BTL Mark: Resolve interoperability issues & increase buyer confidence
Means Different Things to Different People
The word’s meaning is defined by the audience and its interests.
The word “OPEN” is used with slightly different meanings in the tech
industry, which may cause some confusion. The term is certainly
relevant to all who use technology, in all its forms. This includes the
building automation space, where we use software and hardware
technologies in the foundations of automation devices, DDCs,
communication protocols, control frameworks, etc. People often ask me
what we really mean when we say “OPEN”. Do we mean “open source”, “open
communication”, “open programming”, or “open for business”? Is there a
difference? Does it matter? “OPEN” certainly means different things to
different people and the word’s meaning is defined by the audience and
Here are some practical examples
To everyday PC end users, “OPEN” means that they can take their files from their Manufacturer A PC hard drive, copy them over to their Manufacturer B PC at home, or Manufacturer C PC at the office, and use them on either PC without even having to think about it. In this case this really seems like common sense. You would never buy a PC or laptop if it were not compatible with your existing files from your old one, even though it may have completely different branding, hardware and operating system.
To mobile device users, “OPEN” means that Android phone users with devices made by Manufacturer A or Manufacturer B and users of iPhone mobile devices with completely different branding, hardware and operating system can look at their social media feeds, send text messages to each other, share cat and baby Yoda memes, or send emojis to their girlfriends who have a completely different mobile device without having to worry about communication interoperability. All they want is to communicate freely. You would never buy an Android phone which cannot send a text message to an iPhone.
To hardware engineers “OPEN” means that the
engineer can understand the
bus signals and microcontroller I/O pins provided by various
manufacturers and there isn’t a restrictive approach to hardware
components which makes them inaccessible or impossible to use in their
schematics and designs.
To software engineers, in most cases “OPEN” means that there is a well-documented API, application plugin capability, or SDK that can be used to interact with that piece of software. It could also mean “open source” – meaning that engineers are free to download the source code and freely modify it to fit their needs.
To IT administrators, “OPEN” means that any connected device on their network, whether it is made by Manufacturer A or Manufacturer B or Manufacturer C, can be seen in their SNMP network monitoring software and it can be managed and accounted for.
To home automation users “OPEN” means that their
command pod, smart vacuum, and smart lights can interoperate. We all
know that home automation devices such as Google’s Nest, Amazon’s
Alexa, and Apple Home Kit devices do not interoperate at this time
(early 2020) because their creators thought that they will compete for
IoT market dominance by excluding each other’s devices from a home
automation ecosystem. However, if you follow tech news, you would know
that these tech giants have now realized how silly their shortsighted
decision was, and they are going back and developing an open IP
protocol, allowing all of their home automation devices to interact and
To system integrators in building automation, “OPEN” may mean that they could use some standard protocols for communication between devices, learn a couple of common DDC control frameworks and use them across the board on different programmable DDCs. Even if there was some variation in the approach between different manufacturers, similarity in DDC control framework approach across the board would make a huge difference. “OPEN” could also mean that their programming tool can program different controllers, perhaps they shouldn’t even have to have a programming tool. DDCs could serve an embedded web-based programming tool directly to the standard web browser on the programmer’s laptop.
To a building owner “OPEN” may mean that a
controller/thermostat/automation device can communicate and exchange
data with a Manufacturer B controller/thermostat/automation device
without issues and they can all communicate to any supervisory or
analytics device such as one by Manufacturer C, so that the building
owner doesn’t need to rip out thousands of dollars’ worth of good DDCs
only because one of them failed and there is no directly compatible
replacement on the market any more – so all of them would need to be
replaced, even though most of them are still good. Building owners
don’t care if you have an open protocol, an API, or a plug in, they
just want the devices to work together so they don’t have to spend a
ton of money on complete system replacements in order to save 20% on
energy cost in their building.
Regarding business models, “OPEN” may mean that you do not have to pay fees before you can buy a certain brand controller, automation or supervisory device. In a free market, you should be able to buy directly from a manufacturer or a distributor without having to pay thousands in partner, training, and licensing fees first. The ability to mix and match control devices as you please based on the features, benefits, quality, or price point allows for the most functionality, savings, and convenience to your customers. The whole point of automation is to introduce savings and convenience.
“PROPRIETARY” should simply be an enhancement in functionality and
security as a layer on top of the “OPEN” interoperability layer
Open system architectures do matter. To someone
like me, who is looking
at this picture, “OPEN” really means “NO RESTRICTIONS” and
“INTEROPERABILITY”, which is beneficial for both integrators and end
users. Interoperability has the power to revolutionize any industry
using technology. Not everything in tech needs to be entirely open or
open source. It is a bit more complicated than that. There certainly
are benefits of proprietary technologies such as enhanced security and
value added by enhanced functionality and features. However, most
people do not understand that “PROPRIETARY” should really be an
enhancement in functionality and security as a layer on top of the
“OPEN” interoperability layer. Interoperability should be maintained
while at the same time manufacturers are providing the benefits of
proprietary tech added on top for us all to choose from and enjoy.
“PROPRIETARY” is where Manufacturer A can shine over Manufacturer B, in
customization, functionality enhancements, unique features, security,
price point, quality, etc. – this is the spirit of a true competitive
market which drives innovation and benefits users. There is no
technical reason why two devices cannot communicate with each other. We
have all the technology necessary to accomplish that.
It is actually very simple. Interoperability is something that users
must demand. Nothing will change until end users such as building
owners, specifying engineers, or systems integrators demand
interoperability. They need to know what “OPEN” means and vote for that
with their dollar. After all, our buying power is the most powerful
voting power that we possess. We vote with our dollar for all kinds of
things every day. In another scenario where full interoperability makes
its way into the BAS industry is a massive disruption. A massive
disruption to the industry would be if a manufacturer offers truly
“OPEN” automation solutions, all other companies would have to follow
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