For background on the convergence we are talking about, see the previous three supplements:
- "Web-Based Facilities Operations Guide" by Ken Sinclair.
- "Controlling Convergence" with articles by Ken Sinclair, "Identifying the Complex Components of Convergence," and Tom Hartman, "Convergence: What Is It, What Will It Mean, and When Will It Happen?"
- "Marketing Convergence" with articles by Ken Sinclair, "Convergence Will Happen: With our Without Us," Anto Budiardjo, "Why Is There a Need for Marketing?" and Jack McGowan, "Selling Integration and Convergence."
A lot has happened since our November 2003 "Marketing Convergence" supplement. I have listed below what I feel are the significant events that have occurred in the last nine months.
The XML SymposiumAt the AHR Expo in January, I led a panel discussion on XML-related HVAC industry initiatives and views. It was a great success. This event, led by CABA, was the first convergence connection event to be held in conjunction with an ASHRAE winter meeting. It created industry awareness and allowed the many players of the convergence connection to be identified. Even I was pleasantly surprised to find out about the active movement in aecXML, an XML-based language used to represent information in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry. The amount of ASHRAE and industry folks that are involved in making convergence connections is truly amazing. A 2005 symposium is now planned in conjunction with the AHR Expo in Orlando next February.
BuilConn and oBIXAnto's second annual BuilConn 2004, with over 90 presenters and content contributors speaking about convergence, was held in April. The event was held in conjunction with the M2M Expo (Machine To Machine Expo), and it proved to be a dynamite combination. The BuilConn event has become a must for practitioners providing convergence connections. The reach and impact of this event just keeps growing.
This year, the addition of M2M with the participation of wireless and IT folks helped us all change our thinking about what the connections to real-time data might mean. It became obvious that we have been in the M2M business for years, but we had never looked at ourselves that way. The M2M folks bring new ideas and products to propel our industry forward, and are a great addition to our community.
Anto is taking his successful BuilConn event to Europe in Brussels, October 26-28, 2004. BuilConn Europe will make this thinking global.
The oBix (Open Building Information Xchange) meeting was also held in conjunction with BuilConn and several goals were met, including the adoption of a new mission statement: "The mission of the Open Building Information Exchange (oBIX) committee is to develop a publicly available Web services interface specification that can be used to obtain data in a simple and secure manner from HVAC, access control, utilities, and other building automation systems, and to provide data exchange between facility systems and enterprise applications. In addition, the committee will develop implementation guidelines, as needed, to facilitate the development of products that use the Web service interface."
Meeting participants also proposed that committee work under the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) work in parallel toward ISO certification.
Finally, Toby Considine, technology officer for facility services at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, was elected oBIX chairman. He can be reached at Toby Considine.
The oBix evolution and its usefulness have been slowed by politics and re-organization, but with a new mission statement and chairman, 2004 will be the year to watch to see if they can reach their true potential. Solutions are being developed daily that do not include the benefit of this standard.
Here is an excerpt from an interview conducted with Considine from the AutomatedBuildings.com website (automatedbuildings.com/news/jun04/interviews/considine.htm):
Sinclair: Toby welcome to your new position as oBIX chairman. How does it feel to be guiding this exciting group?
Considine: I am excited to be involved with a group that I think has the potential to change the controls industry, to change what owners and operators can expect from buildings, and to advance several values that I hold very dear.
I have been integrating technology and facilities at the University of North Carolina for seventeen years. Clearly, the first goal of facilities operations at a university is cost-efficient operation; I think oBIX will enable us to do that better. It is also clear that the way we have been doing things is quite simply not agile enough to support the ever-changing education, research, and public services goals of the university.
Sinclair: How is the transition from oBIX to OASIS going?
Considine: The transition is going along nicely. On April 26, the CABA board confirmed the recommendation of the oBIX committee at BuilConn. Paul Ehrlich of Trane, David Clute of Cisco, John Petze of Tridium, and Byron Hill of Johnson Controls had joined OASIS in the interim and were able to promptly begin the OASIS process. On May 15, a formal call to participate went out, and people have been signing up rapidly.
As we had hoped, the transition to OASIS has brought in a more diverse participation. I have fielded inquiries from power distribution companies that would like to talk to the building as well as had discussions of alliances with other OASIS committees and with technology companies that were not paying attention to oBIX before."
I served as a moderator for the open system panel at BuilConn. I was the moderator last year and again at the XML-Symposium in Anaheim in January, but the group's dynamic message is always changing and new, and BuilConn was no exception. There was a lot of focus on XML by all. In fact, it was this focus that caused the XML mega-panel session, which was scheduled next, to start early. Our union with IT and our acceptance of open standards is going to mean a significant change in attitude for us all. Problems that seem big to the automation industry are not even an issue for the IT folks. The message was very clear: Don't talk about it! Just do it.
XML is a part of everyone's plan, and oBIX will have to hurry to be part of this as most are moving ahead with XML implementation because they need to meet their connection commitments to capture the new convergence business.
Solution On A ChipThe halls and social events surrounding BuilConn were a buzz about the possibility of a LonWorks and BACnet solution on a single chip.
This news release confirmed the buzz:
"Vienna, Austria and Boston, MA, - Loytec electronics GmbH with its headquarter in Vienna, Austria and Cimetrics, Inc. with its headquarters in Boston, MA announced their agreement to support BACnet on Loytec's high-performance, low cost ‘System on a Chip' which combines the two leading open protocols for networked devices in building automation."
We were able to get Al Mouton, president, Loytec Americas Inc., to write an article in the May issue of AutomatedBuildings.com titled, "LonWorks & BACnet Solution On A Chip." Both protocols have become well established, and manufacturers are working to offer building systems supporting both platforms. The concept of combining these two powerful open protocols into one chip will greatly simplify equipment manufacture and make open standards easy to achieve by all."
This exciting development of BACnet/LonWorks on a chip will do much to provide a simple solution for connecting convergence. I hope the special interest groups in the BACnet camp do not delay how long it will take to get this chip to market, since competing solutions are moving ahead rapidly.
The Niagara SummitAnother approach that includes BACnet and Lon, the first ever Niagara Summit hosted by Tridium, attracted 350 attendees from around the world, 25 exhibitors, and dozens of prominent speakers, thus validating the reach of the Niagara community. Tridium is the inventor of the Niagara Framework™, a software framework that integrates diverse systems and devices - regardless of manufacturer or communication protocol - into a unified platform. Our industry's strong focus in providing connections to convergence has rapidly evolved several choices for connection.
In an interview on our website with Steve Fey, vice president of sales, Tridium, Inc., he tells us about his approach to connecting products to the convergence model with a Niagara Appliance. Here is an excerpt.
Sinclair: What is a Niagara Appliance?
Fey: The Niagara Appliance program is a solution developed for OEM equipment and service providers. In today's market, OEM suppliers of mechanical and electrical equipment, building control, security, fire, and life safety systems are increasingly being asked to Web-enable their products, provide interconnectivity to a diverse range of other control systems, and communicate alarm and maintenance information to service personnel remotely over the Internet. The Niagara Appliance has been developed to address this with a cost effective solution that can be brought to market quickly."
While I am talking about choices, "Waking Up To Wireless" my June 2004 Building Automation column in Engineered Systems, talks about the new movement and an evolving wireless ZigBee Alliance:
"What is ZigBee? The ZigBee Alliance is an association of companies working together to enable reliable, cost-effective, low-power, wirelessly networked monitoring and control products based on an open global standard.
"I am writing this column just after returning from BuilConn in Dallas. The haze of mega information is starting to clear and I want to tell you about one of the strong trends I saw at the show. Wireless. Wake up! It is here and it is now, and it will again change the shape of our industry. Approximately 10% to 15% of the folks at the conference were in the wireless industry. Wireless is now cheaper, runs forever on batteries, can even be self-generating, and can now organize itself into self healing and repeating networks. Let me provide you connection to some of the new thinking that will appear in our building automation products in the near future.
"Wireless has tremendous potential as most of our required connections to real-time data are in existing buildings. Self-generating networks of wireless devices will have a huge impact on the industry by providing the lowest cost solution for the giant retrofit market. The full impact of these new devices will be strongly felt in the next few years.
The column ends with: "All of this wireless technology is available now, and at a cost and size that will allow it to be incorporated into our next generation building automation products. Can you imagine the impact of low-cost wireless networked devices in the mammoth retrofit market in North America?"
Procurement Of The New StandardsAll of the varied approaches above greatly increase the complexity of procurement of the best connection equipment. In my July column, I ask and answer the question: How do we ensure procurement of the latest and greatest?
"The solution is to follow the IT industry procurement model and to buy the building controls, much the same as an owner would buy his IT enterprise system. In purchasing IT systems, the fact that it all fit together and worked was more important than purchasing the lowest cost system. Feature, functionality, and fit ruled the procurement process.
"To follow this model, the conventional controls contract is removed from the various fragmented building contracts. An RFP document that includes the owner's mandatory requirements, and the mandatory control points as defined by the building design team, is prepared by the owner/user and his specialized automation consultant. Removing this work from the plan and spec world has many advantages. One of the biggest is the purchase of current capabilities. The design time for a large project from inception to completion is often several years, allowing mammoth changes in automation capabilities and reach as well as the building owner's requirements. Just in time automation procurement ensured the latest and greatest at the lowest cost.
"The great progress made in open standards in the last few years will allow the task of separating the hard building stuff (chillers, fans, lights, etc.) from the soft stuff (interfaces and integration) easier. A tight spec using one or more of the major protocols will become part of an integration RFP, this will allow equipment to be purchased with controls including well-documented global strategies.
"I believe that using the approach of separating the hard stuff in buildings from the soft stuff will lead to ensuring the procurement of the latest and greatest ‘just in time' technologies."
Comparing and procuring a Lon, BACnet, Niagara, custom IT, wireless solution, or the correct mix of all or any, can only be done by using an RFP approach. We have to unhinge our thinking and refocus on the overall required functionality and the mandatory requirements. Keep it simple and let the technology folks work out the details and respective costs of their proposed standards in their proposals.
We now have standards to assist in connecting our real-time data to our client's enterprise, but the newly defined building domain expert (BDE) must sort out the roles and methods as we all use the same convergence tools to create new solutions to our existing problems. CC