I greatly underestimated the speed at which our industry would migrate to information systems and information technology. Browser-based presentation has become the norm. Existing Internet and Intranet protocol is the means to get information- based products to market.

Browser-Based Trends

One of the questions in a five-question e-mail interview with my contributing editors published in our online e-zine, AutomatedBuildings.com, was: Browser-based presentation of all industry information appears to be the new trend. Do you have any concerns?

Thomas Hartman: "Yes, there are concerns, but I think the advantages make a compelling case to move forward with this trend. Concerns include a potential lack of flexibility to include desirable features and a lack of single-point responsibility. Advantages include access to a much broader and experienced spectrum of service providers to develop and upgrade human interface systems for building automation systems as well as the ability to link many more people (including building occupants) to the system controlling comfort in the building."

John J. "Jack" McGowan: "No, to the contrary, I believe this is one of the most exciting trends in the industry. The obvious concern many might have is whether their critical information will be secure. My simple response is that many of us already do online banking, as well as review our portfolios and buy or sell stock and funds online. If the user trusts the Internet, via a Web browser, with their money, why worry about data security?

"Now consider for a moment the benefits, which are limitless. It now becomes possible to get real-time access to any data, any time and achieve far greater cost optimization than ever before. Real-time energy services are the next horizon in this industry, and the merging of control technology with information technology is a must for any company. Companies who do not embrace this change are not likely to exist in the next few decades."

Company Leaders

Automated Logic Corporation was an early adopter of Web-based building control before others believed in the IT approach. As one of the industry leaders in IT convergence, they have developed a Web-based "Building Automation Evaluation Form" to allow you to compare the IT strengths of various vendors.

From an article by Gerry Hull, president, Automated Logic Corporation: "The greater the ability to communicate the highest quality information from operator to system, system to operator, and system to system, with the greatest of ease and simplicity, the more valuable the Web becomes." Tridium Inc. was an extremely early adopter of the IT approach. Tridium was founded in 1995 with the goal of inventing a fully open, fully interoperable framework for control automation systems. Beyond mere connectivity of field devices, the goal was to marry the information infrastructure driven by the IT industry to the control networks of the building control and industrial control industries. This revolutionary infrastructure is built on fully open, widely accepted Internet standards and integrates the most common fieldbus standards for seamless device connection.

In information I received from Dennis W. Tuft, vice president for marketing, Tridium Inc.: "We see a lot of change happening in the building control industry - change brought about by device-level standards (such as LonMark and BACnet) and fueled by the rapid adoption of Internet technologies. This will lead to a "convergence" of the Internet and control standards (whether from the building control, energy services, industrial control, or home automation industries) such that to support one without the other, in a control environment, would not really take advantage of either. Each of these industries has the same problem to solve - how to easily harvest the information contained within control systems to make them work better for the user and for application service providers as that industry grows. Each of these industries has been, and is still, under siege by a battle for control of the "standard" - typically too narrowly focused on the fieldbus side of the equation to see the broader picture. It's the information that will provide the power!"

We all agree that building automation, IS, and IT are converging. The instant value of building on the strengths of common Internet protocols greatly adds to the power and acceptance of the products developed. As new players come with the information revolution, it is important that our industry keep control of the overall functionality of products and software to ensure that all information is delivered in a manner that best serves our clients. ES