The Internet of Things and Intelligent Facilities Management chombosan/iStock

The Internet of Things and Intelligent Facilities Management

The application of intelligent-building and IoT technology should support three important goals: reduce costs, reduce risk, and improve the occupant experience.

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The Internet of Things (IoT) is ushering in new possibilities for building integration and allowing for the emergence of truly intelligent buildings. The IoT makes it possible to understand what is happening within every component of a building and for building-automation systems (BAS) to optimize performance of the smallest part. The IoT even enables BAS to anticipate problems and make necessary adjustments to avoid failures, resolving issues before occupants are impacted.

How does the IoT enable BAS to achieve this level of intelligence? In the context of building-management applications, the IoT can be defined as a large number of data points brought into a cloud environment in which analytics can be applied to influence outcomes. The IoT makes possible a variety of applications using connected devices and data-driven-decision support systems. The IoT uses one common Internet Protocol (IP) platform to connect all of the sensors and devices in a building to exchange and analyze information and optimize controls automatically. An important benefit is access to knowledge of outside-the-target-zone operating parameters enabling quick resolution of issues, even before problems emerge.

Because the possibilities of IoT technology are so compelling, it is easy to get caught up in the hype and disconnect from the reality of operating and managing a facility. That is why it is important to stay grounded and remember the application of intelligent-building and IoT technology should support these three important goals:

  • Reduce costs.
  • Reduce risk.
  • Improve the occupant experience.

If the application of IoT technology creates an intelligent building that meets these objectives, then the owners and operators will be in a position to realize a full return on their investment in the facility while users enjoy a comfortable, dynamic environment.

The Connected, IoT-Enhanced Building

Accumulating, sharing, analyzing, and acting on data creates dynamically connected, smart systems that are the foundation of intelligent buildings, which are efficient, secure, and productive and even can continuously improve. The IoT facilitates this by integrating all of the devices in a building and converting information into big data that can be stored, analyzed, and used to manage the building through its BAS. While, beyond controlling HVAC, modern direct-digital-control (DDC) BAS typically are used to schedule and trend access controls or lighting systems, they can do much more and, thus, are ready to take advantage of the IoT.

The combination of BAS and the IoT is a union of engineering and data. BAS are from the domain of engineering, related to engineered systems and how building systems operate, while the IoT comes from the realm of information technology (IT) and is all about data and statistics. Turning all of the data collected from a building and its components into building intelligence that can be applied to enable better, more efficient facility operations is where analytics comes into play. While a BAS runs systems and sends alerts if there is a problem, it is not predictive. Likewise, the information gathered by IoT data points is just data. The analytics platform fills the gap by tracking and trending big data and analyzing the performance of a building. Analytics can identify problems before they occur, allowing preventive maintenance to become predictive maintenance.

While a building’s systems may be smart, without the ability to share data, they are functioning as silos and not delivering their full benefits. By expanding the collective intelligence of buildings, the IoT exponentially increases the effectiveness and efficiency of systems. Traditionally, the BAS was the smartest system in a building; the IoT is shifting intelligence away from the BAS to connected devices and the cloud, where data is stored and analyzed. Once data analytics determines the best operational choices or corrective actions to take, a BAS assumes its role of coordinating the functions, such as turning systems on and off, sending alarms, and making other adjustments, of all of the devices in a facility.

Additionally, the IoT can give building occupants and users more control over their environments. Mobile applications that enable users to control heating and cooling setpoints, lighting, and daylighting, for example, can be created. The BAS, however, will have the authority to reverse changes when occupancy sensors indicate a space is empty.

Integrating the Built Environment With the IoT

The effective application of IoT technology to create an intelligent building requires careful planning from the beginning. Adding components later in the process can be costly because of the large number of metering and sensing devices that must be applied to so many systems—from electrical switchgear to HVAC equipment to water distribution systems. Starting early also can lower costs by eliminating redundancies, such as parallel networks, multiple software systems, and even the need for multiple electrical contractors.

Early involvement by all of a facility’s stakeholders also will contribute to success. The specific stakeholders will vary by project, but the interests they represent can be summed up as financial, operational, sustainability, security, and productivity. Working with these groups to establish goals and objectives as early in a project as possible will reduce the number of last-minute change orders as the project develops. For instance, the constituents can determine which are the most important intelligent-building features—the “must-haves”—and eliminate the features that would have only marginal benefit. Finally, during this preliminary engagement is the time to work through conflicts between the stakeholders and reach a consensus regarding how to apply IoT and intelligent-building technologies.

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Specification is a crucial time when integrating a building into the IoT. Do not apply a siloed approach to procuring the various systems that comprise the network backbone. If these are purchased separately, with no overarching focus on integrating them in a comprehensive and durable fashion, the IoT integration will fall short. Make sure data from the various devices and systems in the building can be acquired and aggregated with the IoT applications. Most HVAC equipment, for instance, is designed to operate in a fully automatic, self-contained fashion. But even if the equipment includes a microprocessor for managing its internal functions, the data stream that needs to be included in the building-analytics ecosystem may not be easily accessible through common Web interchange formats, such as XML and SQL. Additionally, while all systems in a building are available with industry standard protocols, these still can contain variations that inhibit communications between devices. For example, BACnet has several variations: BACnet/IP, BACnet over Ethernet, and BACnet over ARCNET. Each of these has a different means of transmitting data and varied wiring methods. Reversing either of these mistakes will be costly and may even require a specialized systems integrator to implement a high-level protocol conversion. Fortunately, the industry is catching on. In response to the emergence of the IoT, BACnet is defining new Web-service standards that will support information technologies and integrate with enterprise-level applications and cloud services.

One of the most important stakeholders in an intelligent building is the IT department because, unlike in the past when a BAS operated on its own network, intelligent buildings must rely on their IT backbones. Coordination and trust between the integrator, facility-operations personnel, and IT staff from Day One is critical. By working together, all parties can agree on standards for incorporating the IoT platform into the overall IT infrastructure. At a minimum, firewalls, data encryption and authorization, and authentication protocols should be in place. Anticipating potential weak spots is one strategy to ensure a network is secured to the standards of the IT department. There are many options for optimizing network security, ranging from fully integrating intelligent-building and corporate networks to partitioning portions of networks to specifying totally separate networks. The best solution for each application will be determined by open discussions and negotiations between the integrator, building operators, and IT department.

To protect investments in smart, IoT-integrated buildings, apply solutions that are scalable and adaptable. Be prepared to expand systems as new technologies emerge and operators request additional features and capabilities. It is reasonable to expect that advances in algorithms and analysis, new technologies for business and personal use, and more will be coming in the future. Integrators should prepare today’s smart buildings to develop into the intelligent buildings of tomorrow.

Analytics packages must be robust enough to provide useful information and intelligence for all of a building’s stakeholders. Most likely, a traditional, site-based building-analytics technology will not be adequate when it comes to analyzing the large volume of building data available through the IoT. The best way to capture and analyze IoT data is through a cloud-based building-analytics solution. It should be designed to scale across an unlimited number of devices and buildings and be able to access data using a flexible reporting method. This will resolve one of the larger challenges with big data—sorting through statistics and figures to find relevant, actionable information. The analytics likely will need more data points within sensors than the BAS, so make sure there are plenty and that adding more points is cost-effective. As noted previously, use established communication protocols in the BAS that work across media and applications. Finally, select a solid, reliable cloud provider with staying power. Although this remains a growing and developing sector, it is mature enough that some stable players have emerged.

Bringing all data together requires a series of dashboards tailored to the needs of key stakeholders—for example, a dashboard for viewing overall facility functions for facility operators and a dashboard focused on energy use in real time and energy-usage trends over time for the sustainability team. A financial stakeholder needs to see how daily operations tie in to the overall facility budget. To define what each dashboard should entail, engineers must understand what each stakeholder values and his or her overall goals. Then, they must consider which components and systems within the building need to communicate to deliver the data required for each dashboard.

Conclusion

The IoT creates vast opportunities for integrating systems and creating intelligent buildings that operate more efficiently and with less risk while delivering superior occupant experiences. Although technology in the form of data points and analytics is essential to the success of IoT-based smart buildings, the human element still is required for optimal success: While the analytics made possible by the IoT provide insights, people are needed to process the information and apply it effectively to obtain desired results.

 

Leroy Walden, LEED AP, is president of InsideIQ Building Automation Alliance, an international alliance of independent building-automation contractors. He also is vice president, technical-systems sales, automation, and control solutions, for McKenney’s Inc., a systems-integration and building-automation-system contractor serving the southeastern United States.

 

Did you find this article useful? Send comments and suggestions to Executive Editor Scott Arnold at [email protected].

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