December 2013

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The building of the future

As has been the case thus far in the building technology market, IT technology will lead the way to the enablement of the online intelligent buildings of the future.

John Greenwell,

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Firstly, the building of the future has already been built.  In today’s economy, new construction has slowed to an all-time low and corporate budgets are being strained.  Companies will seek to leverage their existing real estate holdings through the use of retrofits and re-commissioning.

In order to create intelligent buildings from existing ones, the built environment must be updated to provide energy efficient, healthy and productive workspaces for a diverse and increasingly mobile workforce.  Companies will seek to maximize their ROI, by leveraging their existing building technologies rather than replace them.  This can be challenging based on the age of the various systems in the building, some older systems may be obsolete or may not be able to share its data.  Any retrofit replacements must promise a reasonable ROI to be considered.  That said, traditionally ROI was linked exclusively to energy savings, but today the ROI may be expanded to look at the enablement of new use cases that drive space management and productivity gains.  As an example, once LED light fixtures become the norm, it will be hard if not impossible to justify the additional cost of the lighting controls.  However, newer lighting control systems can produce a wealth of data that enables new business processes to be defined.  These new business processes can be much more valuable than just energy saving.  The ability for companies to gain insight into how their buildings are performing, not only from an energy prospective but more importantly from a utilization perspective, will allow them to manage risk and save significant amounts of money.

“Understanding the Value Proposition”

In order for companies to move forward with updating their buildings, they must first gain insight into the value proposition.  This can be accomplished by providing two pieces of information, one is the building capability portfolio and the other is a use case analysis.

“The Building Capability Portfolio”

The building capability portfolio is essentially a study of the existing building systems and their current capabilities with regard to granularity of control and ability to share data.  The portfolio study should not be limited to only building systems but should also include business data systems and external systems.  Systems such as Active Directory and Human Resources can allow you to obtain information about occupancy.  Card Access systems, cameras and others can also provide valuable data for understanding use patterns.  Once integrated with building systems this data can be used to write new operational rules and provide valuable context when you’re looking at energy efficiency.

One of the goals of this study is to define energy zones.  Energy zones are the overlapping functional areas of each building system.  These zones will typically be defined by the least granular system.  For instance, the HVAC system is usually the least granular and so it becomes the energy zone and all other systems will fit into this zone.   How many offices and lighting zones are feed by a common HVAC system?  This sets the limits of control for the integrated area.

“Use Case Analysis”

The use case analysis uses the information learned from the portfolio capabilities study and from interviewing key stakeholders to define the value proposition of the integration of systems.  When and where does it make sense to integrate systems in order to facilitate new polices that drive energy efficiency and productivity?  Each use case should have its own ROI model and risk assessment so the owner can pick and choose which ones they want to implement.

“Presence Based Automation”

Presence based automation will drive the building of the future.  The mantra for this is, “if you don’t need it, don’t use it”.  For most buildings, people have the largest impact on energy consumption and therefore buildings must be responsive to its occupants.  Through the use of data produced from many different sources, facility managers can start to understand use patterns throughout the enterprise and make better decisions about their operations.  It may seem far-fetched today, but the ability to track where people are within facilities will become commonplace.  The value of knowing this information far outweighs the perceived invasion of privacy.  Everything from providing just in time HVAC to informing first responders of where potential victims are in an emergency will provide the needed value proposition.   Geo-fencing, utilizing cell phone GPS and radios will allow buildings to understand when occupants will be arriving and set their spaces to the desired setting just in time.

“Intelligent Buildings and the BOS”

Intelligent buildings will require an orchestrated response to constantly changing conditions.  Occupancy, scheduling, emergencies and other situations will require normally siloed systems to work together in harmony.  System controls must first and foremost defend their mission but be programmed to accept signals from other external systems as required.  This orchestrated response is not easy to accomplish, systems must be loosely connected, such that a failure of one or more external systems doesn’t cause a cascading failure across multiple building systems.  This is why it will be important to have a single system responsible to organize and control when and how systems are required to deviate from its normal operation in order to provide a higher level of control.  A new term for this type of system is “the building operating system” or “BOS”, the analogy to the computer operating system is appropriate.  Just as a computer operating system orchestrates the function of computers, the BOS will orchestrate the function of systems in buildings.  The BOS will allow new operational rules or policies to be defined and published as a service for individual systems to use. 

Applications where system operation is tied to higher level systems will enable Enterprises to put their energy use into context with their work product.  Simple energy use intensity per square foot is rather meaningless until it’s tied to the business.  As an example, an airport might look at kW/sqft/take offs and landings.  A hospital would want to look at kW/sqft/census as the true measure of efficiency.  Mixed use commercial real estate might want to look at kW/sqft/leased % and foot fall.  All of these KPI’s require information from multiple systems to function.

So, if the key to intelligent buildings is data, then where is the data going to come from and who’s going to manage it?  Let’s take a look at some of the many data sources in today’s buildings.





Concept Drawing

“The BDMS”

BDMS All of these systems produce data for their own internal use, but when integrated, they now represent a rather large volume of disparate set based and runtime data.   All of this data is connected to systems via wired or wireless networks.  These networks may be daisy chained serial communication for device to network controller or they could be native IP level communications riding directly on the building IP network.  In any case, the value comes from integrating, normalizing and contextualizing some of this data into a single repository that turns it into actionable information.  This system will be the “Building Data Management System” or “BDMS”, you can think of it as an ETL system for buildings. It will provide some key benefits over an adhoc integration approach.  One, is that moves, adds and changes are handled in a single system.  The BDMS will also be a key component to the success of the Internet of Things and Big Data as they apply to buildings.  It will provide Enterprise wide taxonomies for data so that buildings and their data are represented in a unified manner.  Imagine being able to GoogleŽ your building to find anything from published reports, inspection certificates all the way down to individual sensor values.  It will also allow lower level systems to be replaced at will without being locked in to a single vendor.  For that matter entire buildings can be added or deleted as the business needs change without the risk of having a stranded asset. 


The BDMS will enable cloud based applications for maintenance management, automatic fault detection, constant commissioning and energy analysis to connect to a more holistic and preformatted data source.  This will lower the cost of implementation of these systems and provide consistent data across all systems.  A more holistic data set will enable these vendors to create new application features that add even more value.  Data sharing across these systems will enable even more capabilities.  Over time a convergence of these systems will take place and vendors will offer all of these applications as modules of a single platform.  The question is which vendors, traditional BAS vendors or will it be new vendors from the Enterprise IT space?

“Fault Detection”

With more holistic data sets, predictive fault detection systems can implement more sophisticated algorithms to provide more accurate results.  Fault algorithms tied to the work product of a facility will provide businesses with a true measure of the cost of these faults in near real time.  The ability to proactively manage risk will be the key value proposition for these systems.  These systems will also have to incorporate fault data generated independently by equipment and devices.  As hardware costs drop more and more manufacturers will build in compete fault analysis into their equipment controllers. 

“Constant Commissioning”

By enabling these systems to connect in real time to building systems from multiple vendors and multiple facilities, they will be able to provide better analysis and control.  Once these systems are exposed to occupancy data they can start to proactively adjust the control setpoints to fine tune systems.  Having access to holistic data will enable artificial intelligence to become a reality.  Control points based on number of occupants, type of work being performed, evaporation rate of moisture off the skin and others will allow for very fine tuned control of facilities.

“Energy Analysis”

As mentioned before, the ability for these systems to apply context to their results will be very important.  Better and more accurate KPI’s will provide the detailed information required to run efficient facilities.  Even more important, these systems will predict energy consumption so facility managers can proactively manage costs.  Being able to know several days in advance when new demand peak will occur allows time to change operations to avoid it.

“Maintenance Management”

It’s common today that Computerized Maintenance Management Systems are integrated to the BAS to facilitate using actual runtime of the equipment as the preventive maintenance triggers.  However, fully integrated they now can provide maintenance information for more than just the traditional mechanical equipment.  They can start to understand how the use intensity affects things like flooring materials and other physical resources used by occupants.  Better financial metrics that expose the cost of maintenance per person instead of simple square footage will allow more accurate accounting and budgeting.

“New Use Cases and KPI’s”

Today the key performance indicators between management groups aren’t always the same.  Converging building and IT data allows all groups to see data in a format that’s appropriate for them but still relative to the core mission.  Sending building energy use intensity data to a CFO has little meaning, but sending that same data with its impact in dollars does.  An added benefit of getting this information to key executives is that it can create a fundamental shift in responsibilities of the other groups below them.  As an example, most building engineers are keenly focused on occupant comfort because they get direct feedback from the occupants -- once the building energy costs are normalized and put in context for executives they will provide direct feedback as well.  This causes a fundamental shift in the way building engineers think about their responsibilities and how they handle comfort issues in the future.

Reliable Controls Buildings will be required to respond automatically to external signals from, community alerts, demand response and transactive energy markets.  These alerts will be subscription based encrypted messaging transmitted across the Internet from multiple sources.  Buildings that have the ability to respond to these signals can provide a safer and more efficient work environment.  One roadblock to wide spread adoption of this is that the majority of the building stock in the United States is 100,000 square feet or smaller.  Many of these buildings do not have sophisticated control systems for HVAC, lighting and others.  This represents a huge market opportunity for technology vendors in that space.  In the past few years there have been some companies starting to focus on this underserved market.  New, lower cost building control systems utilizing wireless communication for sensors lowers the installed cost, thus making it cost effective for these smaller facilities to implement.  With computing power dropping in cost, it now feasible to have POE/IP based multi-sensor devices deployed throughout facilities.  These low cost sensors will enable applications that were not even conceivable just a few years ago.  These lower cost systems and sensors will also make centralized management of geographically dispersed facilities possible at a reasonable ROI. 

In summary, the building of the future will be dynamically responsive to its work product through the use of data acquired from many different internal and external systems.  Buildings will be required to respond in near real time to signals generated from these systems.  Data platforms that can manage and organize the vast amount of converged data related to buildings will provide companies a way to become technology agnostic.  Building Operating systems will provide new applications to manage risk, publish new operational policies, provide predictive analysis for building performance and new productivity tools to all stakeholders.  Information about these buildings will be online and readily available via well-established web technologies.  Security of these converged data sets will be handled just as online banking.  As has been the case thus far in the building technology market, IT technology will lead the way to the enablement of the online intelligent buildings of the future.

John GreenwellAbout the Author

John Greenwell, Founder and President, CEPORT LLC

John Greenwell  has 20+ years of leadership experience in the electrical construction industry, specializing in low voltage building controls. John has extensive experience in low voltage control systems, BAS, Lighting, Security, Energy Savings, Software Development.  John is responsible for the overall product strategy and direction of the company. Prior to Ceport, John oversaw major controls projects for Continental Electrical Construction Company. 


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