As editor/founder/owner of AutomatedBuildings.com, I strive to be a catalyst/harbinger of the Internet of Things (IoT) future. I constantly outline how systems will be smarter, self-learning, edgy, innovative, and sophisticated, and that they will automatically configure and integrate new equipment to optimize themselves, to self-manage and self-heal while reinventing purposeful, productive, desirable buildings and accommodations. I also want to help grow our only real industry resource/asset — our younger people — by reaching out to youth with messages about our vibrant, vital, and rewarding industry.
- The Current Currency
- Data > Device
- Open Source Finally Arrives
- Reconciling Silos
- Analytics-Ready To Roll
- The Tail Of The Whip
- MSI In The Spotlight
- The liberal arts of BAS success
- Human-Centric Building Automation
I was the building automation columnist for ES earlier in the 2000s, so it is great to be invited back to help provide my 2018 perspective with the help of these industry experts. I found this assembly of thoughts from industry experts very valuable as we prepare for our education sessions at the 2018 AHR Expo in Chicago. The commentary also helps me assemble our November issue of AutomatedBuildings.com themed “Agile Autodidactic Actions.”
Let me summarize the themes that developed.
Agile. We all need to learn just what we need to know, just in time, quickly and easily with agility.
Autodidactic. We need to keep on our self-educated journey and create self-learning companies because our teachers and trusted advisors are still learning as well. All known resources are still evolving.
Actions. Once we have learned the correct skills, we need to turn them into action. Such is our future.
Here are quotable thoughts from around the industry about the year to come — in no order, but the shift to data dominates. I hope that we can give you fodder for your own “Agile Autodidactic Actions,” allowing you to quickly learn about “BAS’ Inclusive Open Data-driven Reinvention.”
The Current Currency
I would propose that the one trend that is having the most significant effect on the buildings industry is the use of data to improve operational results. Energy savings is only part of the impact that the move to data-driven facilities is having. Organizations that learn to manage and use the data produced by their buildings’ systems see dramatic improvements in maintenance and repair operations, occupant satisfaction, and operating costs. In society overall, data and analytics are affecting every facet of our lives, from impacting what we buy to how we manage our lives at home. Data is really the “new money.”
Data > Device
Today, data contained in a device is more valuable than the device.
When it comes to data, we are in an era where data technologies and analytics enable us to capture data from different sources; make it consistent and meaningful and use it across multiple applications. We have access to multiple places where data can be collected, processed, stored, and analyzed. We are now out to the edge with devices that are smarter, offer higher levels of data processing and increased storage capabilities, and are able to do analytics in real time locally on the device.
In as much as data volume is important, so are the decisions on how to handle it, where to store it, and where to process and analyze it. With more devices at the edge comes more data that has the potential to provide enhanced insights into how we manage and operate facilities.
Open Source Finally Arrives
In 2018, we will hear much more about serious open source efforts that can compete in the commercial BAS and data analytics market. This will be centered mainly around software tools to support the collection, visualization, and analysis of building data. Tools such as Volttron, UT3, ECAM, and Grafana, just to name a few, are already making data much more accessible. These tools will start to become the basis for commercial products and services in much the same way that software like Linux and mySQL now provide the basis for many traditional IT systems.
One of the trends that I find notable in the industry is the merging of the typically isolated silos of lighting and HVAC control. System integrators (HVAC) are realizing the benefits of adding lighting control to their offering. The technicians who are typically balancing chillers, temperature, humidity, dew points, pressure, etc., are finding it fairly simple to add light levels and occupancy or schedules to new objects within their system.
The combination of the data and control of these building segments becomes even more important as more buildings become cloud-connected. If the systems operate on different platforms, the cloud integration could require duplicate infrastructure and have unique data structures, adding effort and cost to the project. Having both systems on the same platform allows one group to take responsibility and integrate very effectively. The proliferation of wireless products also makes this very feasible within existing structures.
Analytics-Ready To Roll
We now live in the age of data, but the BAS industry is still fighting battles of the ’80s, protecting turf using hardware lock-in and strong-arm channel control tactics. In 2018, we will start to truly liberate BAS data through the proliferation of analytics-ready controllers and solutions. The “software is eating the world” movement will also arrive for BAS in 2018; the main course will be served.
The significant trend that I see for 2018 is how the BAS industry will need to reinvent itself for this shift. The industry can either continue on its current path and become the bottom feeder of the high-value, tech-savvy cadre of new players, or it can reinvent itself and deliver real value to building owners. A debate about this in 2018 would be most helpful to us all.
The Tail Of The Whip
The impact of the net-zero energy movement and its emphasis on measuring whole-building energy and comfort performance will be felt more strongly in 2018. It will be like that “Crack the Whip” ice-skating game. Some cities and regions are already reworking their building codes around expected outcomes. Owners are contractually obligating architects and engineers to deliver and prove that their projects meet energy-usage and air quality targets. Project teams are turning to their commissioning experts and controls partners for the right sensors, systems, and analytics software to enable proper measurement and verification. The BAS industry is at the tail of the whip. Next year, parts of it will fall in line, offering the level of data interoperability, security, and affordability demanded. Other parts will fall away.
MSI In The Spotlight
All master system integrators (MSI) put together usable tagged databases, and as these data sources become reliable, the MSIs have started to develop tangible new services from the data. These services include predictive maintenance, asset tracking and management, diagnostic service alarms, and much more. Each of these services brings new value and savings to the owner, and that progress will be accelerated in the next year with connections to lighting and other sensors, for example.
Connections like these will enable exciting new services like wayfinding, conference room control, and people tracking, just to name a few. As MSIs maximize the evolving intelligent edge and new data is generated, we foresee MSIs continuing to evolve as well — into the new building data architects.
The liberal arts of BAS success
Since getting interested in the building automation and controls world about four months ago, I’ve noticed the prerequisite diverse skill sets and knowledge base required to even have a worthwhile conversation regarding BAC. There is not only need to understand how buildings function from a mechanical/electrical/controls perspective, but additionally to have scripting capabilities for understanding time series data and working with APIs and being able to traverse routers, switches, and other network devices. Having just a basic understanding of network engineering doesn’t even cut it because there is now the whole cybersecurity issue that came to light after the Target hack.
Additionally, the reason I came to CU Boulder is that of their unique building systems engineering program, but most of that focus is on system design, not integration. If you really want to get young talent involved, where are the co-ops and university partnerships? Where’s the chance to learn and see the challenges faced by the industry first hand? I think there are a lot in my generation who want to see real progress, who want green buildings to be more than a plaque on the wall vetted through an energy modeled building that, after RFIs and value engineering, cut 30% of the features required to make it function at 50% more energy efficient than a code compliant new commercial building. I’m done with hype pamphlets and renderings created by AEC firms; I want buildings to work as designed, and that’s what I find fascinating.
Human-Centric Building Automation
Not wanting to be left out, I would like to add my thoughts on a trend I see now that will continue into 2018.
An approach that involves a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor-made to suit their needs. New human-centric technologies are evolving daily that have an amazing impact on our shift from measuring the usual empirical variables of temperature, humidity, draft/airspeed, light levels, etc., moving us to sensing wearables and their bio and social feedback.
Our core variables still rule the control equation, but now, deep personal information quantifies new components. Health, feeling, opinion, desire, and satisfaction are now all being factored into the control equation, along with a new measured variable derived from the comfort of knowing you are connected. It’s still the early days for wearables and volunteered feedback, but this is an excellent example of the transformation I was talking about with “People Powered Transformation.”
I will close this article, which is really an expression of the state of today’s BAS industry, by encouraging all of us to engage in a transformation for the greater good. The transformation will occur when and as fast as we allow it, but only when all the people it touches embrace that coming change.
We need to engage with our future. We need to unlearn and rethink our vast experiences. We need to revisit our preconceived notions of what can and cannot be changed. Discovering that your learned experiences are the new variables is very upsetting. It is, in fact, transforming.
We need to unhinge our minds and set new paths, go to lunch with the millennial generation (while inviting the Centennials or even younger people that have grown up exclusively in the digital age). We need to learn what we do not know, and not just keep repeating to them what we do know. We need to seek those who will lead the transformation of our industry.