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June 2019
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RIP BACnet

– Is the future of BACnet bigger than its past?
Nicolas Waern

Nicolas Waern
CEO
Go-IoT

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Control Solutions, Inc

This thought piece is inspired by something I wrote in response to a post on Linkedin that stated:

“RIP BACnet.”

Is the future of BACnet as a device to device communication protocol bigger than its past? Do I think that BACnet will rest in peace? No, I don’t. Considering the increase in the number of devices and data points, and the need for structured data, I think that BACnet will be more active in the future than ever before.

“I've seen much of the rest of the world. It is brutal and cruel and dark; BACnet is the light.”

Everywhere I look these days I see some doomsday propaganda. Climate change. Trade wars. Immigration challenges, often because of a lack of integration. People and companies that are power hungry and a rising fear about just about anything that has to do with change. And this sometimes makes me worried.

But then I change perspective. I take a deep breath. And I am thinking about all the amazing developments I see in every industry imaginable. Everything is moving faster than ever, and we see that it is easier today than ever before to go global. I could probably find a person to talk to in every country in the world if I give it a week. The topic? Easy.

How we together can make the world a better place.

And isn’t that where we should start with buildings as well? What are the steps that we need to take in order to better contribute to a better world in a faster way than we’ve done it before? Without the silos, without the lock-in effects and without making it complicated? The guide from Switch Automation definitely helps, but are we focusing enough on the end user experience?

That’s what’s been driving me to dig deeper and deeper and to expand my understanding into the horizontal real estate industry. To really find out how we together can create better buildings. And in this huge puzzle of different actors and technologies, I believe I have found an important piece.

Removing technology from the equation.

As a wise man once wrote, “The people and their communities have staying power, the technology does not.” That’s why the first rule of BACnet is that you shouldn’t talk about BACnet. When I drive a car, I don’t really care about the engine inside. I get to know if it is a fast or slow car by driving it. And I see that’s much more how the world thinks about anything. It’s a fear that a lot of people are feeling these days that no one really gets how technology really works and that’s one of the major reasons why Raspberry Pi was created. No one would really use the flimsy boards for anything but hobby ideas. But the industrial grade computer boards, with some industrial hardware design, provides an open way of creating industrial gateways not tied to any of the big vendors. Calvin has written some great tutorials on the openness of the future, down to the hardware level. There are definite ways of removing technology altogether from the equation and purely focusing on the benefits by collaborating with industry professionals that have an open mind. Some technologies won’t make the cut with legal ramifications en masse, but some will.

I’m glad there are automotive experts out there, responsible for the fine-tuning of the engine. And they seem to be doing it with iPads today, utilizing diagnostics, and the car is telling them what to fix before it gets broken down. And the parts are being ordered beforehand so that it’s there in stock once the car makes it to the garage.

But I, as a driver, don’t care whatsoever. I only care about that it’s working. Some people might hate me for that, as well as the idea that the tenants don’t matter. And of course, that’s a mindset that is changing more and more. I am not saying that we shouldn’t care about technology and how it works, not at all. This piece about Nanotechnology for sensing looks really interesting, and I have already reached out to get our hands on it. But the question might be, where does the largest pull for smarter buildings come from? Where is the speed?

Buildings – an arena for silo-thinking or a global possibility for innovation and inclusion

The must haves of data, as well as better buildings,  are not necessarily the system integrators, nor the real estate owners. It’s getting there, but it’s a slow process. Meanwhile, tenants get headaches, and CO2 levels are spiking off the charts, climate change is here to stay, and mass urbanization means that we need better buildings.

But how to get there? How to create better buildings as fast as possible?

Figure 1

Figure 1. Enabling cities for mass innovation

Well, right now in Sweden we are working with a couple of customers that have a lot of potentials. One has to do with the residential side, 30 000 apartments in the balance. And the other one is a mix of commercial and residential. We are working closely with a technical asset manager who’s got almost free reign when it comes to the digitization of their assets. One of their core assets is in the pipeline of getting sold, and they want to maximise the amount of money they can get. And the way to get there? Get it digitized as much as possible and incorporate “IoT” within a Facility IT approach.

What we are doing is this:

Some of the benefits of the digital twin are that ultra-scalable sensors, like #BACnetMesh, via our partner company Conectric, can be geo-located with extreme precise location. And it means that the integrators, or just electricians, will know exactly where to put the sensors when they install them.

Figure 2

Figure 2. Building Information Modeling - Digital Twin Creation with IoT ingestion utilizing BIMeye

It’s all about pace layering really, figuring out what data is missing from where, and how often you want to get the data. Depending on that, as well as bi directionality for the future, you just go in and choose the sensors of your liking. Everything will be BACnet objects from the building interface anyway, automatically. And both Iceland, where Go-IoT is based in, as well as Sweden, we are very much in favour of equal rights and equal opportunities.

“We believe in equality in that everything that is within the building will be seen as BACnet objects, no matter the vendor, technology, or origin. Everyone is welcome.”

That’s also why we don’t care if sensors talk to different protocols, languages, or frequencies. All are welcome underneath the BACnet umbrella, which harmonizes the past with the present, and allows for a foundation for the future.

The customer might not even know, nor care about making everything into BACnet objects. They just want to get energy costs down while keeping tenant satisfaction up. But for the ones working with existing equipment, saying goodbye to manually configure settings and getting the chance to deploy sensors that become BACnet objects automatically? That means a lot! After all,

“A smart building is not smart unless the occupants know how to utilize its features,” correctly put by James McHale.

The overall goal is to reduce energy costs, get maintenance costs down by collaborating easier with the digital twin, as well as enabling real time-sensor data, making sure all SLAs are upheld by the service companies. Also, connecting all the building-related information to the company’s way of working, minimizing excel dependency.

Our customer is very much in tune with the new value concepts in addition to that of energy savings. We see that they focus on the wellness, productivity and operational efficiency aspect, as well as metrics regarding business efficiency, customer experience and employee recruitment and retention, as previously stated by Joseph Aamidor and Scott Cochrane, as well as myself in an article written last year.

One of the key factors is also that added transparency and automation will reduce admin work for the technical asset manager by as much as 20%. This will free up time to work on the things that really matter, and they can do much more with fewer people. Something that will resonate well with the skills shortage gap we see here as well. The combination of monitoring and control, as well as for analytics with infused AI/ML technology and the shift towards a platform economy, is what it’s all about.

From monitoring to control – to automated buildings on the edge

The only reason this customer knows about BACnet is that I told him. I’ve said it before, and I keep on saying it, but BACnet is nowhere to be seen in Sweden on the application level. It’s there lurking in the background of systems and technologies, but it’s not really used to the full extent, or any extent really. Not in the Nordics as much, and that has been cumbersome, but not anymore. The ones in the business think it’s the same as Modbus, which has been mildly infuriating, to say the least. But lately, I’ve been interacting more and more with asset managers, FM companies and real estate owners. And they absolutely love BACnet.

Do they know what it is? No. Have they even heard of BACnet? Nope. Do they care? Yes and no.

They care because it will enable them to get that building data out in a standardized and harmonized way. One API from the building instead of dozens. To be able to push out sensor technology off the shelf without the worry of either vendor lock-in, high switching costs, frequency, range, whatever the technology, they know that we’ll solve it. A lot of them want to take control of their own buildings, but they feel that they are in the hands of vendors and System integrators alike. Getting data out of buildings has been extremely difficult. Especially because BACnet hasn’t been there as the device to a device communication protocol.

Figure 3

Figure 3. Taking buildings to the cloud or taking the cloud to the buildings?

But now, monitoring is getting a lot easier, and getting data out to cloud platforms like AWS, IBM Watson, Azure, is now done automatically. But they are going to love BACnet even more in the future. Because there will come a time when all buildings are connected, and we take the clouds to the buildings with so-called edge and fog computing where distributed intelligence is the key. It’s happening already. Getting the data out will have had its charm, but now, getting data back in will be of utmost importance where local control is the key.

Anish PK has a great article in last month's edition, where he goes through the lay of the land at a reasonable level. Some of the things he mentions are listed below:

PlantPROCOREBACnet is extremely important in getting things right, and this will be a renaissance for SI’s everywhere where their knowledge will become highly sought after. Getting data is one thing. Analytics is another. Getting actionable insights is even better. But getting things done in an automated way, that’s what we are aiming for right? It is after all the automated buildings we are after. And that’s what we can and should do, as fast as humanly/machinery possible.

The storm before global mass-innovation involves added security

Based on posts and discussions I’ve had the last couple of months that have generated over 100 000 views, I definitely believe that BACnet will be there as the foundation for commercial buildings for the foreseeable future whether anyone wants to or not. Right now, we are seeing a shift of getting data out in a more secure way and focus on the interface of things, tagging, and getting data more accessible and in better shape. Data is definitely the new gold, and I really like what I read about Haystacks progress and the live reports I got from San Diego as well as the promise of finding more needles than hay.

We’ll see a period of turbulence soon where security firms go in and lock companies in for the sake of security, which will create even more silos than we have right now, for better and for worse. The hunt for KPIs and actually proving ROI might need a revamping of sorts, where the increase in stock price might be a very novel way to get some payback…!

We’ll see traditional players be bought up by tech companies and perhaps a couple of tech companies bought up by traditional players. Most of them will fail, and the synergies will never see the light of day. But some might succeed, and the recipe for success might not be as much in straight up mergers and acquisitions but rather ecosystems thinking and joint ventures.

After all, the new security push from the building automation side (BACnet/SC and the full NIST cybersecurity framework) will have to be complemented by additional security thinking from the outside in perspective. And I definitely agree with Sharada Prahladro when stating, “what someone makes, can someone else break,” also mirrored by Pook-Ping Yao at Optigo on where to start with assessing cybersecurity and another great approach is the evaluation tripod by Toby Considine.

The new norm will be energy efficiency by utilizing machine learning and added data points from wireless, once the period of standardization is over. The next recession has killed off some companies, and we’ll see who’s left standing. But, in the midst of this, some companies have realized that it’s possible to move away from vendor lock-in and create a path creation of their own. They’ve seen that they can get 100 000 people from all over the world to work on their buildings in a so-called Digital Twin, where all data is black-boxed, but anyone can innovate in a standardized way. By the people, for the people.

Figure 4

Figure 4. A flourishing city by the people, for the people

The system integrators that have survived and are open for collaboration and communication will be highly sought after for their expertise. They can optimize portfolios now instead of just buildings.

Energy costs will go down. Maintenance costs will go down. We’ll see a dramatic increase in productivity and well-being, which will result in tremendous value for towns, cities, and countries worldwide. The focus will be on people, and we’ll see ecosystems created on a massive scale. The conservative ones will stay in their silos whilst the progressive ones will reap benefits that the world has never seen.

And in the midst of all this, providing a solid footing for future generations lies BACnet. The once and future king. With a future that I believe is much bigger than its past.

"The building whisperer" – making buildings talk to people

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