How the Internet of Things will transform building management

How the Internet of Things will transform building management

When it comes to managing energy consumption, safety conditions and other building processes across your company's real estate portfolio, which scenario sounds more efficient?

Option A: responding to alarms and maintenance crises reactively after they happen. Or Option B: monitoring systems continuously in real time to anticipate and address potential problems or incidents.

Yes, the question is largely rhetorical, but the reality is most facility managers currently operate somewhere in between these two extremes. Many have access to building systems that collect data about operating conditions, but far fewer have the tools to parse that information for insights into future conditions or inefficiencies.

That's about to change. Intelligent, machine-to-machine, or M2M, applications that use sensors to collect information about operating conditions combined with cloud-hosted analytics software that makes sense of disparate data points will help facility managers become far more proactive about managing buildings at peak efficiency, said experts participating in the GreenBiz webcast, "Sensors, Buildings and the Coming Internet of Things."

"If all you have is a home-built spreadsheet, you can't get to where you need to be," said Mark Henderickson, director of Panoptix Operations for Johnson Controls.

Panoptix is a management system hosted securely in the cloud that can collect information from sensors and other intelligent devices (not just those made by Johnson Controls). Facility teams can use the software application to monitor conditions and set parameters for what happens if certain conditions arise.

Promising Applications

The built environment is one of the most promising sectors for M2M applications, which could become a more than $1 trillion industry by 2020.

There are currently more than 1.1 billion intelligent embedded systems deployed globally, with more than 2.6 billion expected to be in place by 2016, according to IDC data cited by John Doyle, director of product marketing for Windows-embedded technology at Microsoft.

Here's his definition of this technology:

"An intelligent system enables data to flow across an enterprise infrastructure, spanning the devices where valuable data is gathered from employees and customers, to the back-end systems where that data can be translated into insights and action."

Connecting these devices to the Internet will help companies get at data that might have existed in islands in the past, letting them analyze it for trends and other insights. "This creates tremendous value for enterprises," Doyle said.

That value could come in the form of better operational intelligence, which focuses on the "health" of the device itself and potential maintenance needs; or business intelligence, which might assess parameters such as asset utilization in order to gauge future investment needs.

Far More Than Climate Control

When it comes to the built environment, connected sensors could be used to monitor far more than climate control and could help improve management of lighting, fire alarms, water sprinklers and surveillance systems, Henderickson said.

As an example of how M2M could change the rules, he offered a scenario in which a building's fire alarm is triggered.

Under many current systems, the response is primarily manual in nature: A maintenance employee might be dispatched to call the fire department, shut down elevators and trigger other responses, he noted. By connecting building controls through the Internet, however, the team could automate many of these processes. For example, building exhaust systems might be switched on near the problem area to disperse smoke and emergency lighting would help guide occupants toward exits.

M2M technology could be crucial for detecting anomalies that start out small, but become worse over time. His example of this involves two major universities that deployed Panoptix to track conditions across their campuses. It turned out that both were using 15 to 20 percent more energy than designed outside of their normal occupancy schedule, because of leaks in the duct work that weren't otherwise detected because the building conditions were otherwise comfortable.

"Facility managers have so many systems, people, types of equipment and energy concerns to manage they quite often can't see the problems that are staring them straight in the budget," Henderickson said.

Why The Cloud?

While some webcast attendees questioned the security of cloud-based building management applications, Doyle and Henderickson both downplayed this concern.

Panoptix takes steps to ensure a secure connection before the "data conversation" occurs, while the Windows Embedded platform employs the same security parameters as the enterprise Windows operating system sitting behind the IT infrastructure of many big companies, they noted.

Moreover, by opting for a cloud-based solution, facility managers can more easily integrate data from different locations and gain access to deeper "Big Data" analytics capabilities that might otherwise be available.

Data can be compared and correlated, and shared in whatever ways make sense. "The cloud gives you best practices to share between your buildings, systems and tenants," Henderickson said.

Image of businessman hand holding a building by twobee via Shutterstock