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What’s in a name?

People are often curious about the upper case O in our name, Buildings IOT. “Shouldn’t the O be lowercase?” and “It is if the Internet of Things, right?” Capitalization of the O is 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 only the beginning of the conversation. Ending it here only completes part of the story of the many aspects of IOT.

For a bit of background, it makes sense to get on the same page concerning the roles of IT and OT. The information technology systems include the network (wired and wireless), cloud architecture, localized servers, computers, tablets, and phones attached to those networks. Still, they also encompass many software applications designed to help the business measure goals and performance. The operational technology (OT) systems improve the performance of the building or campus to provide a comfortable environment for the occupants using the optimum amount of energy. These OT systems bring a building to life. Systems include heating and air conditioning, lighting, physical security, people moving systems, waste management, facility care and cleaning, and irrigation. 

Adaptive Buildings can only exist once the IT and OT groups converge at the data and information level, regardless of the network topologies.

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 OT manufacturers poorly test hardware and software, nor is it insinuating that IT products are all perfect when released. The fact is that OT systems are relatively new to the IT world, and IT leaders are taking note of these new devices joining the network. It is becoming clear that IT must deal holistically with OT and 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 misbehaving or as an access point for others to breach internal networks, of which only a few were well publicized.

The potential security hole means building owners will require OT devices to have the same rigorous testing and security processes followed by the IT devices and systems. OT device manufacturers are required to deliver products that are network-ready and network-worthy. Often, this requires manufacturers to go back to the hardware design aspect of the devices. The method of bypassing IT to get OT devices on a remote or private cellular connection is ending. IT will be involved in these decisions and will be the ultimate judge as the risk is 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 open-source Testrun, specifically designed to assist with qualifying OT devices to live in a converged IOT world.

The opportunity

With a converged IOT, the network is the first opportunity to converge, 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, affordable, and secure way to go. 

A second opportunity is sharing data to gain additional insight in 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 to assist with space planning and marketing efforts, among other business applications. The opportunity is understanding where people are at any given moment. Facility operators use this information to deliver the appropriate temperature control, instructions during an event, conference room availability, and more. Providing this level of control requires data refresh at rates much more often than most business applications. It requires many more sensors in the building and a new cost structure to adjust to this new paradigm. The IT group is vital in vetting the technologies to ensure they are good network citizens. The OT groups focus on the application and function of the systems rather than the system’s security, which has never been core to the culture of their business.


One of the more challenging aspects of this convergence is the people involved. IT people and OT people have had different reasons for existing. Fear drives the IT culture. The systems and data are precious, and IT makes decisions with security at the top of mind as a cultural norm. On the other hand, OT is a culture of sharing data and open networks, and while solid security is increasingly present, it is not top of mind or the cultural norm.

For IT and OT to interact at a strategic and tactical level, the people must have the same understanding of the meaning. Think of all the faces impacted by the new reality of IOT. Each person comes with a completely different set of rules for making decisions day by day. Each person is vital to delivering a valuable service to the buildings we work, learn, and play in. Each person is also responsible for ensuring our information is secure, our environment is safe and comfortable, and the buildings are good performers concerning the environment. It is a big ask and will only happen with complete convergence. It goes beyond connecting devices, networks, and systems. The hearts and minds of people must converge on this topic to take advantage of the opportunities ahead while maintaining that secure, environmentally sound, comfortable environment.

As it turns out, a name can contain a lot of information.