July 2019

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What's in a name?

Capitalization of the O is very intentional and meant to start the conversation about the meaning behind the O. This hits at the fundamental core of IOT.
Brian Turner
Brian Turner,

Buildings IOT

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Control Solutions, Inc

People are often curious about the upper case O in our name, Buildings IOT. "Shouldn't the O be lower case?" and "It is the Internet of Things, right?" Capitalization of the O is very intentional and meant to start the conversation about the meaning behind the O. This hits at the fundamental core of IOT. It does not merely represent the Internet of Things (IoT), but takes on a more significant definition as the intersection of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT); hence IOT. This is really only the beginning of the conversation. Ending it there doesn't complete the story of the many aspects of IOT.

For a little background, it makes sense to get on the same page with respect to the roles of IT and OT. The information technology systems are typically recognized as the network (wired and wireless) and the servers, computers, tablets and phones attached to those networks, but they also encompass many software applications designed to help the business measure goals and performance. The operational technology systems are used to improve the performance of the building or campus for the purpose of providing a comfortable work and/or learning place for the occupants using the optimum amount of energy. These OT systems can be thought of as systems that bring a building to life. Systems include heating and air conditioning, lighting, physical security, people moving systems, waste management, facility care and cleaning, irrigation, and others.

The problem with merging these two cultures...

The devices and systems involved in the operational technologies of the building have never followed the rigor of information technology. This is not to say operational technology hardware and software is not tested well, nor is it to say information technology products are all perfect when they are released. The fact is that OT systems are relatively new to the IT world and IT leaders are taking note of these new devices being introduced to the network. It is becoming clear that IT must deal holistically with OT and the fact that these devices can and will open holes in the security layers of the network if left unchecked. There have been many examples of devices behaving badly, or being used as a conduit for others to behave badly, of which only a few were well publicized.

What this means is that IT standards and methods are starting to be required in OT devices. This means OT device manufacturers are being asked to deliver products that are network ready and network worthy. Often, this requires manufactures to go back to the hardware design aspect of the devices. The method of bypassing IT to get OT devices on a remote network connection or on a private cellular connection are coming to an end. IT will be involved in these decisions and will be the ultimate arbiter in these decisions as the risk is simply too high not to be. The good news is that people and companies like Google are forging ahead with standards to impact this new reality, inspiring frameworks like the newly released Device Automated Qualification framework (DAQ), specifically designed to assist with qualifying OT devices to live in a converge IOT world.

The opportunity

With a converged IOT, the network is the first opportunity to converge, and often where it makes the most sense. There are still vertical markets where this is not the foregone conclusion like healthcare and banking, but for many building verticals, this is the most direct and secure way to go. Once the decision to converge the network is made, the clarity of roles starts to come into focus. This is a clarity that had paralyzed many organizations and either prevents decisions, or creates bad long-term decisions.

A second opportunity is the sharing of data to gain additional real time. People counting is a popular topic at the moment for many applications. IT has been using people counting technologies for many years to understand basics in order to assist with space planning and marketing efforts, among other business applications. The opportunity being discussed at the moment is understanding where people are at any given moment. This information can be used to deliver the appropriate temperature control, instructions during an event, conference room availability, and more. This requires information to be refreshed much more often than the business applications of the past. It requires many more sensors in the building, and it requires the cost model be revamped in order to adjust to this new paradigm. As these items are discussed, IT has a vital role to play in vetting the technologies being reviewed to make sure they are good network citizens. The OT groups get to focus their attention on the application and the function of the systems rather than the security of the system, which has never been core to culture of their business.

Control Solutions, Inc People

One of the more difficult aspects of this convergence is the people involved. IT people and OT people have had different reasons for existing. The IT culture is one is driven from a culture of fear. The systems and data are very valuable and IT makes decisions with security at top of mind as a cultural norm. OT, on the other hand, is a culture of sharing data, open networks, and security, while present, is not the cultural norm.

In order to for IT and OT to truly intersect and, more importantly, interact, the people must have the same understanding of the meaning. Think of all of the faces that are impacted by the new reality of IOT. Each person comes with a completely different set of rules for making decisions day by day. Each of these people are vital to delivering a valuable service to the buildings we work, learn, and play. Each of these people also have a responsibility to make sure our information is secure, our environment is safe and comfortable, and ensuring the buildings are good performers with respect to the environment. This is a big ask and it simply will not happen without true convergence. This is beyond connecting devices and networks and systems. The hearts and minds of people must converge on this topic to truly expose and take advantage of the opportunities ahead while maintaining that secure, environmentally sound, comfortable environment.

As it turns out, there can be a lot of information in a name.

In this video, Brian Turner and Scott Cochrane join conversations around the emergence and intersection of IT, OT, and IOT in Smart Buildings.


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