In order to cater IP-based connectivity solutions to the needs of a commercial building, it is important to understand the different actors in the value chain and their interests depending on their roles. Mak Joshi, IoT Strategy Director at Schneider Electric and Marketing Committee Chair at Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), explores the various stages in the lifecycle of a typical commercial building and the specific challenges and opportunities for device manufacturers, system integrators and other solution providers.
The industry megatrends point to commercially managed and operated buildings becoming more connected and digital. According to a World Economic Forum report on “accelerating the decarbonization of buildings”, buildings that are equipped to operationalize data (such as that for energy use and emissions) and connect systems within a building to enable smart optimization will be more future-proof. Digital and data fluency can improve decision modeling and efficiency during construction, operation, and maintenance. Among the key trends is the IP-based connectivity convergence that is enabling the discussion around interoperability, efficiency, cybersecurity, and sustainability. Buildings are a petri dish of hybrid systems such as lighting, electrical, mechanical and HVAC, IT, security, and more - all working together to serve the interests of the occupants, facility managers and building owners. Some of these connect to the IT system and others form the OT system.
Over the years, specific leading standards have emerged in many of these vertical systems and customer solutions have been built by vendors serving those verticals. For the facility manager orchestrating these verticals, the IT/OT convergence enabled by IP-based connectivity promises the vision of integrated controls across the vertical systems for ultimately reducing energy consumption, improving operations, and streamlining repair and maintenance. With membership from many of the leading IP-based connectivity standards organizations, IP-BLiS believes that a strong understanding of the commercial building lifecycle and its actors can assist in realizing this vision. While 80% of the buildings expected to exist in 2050 already exist today, and these will be retrofitted with technology (vs. new construction), this article reviews the full commercial building lifecycle for the sake of completeness.
Starting at the beginning of the lifecycle, it’s important to establish an understanding of the planning, specification, and installation stage. Unlike a DIY/consumer scenario where the purchaser may opt to visit a retail source and acquire connected systems adhoc, the acquisition process for large, commercial buildings involves a tendering process. The concept of a commercial building often begins with specific goals that an investor or building owner discusses with a planner and/or an architect. These include financial, longevity, regulatory, sustainability and other considerations – some tie directly into the marketability of the building once ready. As the planners and architects assess the specific goals and map them to a selection of specific requirements for assets (electrical, lighting, mechanical, security, etc.), their awareness of connectivity protocols and solutions becomes very important. Also crucial is an understanding of the various regulatory requirements around safety, cybersecurity, and energy efficiency as they apply to specific regions of the world.
Device manufacturers, distributors and standards development organizations often invest resources to educate planners and architects on various options – and may even influence the contents specified in the tender. As a part of the overall specification and then acquisition process, the planner may work with multiple manufacturers and wholesalers, including installers, who bring specialized skills specific to a vertical and are responsible for physical mounting and wiring of devices, and performing basic ‘bring up’ validation.
Despite the hybrid mix of vertical solutions in the building, these installers are vertical focused hence may need to iterate one after the other – for instance, electrical, HVAC, lighting, etc. until the building is ready for commissioning. Prior to a clean hand-off to a commissioning engineer in the next stage, installers can demonstrate using testing tools that installation steps are complete.
The commissioning stage involves bringing together the multiple elements of the building referred to as WAGES (Water, Air, Gas, Electric, Steam) plus lighting, IT, etc. This is the stage that stands up the system as a whole, initiating integration into a building management system, if one exists, and so on. The individuals responsible for commissioning also bring expert skill sets. In addition, execution of better planning and orchestration through tooling (often provided by vendors and/or vertical standards) can ensure that the expensive human component of the overall set-up expense is well managed. In addition to on-boarding devices on-premise, tooling can also offer checks to ensure IT network readiness and regulatory compliance. For instance, considerations include a choice of whether to onboard devices onto existing or new dedicated networks and contextual requirements for various levels of cyber security.
Once in place, actually making the system work to meet the building’s objectives requires a specialized expertise in system integration. Integration involves hardware, software, applications, and services. The system integrator should be aware of the capabilities of various devices and software vendors and has the responsibility to integrate the various components above so as to meet the original objectives. This is where the IP-based connectivity enabling interoperability is of great importance. Many of the IoT connectivity standards organizations have realized the importance of this interoperability and are collaborating in IP-BLiS. The system integrator is responsible for validation of the overall system and hand-off to the facility manager. The building might be up and operational, but the real life of the building has just begun.
In comparison to the short span of time involved to plan, design and set up the building, the lifecycle of the building spans multiple decades. The IT manager and facility manager that receive control after hand-off from the system integrator are responsible for managing the lifecycle. While the specifications might have been built in a particular way, there may be some re-configuration needed as buildings continuously evolve to meet the needs of the constituents. Often this means new assets get added/replaced. One key constituent is the occupant. Some of the things they care about are safety, security, comfort, hygiene, and tech readiness. The connected smart building may also include connected HVAC, lighting and blinds, smart grid integration, renewable energy management, and a microgrid. Additionally, the facility and IT managers have their own objectives that include uptime of equipment, operational efficiency, and regulatory compliance/sustainability goals. They need to ensure smooth operation, identify problem areas, and anticipate maintenance activities, including IT and network operations. Connected, interoperable systems that use IP-based wireless sensors with several years of battery life can empower software analytics to gain increased visibility into use of floor space and other building assets. These analytics can allow optimal planning of cleaning routes for housekeeping, suggest predictive maintenance for operational efficiency and uptime of building assets, and enable energy management tools for sustainability and cost savings – which together can be a huge differentiator. Not only do they increase the life of assets in the building but also make the real estate attractive – much appreciated by building owners and investors.
Reviewing the overall lifecycle also means considering that at some point, assets are sunsetted (end of life/EOL) and disposed of. Some of these can be IT components that need to be securely decommissioned and privacy-relevant data removed appropriately. Additionally, these assets often use precious metals (copper, for instance). As such, connected products that are designed with privacy, sustainability, circular economy, and ease of ‘waste disposal’ in mind can be seen as differentiated. Interestingly enough, many of the global economies under pressure to minimize greenhouse gas emissions and waste are innovating in this area and can be a good source of ideation for device manufacturers. Of course, the replacement of sunsetted assets brings us back to the planning and specification stage.
As we have seen in this article, there are different actors involved in the various stages of the lifecycle of the commercial building. Each offers unique value components and has different needs. Among the needs, device interoperability and ability to exchange information across the various silos in the hybrid building ecosystem can have a positive impact over the lifetime of the building for maintenance, energy optimization, and adapting the building to changing needs over time. Aware of this potential impact, IP-BLiS members - BACnet International, Connectivity Standards Alliance, DALI Alliance, KNX Association, Open Connectivity Foundation and Thread Group - are collaborating to educate and inform all stakeholders in the commercial building lifecycle of the benefits of IP-based connectivity and interoperability.
The author would like to thank Klaus Waechter of Siemens and Arnulf Rupp of Osram (also members of CSA Commercial Building Tiger Team) and Joni Thrift of CSA for their review input on this article.