March 2021

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Building Automation and AI?

Set the data free. Provide Meaning. And let’s go!
Nicolas WaernNicolas Waern
"The Building Whisperer"

Contributing Editor

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A dicussion between our contributing editor Nicolas Waern and Ken Sinclair

“Wherever there’s complexity, there’s room for AI to help make it easier. Agree? Disagree?”

Hi Nicolas, how are things going on? I see that you are really pushing the boundaries of automated buildings, and talking about 3D printing, energy, railways, national digital twins, and other things. Are you leaving the fold?

It’s more that I have felt a need to “go beyond buildings for real, to come back to the real-estate industry armed with the knowledge that we need to have”, like I said at the beginning of the year. I think that’s the only way to learn, and to understand what others are doing in the industrial space, or even healthcare. Hospitals for instance are a part of healthcare too, so that space is very interesting from a Building Automation, indoor Air Quality perspective.

I will record a session with the CTO from Foghorn tomorrow, Sastry Malladi, which will be very interesting. They have been on my radar for 5 years now and I know they have a great event-driven infrastructure that should scale well.

It is not so much that I am leaving the Real-Estate realm, but things are going great and I am learning a lot. Working in construction the last couple of years have led me to understand the challenges that come from a fragmented industry, and most importantly what to do about them. I am in fantastic discussions with people in a lot of different industries and that is really helping me evolve. I’m having discussions about Digital Twin related strategies in natural resources, manufacturing, healthcare, sustainability purposes, construction and of course also infrastructure and real estate. Real estate has its place in the world, but I’m equally interested in the contextual intelligence of things to better help partners and customers.

Okay, so maybe instead of Location, Location Location, you are saying that it’s more about Context, Context Context? Fascinating. But is there any method to the madness?

Any method to the madness? Well, yes and no. I don’t save any energy for the swim back to shore, so I’m constantly out there in the deep waters. But most recently I’ve taken the lead for interoperable Digital Twins in Manufacturing, as well as the European lead for the Infrastructure Working group at the Digital Twin Consortium. So, if there are people in Europe (or elsewhere) and want to know more about what the concept of Digital Twins can do for infrastructure, just reach out to me and join a session as a guest!

Digital Twins is definitely the new hype. I see it everywhere these days and I heard that some people even say that all buildings will have a digital twin in the future. Do you agree?

iISAČ - Interoperability solutions for public administrations, businesses and citizens

clip1I really don’t agree with that statement at all. Buildings will definitely not have a digital twin in the future. They will have hundreds of Digital Twins in the future! The OEMs will have digital twins of their products and there will be digital twins of complete assets, part of assets, and individual components of the HVAC realm as a whole. The buildings themselves need to be part of the Smart Grid Digtial Twin and the Smart City Digital Twin which both consists of hundreds if not thousands of Digital Twins. And the owners will probably have a Digital Twin with data built from other interoperable Digital Twins. Knowing this, and also the challenges that exists already with data-integration, puts even more emphasis on the importance of interoperable Digital Twins, and semantic interoperability as a whole.

I like the framework from ISAČ - which partly depicts the challenges in the space, and even more so on the Organizational Interoperability challenges and the legal interoperability challenges that will appear when data will be shared to a greater extent.  There will be a lot of complexity before we can make it simple I think, but that’s also where AI, Digital Twins, and other more modern technologies can help out.

The lack of organizational Interoperability and industry interoperability, obsolete channel systems, constant blame game on the past and focusing on problems, instead of highlighting great solutions are major reasons why the industry is not moving ahead.

I say, set the data free. Provide meaning. And let's go. That shouldn’t be that hard, should it?

Interesting… yes, technology is never the real problem. Saying that, what are your thoughts on AI and Building Automation?

It might be interesting to hear what 50 other professionals have to say about it
here in this post about Building Automation and AI?

The LinkedIn post was actually a re-post of an article I wrote two years ago, that got a born again connected via my network. It’s been seen by more than 10 000 people and growing, so I strongly advice people to go in, like and comment and add to the discussion.

🔨“All we have to do is control three variables (flow, temperature, and pressure) in two types of media (fluid or air) using four pieces of equipment (valves, pumps, fans, and dampers). The logic is very easy to arrange. The sequences of operation may not take long to write. But it’s the variables of all the dependencies and the physics around it which makes it extremely easy to wreck any setup. And also extremely difficult to get the full perspective. It also helps highlight why A.I. has such great potential in helping radically improve the way we commission and optimize the built environment.” - James Cheesewright

I have some up-to date thoughts on this which I will post on the Beyond Buildings Podcast & Newsletter soon. That will be more inspired by how deep digital twins work in the Autonomous Vehicle industry as well as how McLaren and F1 teams solve problems and what companies like Astra Zeneca, and Oil & Gas platforms do with AI.

Linkedin is an amazing platform to share and get knowledge, that’s for sure. What else have you been talking about lately? And what will your next podcast be about for Beyond Buildings? And to the most important question, when should we do a session?! Are you scared that I will know more than you?

We need to get you on the show. You are the almighty father of this industry so I don’t have a great answer as to why you haven’t been on it yet. And I think we both know that you have forgotten more about this industry that I will ever get to know! But I got 8 episodes in the pipeline that I need to get out first so… we’ll see! I’ll figure something out.

I just read this great article from Steve Fey where I really liked this quote and the high-level view from the top.
Porting IT security technology and practices to address OT security will not result in a more secure OT environment.” Why is this the case?

I think there’s also a need to take into account other attack surfaces, and also something related to Engineering Technology not limited to the world of BAS/BMS but also to that of the rest of the building. IT/OT/IoT/ET conversion. But great read. And I would love to hear more about what role Totem plays in this and where they stop and start, due to the need for interoperable systems/people to work together.

And perhaps one of the most insightful comments that I’ve ever read in my life comes from Joel Bender at Cornell University. Also a titan in the industry, who will be on the Beyond Buildings Podcast soon talking about data-integration and semantic interoperability together with Terry Herr and Eric Oscar Wallin from Real Estate Core. Joel was  saying what everyone else should be saying about BACnet, and the success of having such an interoperable platform to stand on.

“…In one sense that speaks to its success because people are more interested in the applications that are using BACnet rather than how it works, and that’s how it should be.” Joel Bender, Cornell

Again, Joel Bender, thanks for this comment. I think that BACnet and BACnet/SC when leveraged correctly together with a proper security strategy is much better than not having it at all.

I remember the security session at the AHRexpo some years ago when the incredible Anto Budiardjo got everyone up at 7AM and I was jetlagged into oblivion. There it was clearly stated that BACnet/SC only did as much, and NIST frameworks, Tosibox, Totem, and many other solutions and applications have to also work together in an Interoperable way. The technical Interoperability that BACnet brings to the table is like you say, under appreciated. Semantic Interoperability is now being "solved" with Brick, DTDL, Rec, haystack, GBO, and others.

I posted about the topic of BACnet and standards here:
What's the definition of a successful standard? With some great comments from the network.

The post above was based on the post below from the all-knowing integration expert Andrew Rodgers who’s “Bringing open technology solutions to secure cyber physical systems.

Open vs Interoperable
Great discussion about BACnet/SC, open, and interoperability and the value that BACnet brings.

Potential of Digital Twins and running what if scenarios based on material usage (copper)

The need to use ALL technologies of the Building Buzz hype cycle to stay ahead of the game

I’ve been working with Data Centers more and more, as well as connectivity strategies for Airports, and looking into Construction Disruption with the help of a handful of players in the industry. And much more…

So what you are saying is that if people are not following you on Linkedin, they should?! Any final thoughts for the readers? Any action you want us to take?

Join the Digital Twin Consortium for the Working Group in Infrastructure!!

If companies want to know how to predict what the world will do, this is the place to be.

To better help my customers and partners, I decided to join The Digital Twin Consortium and be part of all the working groups. I have taken the lead for the Infrastructure Working Group in Europe and taking point for Interoperable Lifecycle Digital Twins in Manufacturing. Please reach out if this is interesting.

And contributor to:

- Healthcare, Natural Resources and Aerospace and Defense.

Digital Twin Technology is a tool/concept that can be applied to any and all areas, irrespective of Industry. The use cases differ but it's all the same, but different. Digital Twins have the possibility to exponentially accelerate Scale, Scope, and Learning, in a sustainable way and they can be of all sizes. From the nitty-gritty Digital Twin of a nut, bolt, where it came from, how it's been used, what material or make it comes from, to a Digital Twin of the entire Supply Chain. It's of utmost importance that Digital Twins are interoperable and that future stakeholders can derive value from them in a standardized way.

The Digital Twin Consortium aims to be an influence and drive the adoption, use, interoperability, and development of digital twin technology. They propel the innovation of digital twin technology through consistent approaches and open-source development and are committed to accelerating the market and guiding outcomes for users. The goal of the consortium is to be The Authority in Digital Twin as it relates to policy, security, interoperability, and overall development of digital twins. The consortium will define the ecosystem, standards requirements, architectures, open-source code, identify gaps, and publish statements and opinions. This will be done in partnership between industry, academia, and government in a collaborative open environment.

Any final final words?

Companies are data rich, but information poor. And the future is already here, just unevenly distributed. Let’s go Beyond Buildings and back, to transform this industry to what it’s supposed to be. I for one predict that the whole industry will be revamped by 2025. That’s a promise I made to one of the foremost wine-experts and building automation experts in the world. I can’t let him down which is why I need all the help I can get.

Thanks for allowing me to come on to Ken. I, and the whole industry will forever be in your debt, and the ones that were here before us.

If you want to find out what the world is going to do a month, a year, a decade from now and how it might benefit you or anyone you know, reach out! I try to have a holistic understanding of what is needed to stand out from competition, to better advise on pros and cons, and be the strategy partner for both technology and organization-advice in a Smart World Environment (Construction/Industry/Smart Buildings and Cities).

Please reach out if you have any questions and comments or if you have any ideas on what I should write next!


Nicolas Waern

Strategy & Innovation Expert at WINNIIO
Founder and Podcast Creator at the Beyond Buildings Podcast

Thanks for allowing me to come on to Ken. You help me become better!


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