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