Skip to main content

A roadmap to the 'Internet of Buildings'

<p>We are on the cusp of the Internet of Buildings. How will the players already in this space adapt?</p>

Evolution is the story of tension and mutation. A difference between aspirations and available resources creates tension, while changing needs and advancing technology drive mutations. Successful mutations thrive until eventually they, too, are replaced by more successful variants.

By its very definition and design, evolution is a slow process. However, every once in a while, evolution is known to change pace, resulting in rapid strides that suddenly leave the standard way of life redundant and usher in a new era.

Building automation and management is now being reshaped by the belated introduction of information technology and the power of data analytics. This, combined with a rich and diverse set of intelligent equipment, rapid strides in standard communication protocols and a demand for future proof infrastructure, has led to a rapid cycle of the same tension and mutation that promises to change the way buildings operate.

We are now on the verge of the Internet of Buildings era, which will alter the way we operate buildings to manage budgets and sustainability. How will incumbent firms adapt?

A brief history of evolution of data in managing building operations

Building controls have come a long way since the introduction of the first thermostat. First, a brief history of this evolution process and look at how this has shaped the emergence of Internet of Buildings.

During the first horizon, which took place up until the late 1960s, most of the control activities in a building were manually managed. There was very little data stored or processed outside of standard logbooks. The building technician was the primary action owner, and decisions were made on the basis of standard practices, experience and intuition, though not necessarily in that order.

Since the 1980s, with the advent of computers, digital controls started to get introduced into building controls in the second horizon. This led to the advent of the building management systems, which meant that while there was greater automation in building operations, a large variety of data was also stored in system archives. The value of data analytics was, however, still not fully realized, due to issues with integrating data from multiple systems, access to fast and effective analytical tools and concerns with respect to data fidelity. Desiccated building managers, therefore, still managed buildings primarily.

Changing building landscape, enhanced automation and control techniques, and the need for greater standardization in operations led to the portfolio managed scenarios in the third horizon. This meant that a greater area was now possible to be managed by building management personnel, leading to increased levels of 'datafication.' Data was now recorded from multiple systems throughout the portfolio — providing simple opportunities for optimization through internal benchmarking.

The focus then shifted to identifying patterns in energy consumption in buildings and drive initiatives to manage such consumption. Data started to become the primary catalyst for actions in a building. However, we were still limited by technical constraints around what type of data could be used and how much of it could be leveraged.

Finally, we are now in the era where big data technologies enable us to capture data from different sources, in diverse formats and with varying context. From being a catalyst, data is now becoming a driver of actions. Less human effort is required to manage even though the complexity around data has increased massively. We are essentially at the cusp of what we call the era of 'Internet of Buildings.' This will be the future age of Internet of Buildings, where we will see interoperability and seamless data interchange between:

• Various sub-systems in a building
• Vuildings and external utilities, such as smart grids or smart cities
• Networks of buildings
• Larger ecosystem of smart equipment
• Increased interface with building stakeholders

Changes influenced by the Internet of Buildings

Development of the 'true open protocol' for building communications

Building automation industry has traditionally been conservative in providing open protocol connectivity. Even the open protocol options of today, such as MODBUS and BACnet, have proprietary variants across different brands, making interoperability between devices from different manufacturers difficult, cumbersome and in some cases, impossible to achieve. This is akin to an Apple phone user not being able to call up another person using an Android phone device! This example sounds absurd, and accentuates how important it is to solve the connectivity issue with building automation and other building sub-systems today. This is now set to change with the emergence of IP based communication protocols for building equipment – which would truly connect the buildings with the internet of things.

Standardization in building speak

The Internet of Buildings is set to make the world a smaller place – and building management could soon be outsourced much as IT service is today. Indeed, major real estate management companies have started offering ROCs (Remote Operations Centre) for managing the world's buildings through a hub of specialized remote centers. This will need standardization in the way building data is recorded and communicated, and subsequently managed. This will need industry consortiums to get together and decide on the right protocols.

Emergence of 'conscious' and 'aware' built environment

Standard communication protocols and standardized building speak would enable the ecosystem of connected buildings to automatically calibrate performance based on host of input data available from the Internet space. This would go well beyond immediate environment factors, such as weather.

Advent of the role of building scientists

Traditionally, one had to take the experts to the buildings in order to manage the infrastructure. Internet of Buildings enables the buildings to be taken directly to the experts' homes, therefore allowing for much greater specialization in expertise and roles. Buildings scientists, with a mix of domain knowledge and data analytics practice, will manage the world's building portfolio and the intelligent built environment in turn would, through machine learning, learn to adapt to accommodate such interventions in the future — necessitating the building scientists to evolve newer methods to improve performance further.

Arrival of non-traditional players in the building management space

Perhaps the most direct, but potentially most game-changing phenomenon would be the emergence of non-traditional companies in the marketplace. Technology companies have already begun to focus on such immediate needs like manufacturing connected end equipment devices and the development of IP based for building communication controls. Phillips Hue Solution offers wireless lighting control solutions over a ZigBee-based wireless network and bridged to home or office data networks and Internet. Cisco has forayed into developing design and implementation standards for building automation systems over IP, leveraging on their core expertise in the network domain.

Leading telecom providers in the U.S., such as AT&T, Telefonica and Vodafone, have started to provide specialized machine-to-machine solutions (M2M). As a case in point, Vodafone offers pre-integrated M2M bundles featuring its global M2M SIMs and a generic M2M terminal that could plug in to any type of connected device. It has also built close relationships with Accenture, Logica, IBM and HP, and believes that it has the flexibility to partner with the best-in-breed SI based on the country and sector.

Reshaping of the energy efficiency business case

The traditional energy efficiency business case has relied on the premise that energy efficiency would pay back in terms of the energy savings.

Total Value = old operating cost – new operating cost

Value is generated when the old operating cost is more than the new operating cost. The total value derived from such a project would therefore always be limited in its potential, and can never exceed the current operating cost by design. Energy efficiency projects have therefore always been bottom line-centric. As a result they have often not been seen as a path breaking strategic investment.

The emergence of data-driven value alters the value equation slightly, but with potentially game changing implications. Under the new scenario:

Total Value = old operating cost – new operating cost + new opportunity value

Consider the retail sector where data-driven analytics has possibly had the most profound and visible impact. This is valuable information, which in its own right merits value in the market. Switch to the built environment, where building energy usage patterns could be analyzed by smart grid systems to provide for the most efficient fuel mix and time of day energy production, and regulate consumer energy usage behaviors through real-time pricing. This could radically change the energy availability through shifting of peak demands and providing for most efficient use of available resources.

Internet of Buildings is going to change the way building management is done to manage spending and sustainability — the key question today is not when or how this would take full shape, but how the incumbent players will adapt and how new entrants will utilize the opportunities provided by this change.

Much like the digital revolution that obliterated Kodak in the '90s, Internet of Buildings provides the latest threat to incumbents and a powerful motivation for new and innovative "mutations." As always, it will be a game of survival of the fittest.

Skyscraper abstract image by ixpert via Shutterstock.

More on this topic