March 2008
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SOB - the Service Oriented Building
My passion is web services interfaces to the engineered world to let embedded systems be full participants in the enterprise.

Toby Considine
Toby Considine
Systems Specialist,
Facility Services, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

The New Daedalus

I thank Ken for this opportunity to write regularly here. My passion is web services interfaces to the engineered world to let embedded systems be full participants in the enterprise. You might call it SOB—the Service Oriented Building as a full participant in the SOA of the Service Oriented Enterprise.

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I have more than 25 years experience in business process optimization using information technology, My recent career has been in the Facilities Services group at the University of North Carolina. My frustration at integrating the unintegratable, meaning the products of the Automated Buildings industry, led to involvement with oBIX, FIATECH and other efforts to bring building systems IT up to the standards of other enterprise functions. That work has allowed me to peek in on the work being done within NBIMS, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and the GridWise Architectural Council.

I am a biologist by training, with an emphasis on brain issues. This means I do not see systems as engineers do. There are differing opinions as to whether this is a good thing or not.

In my columns, I hope to bring this perspective on how things could fit together, a perspective aimed beyond next quarter’s shipping products. This industry fears competition and works on vendor lock in. That model does not work, as I learned to my loss when working during the minicomputer era on route 128. Open interfaces and open standards will let us grow building system markets by making them valuable every day, rather than a low-cost low-bid hygiene option as they are today.

Can building systems join the BIM revolution?

I have long wondered how we are going to bring building control systems into the wider world. Building inhabitants see building systems as invisible and uncontrollable, and so they pay them no mind. Money spent on building systems is an instant expense, to be minimized, rather than an investment to be optimized.

Capital assets are receiving new attention, driven by the fashion of Green and the imperative of sustainability. Owners are demanding Building Information Models rather than lines on paper (CAD blueprints) to get better built buildings at lower cost. Building Information Models (BIMs) are data models to track all information about the design, construction, acquisition, and operation of a building. A good BIM starts with the earliest design intents and continues through the final destruction of the building. BuildingSmart is the National Building Information Model Standard (NBIMS) rebranded to be more user friendly and international in scope.

Because of the public concern with sustainability, new buildings are sold based on energy models. Today’s energy models have almost nothing to do with the actual building. Designers create an energy model. Value engineering makes it irrelevant. The low bidder installs something else, probably over-sized to make sure there are no complaints. The building is commissioned to the traditional standard (“no sparks!”). Finally, little usable information is passed to operations in the form of a large bookshelf.

How can we build energy systems to the standards of the energy model? How can we make the energy model the basis for commissioning? How are we going to use energy models to instrument actual building performance? How are we going to provide the confusing mass of sensors and actuators as surface that is meaningful to Enterprise systems and functions?

BuildingSmart can be the source of the structure and meaning (or semantics as we call them in dweeb-speak) for information about building systems. Fitting building controls into BIM would fill in missing parts of the model while lending coherence to and standard descriptions to control systems. BIM defines energy models during design, models that are not much use during operations. BIM describes assets and provides a framework for defining the interaction between those assets. This sounds quite close to defining the surfaces used in Service Oriented Architecture (SOA).

But how do we fit control systems into BIM? I have long known that the fundamental glue of NBIMS is the IDM. Until February, I had no good idea what an IDM was, or how I might go about constructing one for a control system. Then Dianne Davis, NBIM IDM Technical Chair from AEC InfoSystems was gracious enough to make things clearer for me. IDM stands for Information Delivery Manual. The IDM is a plain English description of the information exchanges needed between two adjacent systems. In BuildingSmart, there is an IDM for the exchange between design intents and massing studies, and between massing studies and structural design, and so on.

Reliable Controls An IDM for building systems could be added in to the BIM very early on, perhaps right after massing. “I need 3,000 square feet of animal quarters which will be considered regulated space.” The rules for regulated space are that the temperature, humidity, and ventilation be at a defined level, and that information be tracked and reported at an interval not to exceed a certain time. The regulated space requirements for Animal Quarters must meet standard A, while the regulated space requirements for stogie of labile chemicals (such as drug storage) must meet standard B” This approach defines the performance standard required of systems based upon the programmed use of space at a very early stage.

When expressed like this, IDM standards become significant information for energy models. Both standards above, for animal quarters and for drug storage are similar in that they may have requirements that temperature and humidity be kept in tight, albeit different, ranges. The animal quarters, however, have quite different ventilation requirements, and thereby a different energy cost.

The same IDM defines the performance standards to be tested during commissioning. It should be straightforward to add this IDM information to the COBIE (Common Operations Building Information Exchange) commissioning information. COBIE is that portion of BuildingSmart that defines the handover at the end of construction of building information to operations. COBIE also includes a framework for tying commissioning reports to the underlying systems from the design.

It is easy to imagine that an IDM standard for building systems becomes the basis for bidding and construction as well. It is not hard to imagine that IDMs could be defined for each of the 48 types of systems in the original list of vertical markets compiled at the founding of oBIX, whether Intrusion Detection or Medical Gas Distribution.

Who is willing to help me define IDMs for building systems so controls can find a home in the BIM? When we do, all of the Web Services interfaces to building systems, whether BACnet or LON or proprietary or even the OASIS standard oBIX will become valuable. New value will grow markets.

"It is the theory that decides what can be observed." - Albert Einstein

Toby Considine
Facilities Technology Office
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC
Phone: (919)962-9073 


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