The New Deal at S4

As part of our effort in supporting bringing the latest the BAS marketplace has to offer to legacy systems, the S4 Group has recently become engaged in the New Deal for Buildings initiative. In the lead up to the AHR Expo, we spent some time getting familiar with The New Deal and contributed an article to The New Deal Blog Then, we dove into the New Deal white paper. At the AHR Expo, we attended The New Deal launch event. With each activity we learned a bit more, and we got more excited about where The New Deal for Buildings is headed within the industry.

When The S4 Group was founded, a large part of our strategy was to lay out a path that would allow us to serve our partners who needed what we had to offer without fear of competing with their offerings. A large part of that plan was to provide products that enabled our partners’ products to work with legacy BAS installations as if they were open BACnet, or OPC, systems. Our philosophy was to be minimally invasive, so we introduced the capability to co-exist with the legacy head end. Another guiding principle was that our products would be much more than brute force gateways. With this in mind, we automated much of the integration process, saving our partners on labor while minimizing risk. Along the way, we introduced Smart Data Points which are virtual points driven by scripts that perform transformations against field device points to bring them in compliance with the BACnet standard, or to enable the integrator to define their own transformations. History has proven these all to be good decisions that we could build upon.

As we dug deeper into The New Deal, we started investigating what this “Digital Twin” of a building was all about. That’s when we got a pleasant surprise. All of the features that are described above allowed us to define a new use case of our S4 Open Appliances (S4 Box) when analytics and energy management applications started to appear on the marketplace. That is, installing the S4 Appliance as an on-site agent to provide data to this new generation of value added applications, without disrupting the operation of the existing BAS. This raw data is one of the critical inputs to the “Digital Twin”. Admittedly, there is more work to do to get us to the goal line. But we clearly have been heading the right direction for many years, without knowing exactly what to call this thing we were creating.

What’s next from S4? We’ve had Haystack Tagging on our product roadmap for a long time and simply haven’t had the resources to implement it in a taxonomy independent way. We wanted to implement the technology to support Haystack tagging because it is leading the industry in this arena. However, we also included in the functional requirements the capability for our integration partners to utilize other taxonomies, or add one of their own to handle special cases. After studying the components of The New Deal, we believe that this is the next step we need to take towards providing input to the “Digital Twin” that will drive the industry forward and feed analytics and other value added applications that are on the horizon.

What else can S4 provide to help build the “Digital Twin”? Haystack Tagging comes as a natural extension of our existing device template technology that defines all of the emulated BACnet properties for legacy devices and points. We need to enhance the S4 integration environment to define the relationships between sensors, controllers, mechanical systems, and the building itself to be provided as additional input to the “Digital Twin”. The S4 user interface needs to be enhanced to facilitate the addition of this meta-data and the publishing process needs to include this information as input to the “Digital Twin”.

As with earlier use cases for the S4 Open Appliances, they can now be the enabling technology for delivering content to the “Digital Twin”. The data model, building profile, and relationship definitions for the building and all the HVAC and BAS equipment supporting it is implemented inside of each analytics, or other value added, application offering. It is implemented in the way that is appropriate to the application logic that is going to digest the data. It is likely that most of the building profile information will be provided to the value added applications by ingesting a BIM model of the building.

S4 will release at least four new integrations during the first half of 2018. All of them will natively provide the capability of tagging data automatically as a service of the S4 Box. During the same timeframe, we will introduce support for bi-directional cloud-based data repositories and applications via Web Services and JSON technologies.

We are actively involved in doing the necessary investigation product planning, and development, that will allow us to feed the Digital Twin for the BAS industry.