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Where Will the Building Internet of Things Take Us?

In the three decades since Nakatomi Tower popularized a vision of intelligent buildings in Die Hard, the reality of building intelligence (and the systems and integration that enable it) has evolved slowly. But today, the commercial building market appears poised for a period of rapid change in the area.

Several factors lead to this conclusion, and together they can be summarized as the Building Internet of Things (BIoT). A subset of the Internet of Things, the BIoT is not a technology, a product, or a system.

It’s a concept.

In the idealized BIoT end-state, all of the active systems and equipment in a commercial building are connected together across wired and wireless networks, sharing their data. Countless additional sensors augment the traditional systems and equipment we are accustomed to, transmitting data that helps to more fully understand the environment and utilization of the buildings. This wealth of data passes to cloud-based software that normalizes and aggregates it into databases, where it is analyzed by algorithms capable of optimizing comfort and efficiency. Building occupants use mobile apps to interact with the building.

To veterans of commercial real estate, the BIoT concept may sound familiar. Many buildings already have networked equipment and a mobile app to provide some limited functionality. Therefore, perhaps the BIoT just sounds like the next natural step in the evolution of the traditional building control systems – the next revision of the same old thing.

While that is one possible outcome, it doesn’t appear to be the most likely. Disruptive innovation is more likely. In a textbook scenario, existing market-leading companies and established practices will be displaced by new players in the market who operate outside the traditional commercial construction value chain. The likelihood of disruptive innovation is why the BIoT cannot be brushed aside as hype.

Traditional Approach
Commercial buildings have traditionally been controlled and monitored by monolithic, domain-specific specialty systems. These systems typically operated in silos, and their technological foundations were often quite different across silos. As an example: in a typical building it would be common to find a mechanical timer for the irrigation, a lighting control panel with local onboard digital schedule, and a temperature control system with scheduling software running on PC in the basement.

Legacy and proprietary networks and protocols were the norm. Over time, these systems have been gradually improving, as the traditional system vendors slowly adopt IT standards to attain open and interoperable solutions. But even today, the networks and protocols used across different domains have some distinct hallmarks of that unique domain. As an example: in a new building, it would be common to find an open and interoperable BACnet temperature control system, a sophisticated but proprietary access control security system, and an irrigation controller that transmits via cellular modem to the manufacturer’s cloud.

In keeping with traditional construction value chains, each specialty system was designed, sold, installed, and maintained by domain specialists. Each of the businesses in the chain made investment in development, but the pressures were internal to the industry. If a business had just a few major competitors in its niche, it only had to remain better or cheaper than those competitors to succeed.

The Future
The commercial buildings market is beginning to be flooded by new products, services, and software solutions born in Silicon Valley (and its international counterparts), and the pace is expected to grow rapidly. These products from outside the insular silos of specialty building systems bring all the same modern trappings that have allowed Silicon Valley to deploy businesses which leapfrog traditional evolutionary change in other industries.

Modern software development platforms are powerful and scalable. Microprocessor chipsets with embedded wireless and security are modular and inexpensive. There is a massive ecosystem of hardware and software engineers who lack only the domain-specific applications knowledge. The tools available to an upstart entrepreneurial “outsider” business with a clever idea, can allow that business to get from concept to production with very low barriers to entry. If the existing businesses in the industry were big fish in a small pond of commercial buildings, the dam is about to burst, and an entire ocean of new predator species will be competing for dominance of the pond.

On the hardware side, new low-cost sensors with embedded standards-based wireless networking will provide building owners with much more granular data about all facets of the building. From determining occupant density throughout a space, to gaining an in-depth understanding of the performance of energy-consuming necessities like lighting and HVAC, the next generation of sensors will inform new insights about our buildings.

The software side, however, is where the true opportunity for disruptive innovation exists. Networked equipment and sensors are a prerequisite, of course, but the cost and complexity of integrating the physical world into a software space will continue to fall until it becomes trivial. When software developers, free from the legacy traditions of specialty domain niches, bring solutions to our commercial buildings, the results will be stunning. The disruptors will tackle problems large and small.

Some of the most enticing problems in buildings can be solved by software:

  • New applications will merge digital identity with digital credentials on mobile devices.
  • They will leverage facial recognition and video analytics in cameras at the edge to understand occupant distribution throughout a space, and they will permit a building to be responsive to the individual (when privacy concerns are mitigated).
  • Applications will leverage the latest in “big data” processing, machine learning, fuzzy logic, and artificial intelligence, to optimize the operation of lights, blinds, and HVAC components.
  • Safety and security will be enhanced by applications that draw together data streams from security systems, elevators, and life-safety systems, and leverage digital signage and mass notification to direct occupants during emergencies.
  • All of these benefits will become available to occupants of all classes, including visitors, tenants, guests, managers, owners, and operators.
Many of the initial offerings may fail to make an impact, but some will deliver on the promise of improving our buildings in meaningful ways at an attractive price. They will drive energy efficiency, comfort, and interactivity with the occupants.

Because it is likely that the innovations will come from the outside, whether from Silicon Valley giants or entrepreneurial upstarts in a garage across the globe, the BIoT may cause some discomfort to the traditional businesses — but it will be a boon to building owners and occupants.

Rob Knight, Senior Associate, ESD

This Week’s Sponsor

ESD is a leader in Improving Society Through the Built Environment. We create design solutions that produce economic, environmental and experiential benefits for our clients, many of whom are the biggest names in the worlds of business, technology — and beyond. We embrace technological change and are in the forefront of developing Intelligent Buildings. For more information, please visit www.esdglobal.com.

Realcomm News


Join thousands of commercial and corporate real estate IT, property management, marketing, facility, operations, energy, sustainability professionals and system integrators, consultants and suppliers from around the world as we gather in San Diego this June. It is here we will discuss and debate how technology, automation and innovation continues to impact how we design, lease, operate, transact and use real estate.

CRE Tech 5.0 is our theme for 2017. Please take a couple of minutes to watch the video below and get a sense on how innovation is transforming our industry!



For more information and/or to register (early bird pricing ends 4/14/17), visit www.realcomm.com.

UPCOMING REALCOMM WEBINARS

CORPORATE REAL ESTATE & Technology – The Importance of Developing a STRATEGY - 10/24/2019

The Corporate Real Estate industry has quickly gone from constantly resizing the corporate real estate portfolio based on the everchanging business needs of the corporation, to having to understand and deal with a myriad of issues relating to technology, automation and innovation. Not only do CRE professionals need to understand things such as IWMS, intelligent buildings, the smart workplace, AI, VR/AR and other emerging technologies, they also need to understand the fundamental shift on how we use space. Technology which is enabling mobility has shifted the landscape. This webinar will feature some of the most innovative professionals discussing the importance of developing a comprehensive Corporate Real Estate portfolio strategy around the concept of Digital Transformation.

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Jim Young Realcomm
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Jim Young
Co-Founder & CEO
Realcomm
LinkedIn

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Chuck Niswonger
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LinkedIn

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Marc Petock Lynxspring
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LinkedIn

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