April 2020

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Talking Today's Tools in the UK

These tools will transcend BMS and Analytics platforms incorporating the best elements of other industry platforms and provide System Integrators and end-users with levels of flexibility, power and visibility that the industry will ultimately come to see as an expectation.

Dave Lapsley
Dave Lapsley,

Managing Director
Econowise Group of Companies

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If ever there has been a more poignant time to take a closer and more serious look at the modern tools at our disposal to homogenise building automation, then I was either asleep or had not yet been born into this world.

Whilst I think that we have tried to keep a positive outlook on recent events, it is becoming more and more evident that we are in the grips of a worldwide epidemic that requires drastic and unified action even to begin to restore normality.

I do not have finite information on the response to COVID-19 from the rest of the world, but in the UK, employees are instructed to work from home.  We see events that those members tell me of the community that are of the age to remember are striking similarities with that of when the UK and allied forces were last at war.

Many of you may well have seen one of my recent LinkedIn post stating that what we see over the last ten days is akin to complete hysteria and perhaps even madness.

The number of building owners, management companies and occupiers trying to ensure remote connectivity to their buildings automation systems in the light of what looks to be a mass exodus from all UK properties (other than residential) is astounding.

If the current situation that we collectively face is not a catalyst to the dawn of a new way of working, then nothing will be.
With communication between colleagues, friends or family members to either provide or be updated on most matters, 9 out of 10 times we use our mobile phones or smart devices and that in reality, this should also be the case for Real Estate!

I would like to think that I keep myself relatively well informed with other industry professionals' opinions and some I agree with and some I do not.

It is more than fair to say that in the main opinions from the automation industry, at least the ones typically voiced are driven by allegiances to products and brands and are not always reflective of possibilities but rather an individual organisation's capabilities.

Holistically as an Industry, we have to stop thinking we are in a race and focus on what we are trying to achieve. Our end goal should be to continually evolve in providing systems that are universal enablers in educating end-users by providing the information that they require most fluidly and simply possible.

One typical argument that currently rages is that surrounding wireless or wired. Should wireless replace wired and have we all been backing the wrong horse with the widespread adoption of Ethernet or IP based controls?

I have no real allegiance to either, but replacing one with the other to me is neither a sensible nor viable option as they each bring their own individual merits capabilities and subsequent benefits to the party.

Again, here I am thinking of the word interoperable; wireless and wired must be interoperable and homogenised into single systems allowing their respective advantages to be leveraged in providing platforms that offer the collective benefits and freedom of choice that this will provide end-users.

Another topic that is currently seeing a lot of exposure is the languages that we as an industry should be used to make all of this work, and it seems that the forerunner for this job is Java and its associated scripts as to quote "it is a universal platform."

Well, you may well have guessed it, but coding is not one of my strongest attributes. Still, I am relatively lucky to have a friend and business partner in Gurmeet Singla who has an excellent understanding of this domain that is, in my opinion, above all others that I have met in the automation industry.

To reference the inimitable Mr. Singla "to attempt to leverage a single language in producing best in class platforms would be much like trying to produce a top-class car by taking a Ferrari engine and surrounding it with a wooden box with a wheel on each corner." We simply wouldn't do it.
In short, every choice at every level in the architecture has considerable importance and relevance and decisions to be made very carefully to achieve the required functionality whilst avoiding consequential failure.

There is one central and overarching requirement in ensuring that products provide the essential simplicity and ultimate functionality—the combination of domain knowledge from both automation and software industries.

We have to face reality here. How many top-class BMS specialists are top-class Coders, and how many top-class Coders are top class BMS specialists? The honest answer is that they may be out there, but for the time being, they are busy tending their Unicorns.

The undeniable fact is that the solution is, as the title suggests, modern tools and techniques that amalgamate the skill sets of Coders and BMS specialists and, in doing so, provide user simplicity combined with the required functionality.

A second point that we should perhaps touch on here as it does have colossal relevance is that surrounding the cost to employ a BMS specialist to
modify or optimise strategy when changes are required, and the associated costs are restrictive.

The truth in this is we are not changing anything if coding becomes the ipso facto; we are transferring the responsibility of the job to an even more costly asset.

The finite answer is the use of microservices when deciding on system architecture, which is a topic best left for another day.

History tells us that revolutionary changes are always without fail brought to bare for a straightforward reason. They make all of our lives easier.
A good example here is Microsoft and the evolution of their undeniably simple to use operating system and products.

The technology that sits underneath the Microsoft product range has a complexity that is undoubtedly beyond most of our understanding. Yet, it would be fair to say that pretty much 100% of us can leverage the power of a suite of tools to produce great results that can be understood and interpreted by all on commonplace and, more importantly, standard computing devices.

Vast networks of standard computing devices configured to offer seamless interaction with the information compiled on one device easily interpreted and edited on another machine with complete transparency.

The answer is both undeniable and straightforward, we as a profession require a Microsoft Office suite for the Building Automation industry that leverages state of the art coding in simplifying the process of making Real Estate smart and easily adaptable irrespective of local or remote locations.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]To accommodate this, our idea of system architecture will change. Still, the results offered will bring about the real disruption that will lead to a total revolution of the way we all think and ultimately work.

The architecture will be an amalgamation of devices, both wired and wireless, to augment and complement each other without the conventional constraints that we currently endure.

Revised system architecture with modern cutting-edge tools like Bubll & Sentinll developed with intimate knowledge of both automation and software domains can provide levels of functionality hard to match in terms of ease of use, performance and flexibility.

These tools will transcend BMS and Analytics platforms incorporating the best elements of other industry platforms and provide System Integrators and end-users with levels of flexibility, power and visibility that the industry will ultimately come to see as an expectation.

FDD, Analytics and control algorithm optimisation based upon environmental conditions, plant operational performance and occupant feedback data harnessed to allow finite learning and subsequent control established from standard interfaces and smart devices.

Although by no means necessary, I believe that although the technology is there and available to control strategy on edge or in the cloud, it will remain in the controller for the time being. Still, it is purely a matter of time before the edge, and cloud-based control becomes accepted within our industry. Right or wrong, I am not even going to begin to hypothesise on this.

These platforms will allow users the ability to create an overarching strategy to modify system operation that will run in tandem with that embedded on the controllers.

Changes to system operation no longer require Coding or BMS specialists to visit the site, well-educated engineering professionals from the built environment domain can finally be enabled via intuitive interfaces to make educated changes based upon finite data collected by the tools.  

Once confidence grows and technologies understood by the industry, the shackles put in place by current thinking will be removed and convention re-written.

Site-based hardware will become no more than a commodity. If one manufacturer's part is not available or their recent cost increases are not to ours or our client's liking, we will select another and replacement will require the new put in place of the old.

No strategy will mean just that. Manufacturers will ultimately predefine inputs and outputs; the hardware will become dumb as well as cheaper, information read and outputs written irrespective of whether the technology is wireless or wired. The strategy will be at the edge or in the cloud, possibilities and choices will be endless.

Completely agnostic of the manufacturer; replace the hardware and the system will simply start working again—no software to change, update or modify irrespective of end-user choice.

A typical example of this revised architecture in diagram Fig 1:

Figure 1Fig 1

Our industry is going to undergo significant change. Today's tools will enable the industry deliver current goals to provide a sustainable future and ensure appropriate measures in reacting to any emergency in the future.


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