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Contractormag 12195 Open Road

The Open Road Is Bumpy, Edgy, but Mindful

Jan. 11, 2019
As I write this chapter we are planning our Open Road Trip to Atlanta.

Are you ready for the Open Road? It will be a fun ride and a great adventure; bumpy, edgy, but mindful. But if you are not ready you could lose control, lose your way or even crash.

Our last chapters Open 2019 and the Edge of Change have started us on this road trip which, to clarify, will be an adventure that could quickly turn to a disaster as we chart new territory, collaborate with strange new bedfellows and explore our softer, more mindful selves. 

We resist change because we are locked into old ways of thinking. To shift our minds we have to make use of our younger mentors. We need to adopt their understanding of the present digital dynamics. As we meet these young mentors along the road we have to find a way to trust them without the luxury of a common, shared history.

As I write this chapter we are planning our Open Road Trip to Atlanta.

My opening speaking partner at AHR Expo Scott Cochrane, President and CEO of Cochrane Supply & Engineering warns of bumps on the open road in this article,BAS is About to Get Bumpy!!! The BAS backbone is quickly CHANGING to IP, and as it does, the industry needs to add IT-managed services to their capabilities to handle it:

A glimpse of the near future. As we have been interacting and interviewing contractors, one trend is becoming clear in my opinion… BAS CHANGE!! Here are my examples for consideration on the topic:

BAS Backbone Change – The BAS industry is no longer welcome on many owners’ IT networks, and connecting unprotected BAS systems to their networks is fast-becoming a cyber-security, operational and liability nightmare. As we move from requesting two IP addresses for a building BAS to 250, the owner’s IT departments do not typically have the capacity, capability or bandwidth to add unitary devices like VAV controllers to their network. The BAS backbone is quickly CHANGING to IP, and as it does, the industry needs to add IT-managed services to their capabilities to handle it. 

Now, more than ever, my contracting customers are hiring or partnering with managed IT service people and companies. The contractor’s IT staff has become a crucial part of every project and is helping them cut down on huge expenses. Utilizing professional IT personnel to collaborate with the owner’s IT departments in a new way is cutting down on the time and costs associated with connecting systems and services to the internet and owner’s networks. This allows these contractors to be much more competitive with a higher value proposition for their customers who need them to understand IT technology now more than ever.
BAS Project Product Mix Change – BAS systems provided today are a mix of the following: traditional BAS system hardware, programming software, packaged smart equipment with networked controllers, a network software platform (or two or three), legacy drivers connected to older controls and equipment, servers/data centers/hosted services, firewalls, managed switches, and the list keeps going.

“Open”ing Up Our Buildings– is our AHR Expo 2019 Preview, an interview with yours truly and Brad Brad White, P.Eng, MASc, President, ES Consulting Inc. In it, Brad offers his thoughts on how open systems are poised to change the BAS world and offers a preview of what attendees can expect:

The promise of truly open systems is purported to be the driving force behind significant change and upheaval in the building automation industry in the years to come, but is there real substance behind the hype? Contributing Editor Brad White will be moderating the session: Next Generation HVAC Controls: Open Hardware – Open Software at the upcoming AHR Expo in Atlanta. In this interview, Brad offers his thoughts on how open systems are poised to change the BAS world and offers a preview of what attendees can expect. 

Sinclair:  We hear a lot of talk about the promise of open systems, but can you give our readers an example of how open systems are already changing how you do your work? 

White:  We spend a lot of time auditing, analyzing, and optimizing our clients’ BAS. This is largely an exercise in pouring over building automation system data, trend logs, programs, etc. We watch how things are working and look for opportunities to make them work better. Even in 2018, a large proportion of BAS is limited to a couple of weeks of stored trend log data, if we’re lucky. This becomes a real limitation when you’re trying to understand how a building is working across the whole range of conditions. 

Of course, every BAS vendor has their own archiving solution, but these tend to be somewhat expensive, and usually requires getting your controls contractor or integrator involved, adding to the cost. When you’re doing an investigation where budgets in the low 5 figures are not uncommon, the cost of vendor-supplied archiving can be prohibitive. We needed something much less expensive that we could rapidly deploy with the onsite staff. 

This is where Volttron comes in. Their platform suited our needs perfectly. We can download the open source software for free, install it on a relatively inexpensive piece of hardware connected to a BACnet compatible BAS, and quickly and securely be harvesting long-term trend data for our engineers to analyze. Because it’s open source, we aren’t dependent on 3rd parties for ongoing support, and we can easily develop our own applications that make use of the data Volttron collects. In a newly developing market that sees a lot of flux, with products appearing and disappearing from the market constantly, having something that we can control has a lot of value. For more information read this interview "Open Source Finally Arrives."

Sinclair:  Every good open source platform requires a strong community behind it

And what about the Edge? This article The Anatomy of an Edge Controller by Project Haystack member Calvin Slater provides insight into the edge revolution:

Devices such as these take advantage of recent advancements in packaging technology, in addition to all of the silicon integration we have seen. This tiny, postage-stamp-size chip is a fully integrated processing system. Which is another way of saying it’s a full PC on a single chip. The only thing its lacking is a screen, keyboard, and mouse. If you needed to add one, you could. Instead, we will be gluing this device to an Edge Controller baseboard. Hope to see you next month when we will talk about that topic in The Hardware.

But how do we travel this open road providing digitally mindful designs? This article, Creating Digitally Mindful Spaces by Dr. Lawrence Ampofo, Director & Founder, Digital Mindfulness shares some important thoughts on what integrating digitally mindful experiences into our lives could mean for society:

Conceptualising how we spend our moment-to-moment interactions with digitally-mediated spaces, we can envision a host of ill-timed notifications, multiple devices, and buildings designed to get as many people as possible. Such an environment is chaotic and cluttered with competing technologies vying for our attention. This situation is tangential to digital experiences that respect human attention, and de-prioritise persuasive digital experiences that optimise for ‘time spent,’ is gathering importance in the wider public zeitgeist. 

Indeed, business leaders are acutely aware that as the gap between human experience and technology solutions shrinks, designing for individual human behaviours not only improves the quality of that experience but also gives businesses a competitive advantage in productising effective digital solutions. This approach to building design denotes a move from personalised experiences to partnerships. This is what we think of when we describe the digitally mindful design.

The motivations for integrating this conceptual approach into the design of digitised spaces are myriad, driven by a range of socio-technological factors that together spawn innumerable opportunities for innovation and value creation. From calm design to sophisticated haptic communications, to interoperable mindful technologies in the workplace, digitally mindful buildings are set to meaningfully enhance the human experience across a multitude of digital touchpoints. They are now not just ‘nice-to-haves,’ they’re essential modern building design. 

Talking about open workplaces, this article, Caught My Attention by Marc Petock, Contributing Editor for AutomatedBuildings.com writes:

Owners, operators, facilities managers all play an important role in ensuring that employees who work in their buildings are healthy, happy and active. 

One of the biggest change agents we’ve seen over the last few years has been the emergence of more flexible, open workplaces from traditional office spaces. With this change has come the importance of the occupant experience—the workplace environment and its effect on overall occupant productivity and wellness.

We have come to understand there are new ways of looking at comfort, productivity, and the utilization of space. We are creating better spaces that promote employee well-being and healthy environments that are responsive and engaging to the people who work in them. In addition, we are coming to realize the health and well-being of occupants isn’t just the purview of human resources anymore. Owners, operators, facilities managers all play an important role in ensuring that employees who work in their buildings are healthy, happy and active. 

One of the key enablers, of course, is technology and the notion that smart buildings help the people who operate and use them to work smart and its role in workplace design, as a decisive factor in the evolving workforce and their expectations.

Those that think they own the road feel threatened by these new open road travelers. The major proprietary systems vendors resist change just as they have in the past: the change from pneumatics to Direct Digital Control; the transition to open protocols like BACnet; and lately the dominance of IoT. The open road has always meant, to them, losing their proprietary hold. History shows that the complete open road industry grows so fast with new services and offerings that there is room for all.

This article, Why does BACnet matter for building owners? by Monica McMahen of Optigo Networks provides a non-technical breakdown on the benefits of BACnet:

As the future of smart buildings comes at us faster and faster, we have to design our systems carefully. We have to build on a strong foundation, with robust platforms that can grow and adapt. Right now, BACnet is the definitive solution for flexible, scalable architectures. But why does it matter for the building owners out there? 

Let me break it down for you in very simple, non-technical terms. Here’s why you should care about BACnet. 

First, and perhaps most importantly, BACnet is dominant in the industry. It’s being adopted in more and more buildings for more and more systems around the world. It’s particularly common on campuses — both corporate and academic — and in commercial real estate. This prevalence means you can count on getting BACnet products from just about every vendor out there. In fact, I don’t think there’s a manufacturer that doesn’t provide BACnet solutions nowadays. You have a ton of options, and you can choose what’s best for your building.

As a purveyor of words I have always been interested in the new words we will learn on our open road trip this one caught my attention, “servitisation," an amalgam of “Smart Buildings as a Service." Here's a brief run-down from an article on www.pbctoday.co.uk:

In other words, they are increasingly looking for ways to pay for outcomes – in this case energy savings and other smart building advantages. In the case of smart buildings, this is leading to the rise of a concept called “Smart Buildings as a Service” – sometimes called “servitisation”.

Data from these smart building systems give a facility’s infrastructure a brain and a voice. This data is put to work through smart controls for buildings – whether in the public sector or commercial – which give buildings a “central nervous system” that balances and reconciles competing interests such as energy minimisation, occupant comfort and grid stability.

This allows building infrastructure to play a major role in supporting the mission of the organisation – and sometimes the whole community – when air-quality monitors, traffic tracking and other smart community technologies are mounted on the building. It helps drive top-line results by providing optimal environments, increasing equipment uptime and reliability, and lowering operating costs. All of this is achieved while using advanced analytics to measure, record and report building system efficiency.

And lest I forget, here’s a link to is our latest ControlTalk NOW podcast, an interview between myself and Brad White that features a walk-through of trending industry topics
Please come with us on our open road trip maybe you will want to travel by autonomous car that is connected to everything open? That is another story for the open road!

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