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Buildings' 'Tower of Babel' problem: They can't share data

[Editor's Note: Dan Probst, chairman of Energy and Sustainability Services for Jones Lang LaSalle, spoke about managing a global portfolio of smart buildings at VERGE DC. Here is his post about the conference. See more coverage of the event at]

One of the underlying themes of the VERGE conference was "sharing" -- sharing cars through Buzzcar, standards for energy performance measurement, making data public, and generally pulling together to overcome energy and sustainability challenges.

Virtually every speaker touched on some aspect of social networking, shared analytics and rising levels of standardization in his or her industry.

Except me.

In my presentation, I pointed out that ASHRAE started developing communication protocols for sharing building performance information in 1987, and took nine years to release the final standard.

Yet today, the large controls companies still use their own proprietary, closed systems, resisting the standard protocols. That collective decision prevented progress toward smart portfolios, unless every building used the same manufacturer's controls -- a virtual impossibility, given the way companies constantly change their occupancy through relocation, acquisitions and mergers.

By contrast, technology standards like HTTP, HTML and URLs were developed and adopted in the space of two years, leading to a revolution in TVs, cameras, phones, household appliances -- oh, and computers.

It took a new wave of controls companies to create products that translate data from these towers of Babel into a common language. Our firm looked at these new firms and selected Pacific Controls to power our IntelliCommand offering, which combines the technology of controls companies with the human expertise that comes from managing 2 billion square feet of property.

Listening to the VERGE speakers talk about the strides their industries have made by sharing information reinforces my feeling that the buildings industry is way behind the curve. It's time to catch up.

Photo from VERGE DC by Goodwin Ogbuehi for GreenBiz Group.

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