If you haven’t heard – and how could you have not – the Internet of Things (IoT) is all the rage. The explosion of cloud computing and the opportunity for unlimited access to data anytime, anywhere is very seductive. But while the internet cloud can rain an abundance of data, how helpful is a thunderstorm of information without a data umbrella?
IoT for Building Owners
Real estate developers have compiled mountains of Big Data and IoT promoters hype meaningful information for business decisions as key outcomes.
If you’re managing a portfolio of buildings, this information is coming at you faster than ever. How do you take advantage of this treasure trove and sort out the most valuable information? Finding the useful data enables more informed decisions about where to deploy capital to improve the performance of your portfolio. And, operating more efficiently retains tenants, reduces costs and improves carbon footprints.
Meshing the Old with the New
The rapid adoption of new technologies, such as cloud computing and the analytics to make productive use of data, is still in the future for most owners. Modern building automation and control systems (BAS) followed the growth and adoption in the PC market. Most buildings today are saddled with legacy systems (vintage 1985-2010) and a dwindling resource of trained technicians that can integrate the old with the new as Baby Boomers retire. Legacy control systems were never designed to harness the power of broadband communications and search engines.
In theory, for commercial buildings, IoT can mean distributed, addressable intelligence down to the level of a light bulb. All that is needed is network connectivity and analytics at the back end to take advantage of the millions of existing sensors installed. These simple steps will allow every component of a building to communicate with each other, and the eventual possibility for each to have a unique IP address.
However, this would cause information to flood building managers and have them running for high ground. How can they prevent being drowned by this torrent of information from the Internet cloud?
Recognize that the Majority of the Built Environment is Not Ready for IoT
The immediate solution is to define the reports and information that are important to you today, and to re-tool technology in a logical phased approach. You simply can’t do everything at once.
Adopt a Hybrid
Initially, building owners should consider adopting a hybrid system while transitioning to new technologies. Old buildings aren’t going away fast as the rule of thumb in building operations is ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Until building managers are fully incentivized to produce energy and carbon savings, there is no strong forcing function for change.
Existing systems have worked fine since the inception of computerized controls, circa 1982. On the other hand, it is clear that the days of systems being locked in the janitor’s closet are over. The dashboards are too sexy and the lure of Big Data is too seductive to hide from the eyes of executives.
Programming or configuration takes time and can present a challenging expense. Not enough older technicians that know the legacy automation systems have the skills to bring them up to Internet standards or broadband systems that we enjoy in our homes and offices today.
One of the biggest challenges to commercial building systems is the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation. The new generation consists of digital mavens who turn to Google for everything. None of these older systems were designed to be Googled for an instant answer.
Generation Y have great digital skills but don’t yet know enough about the valves and controllers in a building’s circulatory system. They need to be trained during this transition to integrate the old systems with the new.
Today it’s possible to drill down to every parameter of the new electrical and mechanical systems but you can’t drill down to that level in legacy systems. One solution is to buy some time while you get ready.
Real estate managers are attacking the problem is different ways. Some are hiring specialty firms that are focused on transitioning old legacy systems and integration. Others are hiring consultants, training from within or recruiting outside talent.
For now, consider a more lightweight scan of the Big Data. Given that the rapid technology advancements have yet to plateau, human intelligence can still spot patterns in a way that machines just can’t. Don’t try to consume all the data – identify and package the data that people need and can use.
If I’m sitting at my desk I don’t need Big Data just to have more data. I need information to help me to do my job and be more productive.
Replace or Reuse?
Legacy controls systems aren’t going away. Your transition to IoT has to start with a plan. Will you repair or replace? Fully reprogramming or replacing your system components with the latest models is a long and expensive process, but upgrading existing hardware with a network connection will save sunk costs by allowing you to plug into global IoT gateways and use the power of the cloud with your legacy systems.
Ultimately, true enterprise energy management is now possible with today’s broadband and search tools. An owner of a building can Google flights to Hawaii and get 1,000 results in an instant. Why can’t she Google her building and get 1,000 results on the temperature points in the facility? At Paladino, we believe this opportunity is on the horizon. The Internet of Things will not only provide the data, but also the back-end analytics to make sense of it all and change your data forecast from cloudy to clear.
Dev DuRuz is director of building analytics at Paladino Seattle.