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The day IT operates the building

Jim Sinopoli, Managing Principal, Smart Buildings LLC, USA.For years Information Technology has relentlessly penetrated virtually all of the control and management systems in a building. The list of systems is long and growing and it’s harder to identify a building system without some aspect of IT. Yet despite the industry’s strides in building controls, automation and deployment of IT, we’re not close to the potential of fully implementing advanced automation in our buildings. Says, Jim Sinopoli, Managing Principal, Smart Buildings LLC, USA.

We look at aircraft autopilots that have automated flight for almost a century, driverless cars, and a society drenched with electronic devices and apps. We have an Earth where almost everyone has a cell phone and we look for a future of billions of electronic devices networked by the internet that will be managed, monitored, integrated, implanted and worn. Advanced automation will not be some accommodation with building information technology, it will be a full embrace of the basic tenants of IT:

  • Granular data
  • Data management
  • Development of the logic, policies and “rules” of how we want the building to operate
  • Additional sensors
  • Analysis of data
  • Standard tools of the IT market.

The Building Blocks

To move to a higher level, the automation systems need to be smarter, innovative and sophisticated, where the systems can automatically configure and integrate new equipment or devices without the need for a technician to manually configure the equipment; where the system can optimize itself, self-heal and not only identify faults or failures, but can compensate and re-configure the system to minimize any impact of the system.

Granular Data – Building-wide or system-wide data will not be sufficient for a highly automated building. To really manage a building, we need to get down to the details. The spaces within most buildings are too different regarding their orientation, use, occupancy, needs, etc. Granular data provides precision in managing specific spaces within a building, potentially resulting in squeezing out the smallest amount of excess energy consumption and improving occupant satisfaction. Going “granular” will mean increased sensors, tailored controls for individual spaces and a bit more investment that will result in a significant ROI.

Automation is not 100% – people are required. An airplane may have an autopilot, but there are still stages of a flight where pilots are needed, such as taxi and takeoff. The same is true of facility management, where advanced analytics applications can identity system faults, but personnel are needed to diagnosis and provide system remedies. The larger challenge for facility management is qualified people and the constantly changing skills sets requiring deeper information technology resources for operating buildings.

Detailed Policies and Logic – For a building to be fully automated it will require the “logic” or the “policies” of the automation to be fully developed. These are pre-determined rules using an array of data sources and data.

Defining the logic or policies will take extensive planning which is sometimes a pitfall in some facility

management. An example being a scarcity of detailed written alarm management plans which reflects the lack of planning and forethought. A highly automated building will require numerous policies, control logic and sequences of operations which take into account a great number of variables. A major development in preparing policies and logic will be the evolution of facility management from a rather reactive to an assertive proactive orientation and operation.

The policies will need to touch on every significant building situation or scenario affecting energy, operational costs, life safety and tenant comfort and involving diverse groups within the bui lding’s ownership and management.

Data Analytics – A critical component in building automation is data because it’s the data that will be the foundation for the development and revisions to the logic or policies of the automation. Data mining or business intelligence comes down to analyzing the building data, finding trends in how the building is performing or being used, inferring relationships between variables and creating rules. Then that information is processed to predicted how the building will perform under different scenarios. This progression is likely to bring new perspectives to the building operation and new ideas for how to operate the building, and may uncover benefits of integrating systems. The marketplace now has commercial analytic software packages, analytic contractors providing services via the cloud and a host of analytic options for building owners.

Vast Amounts of Sensors – Highly automated buildings will need many additional sensors and metering; some for energy systems (plug load, lighting, HVAC), others for air quality, building occupancy, external lighting conditions, water consumption, security, etc. Although one would think IoT would be primary for home automation and wearable technology, a majority in surveys on the Internet of Things think the IoT will be about buildings.

Understanding the Larger Context of Information and Communications Technology ICT – We can’t be constructing highly automated buildings in isolation. Everyone occupying, managing and owning buildings is part of this community. You can see the first steps of heightened automation and innovation in smaller and medium size companies creating new BMS platforms, automation systems and analytic tools. You can also see it in technology companies increased interest in buildings, energy, life safety and analytics.

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