BAS Communities-Are we building silos when bridges are better?

Every BAS manufacturer has been marketing hard, trying to earn and sustain their share of the marketplace. That’s the nature of business and a good thing because the competition also fosters innovation, drives up quality, and drives down price. Every manufacturer is presenting their “solution package”. This means that when a BAS integrator or controls contractor chooses to commit to a single manufacturer’s product line they do not have to consider the distinctions between platform, protocol, operating system, etc. It is natural, and healthy, for a connection community to form around each manufacturer and their products. Many years ago, as newlyweds, my father-in-law gave us some very practical advice. Look at your marriage as if you are a mason laying one brick a day. You can use those bricks to either build a wall or to build a bridge. I think this analogy carries forward to connection communities and specifically applies to the Haystack effort. I see the Haystack organizers trying to reach out to the entire BAS industry encouraging us to work together to define the Haystack Tagging standards. They are trying very hard to build a bridge to more efficient use of our scarce resources that will benefit everyone in the industry and building owners and operators as well. The Haystack community is industry wide.

Unfortunately, the perception and misconception was created that Haystack tagging was created by and for the Tridium community. It is true that many of the supporters of Haystack use the Tridium technology because it is a great platform to build an automation business around. It is not true that Haystack Tagging is exclusively tied to the Tridium platform. The industry needs to find the right balance between competition and co-operation. Competition is critical to a healthy business climate, but: these is a need to continue to learn how and where to work together for our mutual benefit. In fact, what we have here is overlapping connection communities. The Haystack community includes and empowers the Tridium community as well as communities forming around all other manufacturers in our industry.

That being said, the question remains – How are we pursuing and promoting Communities and have we taken the concept too far? “Communities” can promote silos which lock us into specific “solution packages” and associated manufacturers. We should focus on promoting communities that get the industry as a whole working together, independently of manufacturer preference or platform. We should also promote communities that encourage truly open systems and best of breed solutions. Haystack Connect was partially successful in achieving these goals. They were certainly trying very hard to make this happen and, as they reach out to bring additional manufacturers into the fold, it will happen. The S4 Group and our development partner, Obermeier Software, have been watching and evaluating the Haystack activities very closely. We are publically announcing support for the Haystack Tagging initiative and are enhancing our S4 Open Appliances to facilitate the assignment of Haystack Tags to devices and points published by them. This effort will start as soon as we complete our current project commitments and will result in Haystack tags being included in all of our Device Type Templates for the S4 Open: BACnet-N2 Router, S4 Open: OPC-N2 Router, and future products.

One of the things that would go a long way would be to find a way to incorporate tagging capabilities directly into BACnet in a standardized way. This doesn’t mean that BACnet should support only Haystack Tagging. The capability should be defined as a device or point property that would allow alternate tagging approaches to be incorporated. That means that every manufacturer in the industry could easily embrace and publically support the effort within their own “solution package”. Again, everyone wins.

Another priority for our industry is to support the efforts to define and develop oBIX2. This has a huge potential for providing an interface to the IT world using approaches that are familiar and comfortable. Today, this has to include the evolving cloud-based services. One of the concepts that Toby Considine shared with me was the ability to negotiate between a client and server to discover what tagging methodology was supported, then move forward within that context. This truly embraces what an open system should be. It would fully support Haystack tagging, but, it would allow for alternate approaches or standards in the same functional area where appropriate for a particular customer or project.

For extra measure we need to be careful not to imply that Open Systems and Open Source are the same thing. They are not. Look at BACnet as an example here. BACnet has moved the industry towards an open interface that everyone can participate in. i.e. an Open System within the bounds of what BACnet allows to be open. However, there are private implementations of the BACnet-protocol. There is at least one open source BACnet initiative. And there are multiple commercial implementations of BACnet that manufacturers can include in their product so that they don’t have to develop it on their own. These are all great options, they all work together, and they all move us towards the goal of an Open System in different ways. The bottom line is that the more we find ways to work together the more benefit we, and our customers, accrue.