Lori Garcia-Meredith
For more works by the artist visit www.lorigarciameredith.com.

Teaching the IoT Monster to ride a bike

Dec. 14, 2017
The Octopus looks a lot like the IoT monster we are all wrestling with: smart, soft, slippery, flexible and able to change form; but to be useful the beast needs to learn how to ride our existing industries’ bikes, which are old, rigid, hard, and tipy.  

This column is literally "off the wall.”  The picture above was created by Lori Garcia-Meredith, an illumination engineering friend turned street artist, who painted it on the wall of our local bike path. The subject matter haunts me. Just how would you teach an Octopus to ride a bike?

The Octopus looks a lot like the IoT Monster we are all wrestling with: smart, soft, slippery, flexible and able to change form; but to be useful the beast needs to learn how to ride our existing industries’ bikes, which are old, rigid, hard, and tippy. 

It is a challenge and the result is likely going to be that we lose a few tentacles in the spokes! We need to invent a better way of supporting that soft, slippery, slimy, completely flexible IoT Monster if we are ever going to make any progress.

Last month I wrote my column with the catchphrase, R U I o T Ready? Which when tweeted evolved to #RUIOTREADY. It has raised some interesting questions and responses. One was that I am not sure that I was "IoT Ready!”

I’d like to quote in length from this interview, Open Software Finally Arrives, between myself and Brad White, a principal at SES Consulting, Inc. When I asked him to update our AutomatedBuildings.com audience on company’s journey to readiness, this was his response:

White : I’m finding it harder and harder to actually put a label on what we are as time goes on. At its core, we remain focused on providing consulting services that support our mission to help existing buildings perform better and reduce their environmental impact. However, it is certainly the case that we are branching off into more diverse services to help us achieve that mission. As we go, we’re finding that we need new tools to support these services, some of which already exist and we can find and adopt, and some of which we’re finding we have to build ourselves… The main challenge here has been balancing the resources we need to put into new development vs. resources to deliver work to our clients. Ironically, success is actually a major barrier to our progress.
It also continues to redefine how we deliver projects to our clients. The type of multidisciplinary projects that we need to make existing buildings work better don’t always lend themselves to the traditional project delivery approaches used in construction. This is another area where we are certainly finding a lot of value in adopting methodologies, like Agile, that originated the software world and applying them to projects in the real world of buildings.

My follow-up was on what will be a crucial component of IoT readiness in the coming years, open data. Just who owns the data in SES’s business model?

White: Ultimately, it’s the data being accessible that we really care about. Already, there are numerous applications for data analysis and visualization that are built to make use of open database standards. We expect the same to be true in the future, so we want to be as ready as we can be so that we can make use of these new applications… In terms of ownership, with the potential for data to be stored in the cloud anywhere in the world, this isn’t as simple a question as it used to be. I think it always starts with a conversation with the building owner, they should always be in control of how their data is used and where it is stored. The nice part of a lot of what we’ve been working on is that the solutions are flexible enough to allow data to be stored and analyzed on site or in the cloud.

To wrap up, I asked him what he thinks the future might look like.

White: In one word, messy. Few and far between are the buildings that have been built from the ground up with the latest and greatest technology as we now define it. Most buildings out there are already some awkward mix of old and new. Pneumatic actuators commanded from a DDC controlled EPT, the operator with three computers in their office with various vintages of control systems running, fault detection reports printed out and marked up with a highlighter. We typically envision the future as slick and seamless, but looking in the rearview mirror should tell us that it will be anything but.

However, it’s this need to marry the new with the old that is the driver of a lot of innovation. So I think we should be ready to embrace the messiness as we stumble our way to better buildings.

This article, A Perspective on the IoT for Buildings by John Petze, Co-Founder and Partner at SkyFoundry scolds my use of IoT as a Thing.

The term IoT seems to be used almost everywhere these days. A steady stream of articles talks about the IoT and the “IoT market” often implying it is a single tangible thing. In many ways, it’s good to have a simple name for something we want to talk about - how else would we hype things? And, the focus on IoT term has been helpful in that it has created societal awareness of the capabilities and benefits of new technologies for connecting and managing devices and deriving value from their data. That said, the hype being generated around the IoT is leading to confusion among building owners and operators. The reality is that there is no such thing as the “IoT” or IoT market.” In fact, the Internet of Things is not a thing at all. The IoT refers to a range of technologies that allow us to connect devices and their data in new, more cost-effective ways to achieve new and better solutions for owners and operators. Core to this is the ability to collect and analyze equipment and operational data to provide more cost-effective and performance-effective operating results for buildings.

More scolding and clarification of the limitations of IoT can be seen in this article, What IoT Really Means - and What it Doesn't, by David Fisher, President, PolarSoft Inc.

The "Internet of Things" is a marketing concept, not a specific technology. While it's important to talk about what IoT could mean to the Building Automation Systems (BAS) industry, it's even more important to realize that as yet, there is no standard or coordinated effort to define what IoT for buildings means, and how it should be implemented. Like most new things, IoT has a dark side where some companies and individuals exploit the promise at their customer's expense. The BAS industry has been here before. Let's take the time to speak thoughtfully about the problems, and benefits, and draw sharp distinctions between what is actual vs. what is possible but not yet here.

Other discussions in our December #RUIOTREADY issue tell of a new breed of truly open controllers that blur the lines of a traditional controller and ones that are IoT ready.

Sedona is also IP-based, so we made our BAScontrollers BACnet/IP compliant.  This allows for Ethernet connected controllers, head-ends, and programming tools simplifying connectivity… Sedona is also portable to other platforms.  To prove this, we have ported it to Raspberry Pi 3 and will release a product next month with 12-points of I/O.  We also made a BAScontrol emulator that runs on a PC.  This way you can develop your control program without having the actual controller.

I agree with John, David, George, and Brad, although our open future will be built on the strong underpinning of BACnet Bricks cobbled together with hay stackable open software and shellacked with IoT veneer, our industry will be -- as it always has been -- a "Messy Mosaic". We all need to accept the task of teaching the IoT monster to ride our tippy old industry bikes.

This journey is very exciting and feels very much like the birth of DDC, era 1975, depicted in my Smart Building Automation Evolution timeline column.  For me, it is an amazing rush to ride on the bike with the Octopus during this period of rapid change, which is much larger and much more all-encompassing than the DDC wave that washed me into this messy industry.

I am extremely pleased that Contractor Magazine has given me space and freedom to discuss our meshing and messing with what the term "IoT Ready" might mean in never-ending and open industry discussions all linked here, http://www.contractormag.com/author/Ken-Sinclair. And please join our free educational discussions at AHR Expo 2018 Chicago to help define and understand our messy future.

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