The Internet of Things - How it matters

This is the first in a series of articles about the Internet of Things by Guest Contributor Pat Cronin.

Several years ago, I was visiting the president of one of Indonesia’s largest banks, in a spacious office overlooking downtown Jakarta. At the time I was Director of International Marketing for Johnson Controls. He was very clear – he wanted the most ‘intelligent’ building in the city. I noticed that our local manager, an electrical engineer by training, was both excited, yet concerned. The potential for a landmark project, certainly, although what exactly was he supposed to deliver as an intelligent building?

Equally concerned, I asked, ‘what do you expect in the most intelligent building?’

He took us to his picture window, pointed at his main competitor’s building across the street, and said ‘more intelligent than that one.’

He took us to his picture window, pointed at his main competitor’s building across the street, and said ‘more intelligent than that one.’

This was actually a relief. As fortune would have it, the bank building across the street had a Johnson Controls integrated controls system installed, so we knew exactly how much more ‘intelligence’ we had to provide. What sounded initially like an ego-driven ideal actually gave us very specific direction, and a context from which we could tangibly control more, integrate more, duplicate more, display more and report more, leveraging JCI’s open architecture / distributed controls scheme and powerful systems integration engine. We had the ‘intelligence’ tools, and this customer gave us the definition we needed for the deliverable.

Fast forward to 2016, with the enormous potential, and increasing reality, of the Smart ecosystem. This is the new ideal - Smart, Smarter, Smartest - and the tools to make it happen are infinitely more powerful and expansive, and most often are in orbit around what we call the Internet of Things (IoT). In our evolving series on IoT, we will look at both the possibilities and challenges created for facility managers and system / service providers. Not the least of these will be the issue of how IoT enables smarter buildings, and if / how this actually makes building performance measurably better.

Discussing the IoT is a bit like discussing ‘food’ – you can go in many directions, but to what end, and where do you start? We want to end up with insights and practical considerations for the industry we know well – building operations, building controls, energy management, building services, sustainability, systems integration and facility performance. This opens a world of possibilities, and it adds a tremendous amount of color to the traditional Data-to-Information-to-Knowledge evolution. IoT takes any one (or all) of these points and expands the ranges of mobility, scalability, and accessibility significantly. The rise of Internet connectivity, and the ability to sense / collect / report more, increasingly more cheaply, enable this phenomenon. Of course, this raises also question or two:

  1. Is the Internet of Things a constructive disruption, or an unwieldy distraction?
    o We’re in the Cloud, or is it the Fog(?) And why is it that we are here?
    o We’re getting Big Data! Now, what do we do with it? Where do we keep it? How much does it cost us to manage it?

  2. Does it help Innovation?

Clarification: I remember an incredibly important lesson from the world of product development:
o “Invention” means ‘making something new work’.
o “Innovation”, however, means ‘getting someone to pay you for making something new work’.
o Big difference between what’s cool, and what’s cool & marketable.

  1. Similarly, how do you monetize the Internet of Things, or more practically - the productive result thereof (e.g., a smarter building)? o Given that energy is still fairly inexpensive throughout most of North American and Europe, what is the incentive(s)? o The IoT creates endless possibilities of what could be done to make buildings smarter, yet what catalysts focus and drive the investments to leverage it? o What are the tangible / measurable financial returns?

In our series of articles, we will be sharing the insights and experiences of industry professionals from a variety of backgrounds, specialties and regions of the world. This will include:
1. Building systems (integration, interrogation, or intelligence);
2. Building performance, certification & management (active, passive, proactive, predictive);
3. Building service (delivery & performance of providers, predictability of issues, speed of resolution v. speed of response).
It may be helpful for us to describe what we referred to as ‘intelligent’ buildings v. what is being defined as an IoT-enabled ‘smart’ building:
o ‘Intelligent’ has traditionally referred to buildings being wired for connectivity (between systems), data availability & access, and pre-programmed interoperability. Networked buildings could be monitored & controlled as one ‘entity’, and via TCP/IP, managed anywhere from anywhere. Still, conditions could only be controlled if they were measured. They had to be sensed to be measured, and sensing was expensive. Plus, what was most important was the environment, and what it cost to create & maintain that environment. Throw in people – those darn occupants! – and now the system has to deal with constant variability.
o ‘Smart’ buildings, as described per the IoT affect, implies more tangible improvements, such as :
- ‘Wired’ goes away as a prerequisite, replaced by varied, and increasingly inexpensive wireless media;
- Pre-programming for a binary effect (e.g., either do it, or don’t do it) gives way to more deliberative, information-driven, and more comprehensive potential responses;
- The greater likelihood for predictive, or pre-emptive responses to changes in conditions, or a range of now inter-related conditions;
- Improved responses that can be enabled by data sets and rules about operating conditions of significantly better quality than before, made possible by a myriad of inexpensive, more powerful sensors sensing more. These data may be the result of more and more precise information captured within a specific building, or of comparative sets of data (representing best practices or ranges) from dozens, hundreds or thousands of similar buildings worldwide;
- The identification, presence, and programmed / learned preferences and behaviors of the occupants, such that they are the focus and conditions around them are the variables;
- Move from detecting and correcting anomalies to predicting / pre-empting / perfecting systems operation, occupant comfort and safety, and measurable improvements in building performance and efficiency.

There is more to come in our series. Our input to date has pointed us to a great deal of excitement about the IoT-enabled smart building possibilities & benefits, though also some caution. In some ways, the ‘Intelligent’ building phase was also a ‘craze’, with more hype than payback. Beyond the hype potential, the IoT presents some significant management issues, not the least of which is separating what is technically possible from what is eminently practical. Access to, and security of what is cloud-based is a serious concern, as are the costs of managing all these captured data. There are also the demographic shifts affecting those who are supposed to make these smarter buildings actually perform. When utilization of the power & features built into building automation systems has historically ranged between 10-15%, mainly by Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers, who is going to step forward and fully embrace the potential of IoT-enabled smart buildings?