It’s impossible to make a smart building without the ability for all its systems to communicate with one another-interoperability. Today more than ever the proliferation of intelligent building technologies designed and manufactured by a plethora of companies need to communicate universally if they expect to be deployed inside of commercial and industrial office buildings. If a “smart building” is to meet energy, environmental, and economic goals set by building owners, it needs a highly-connected building automation system in which different parts can communicate with one another and adjust to changes in the environment. While many buildings are equipped with excellent systems, they often lack combined monitoring system for lighting, climate control, and blinds that could facilitate energy performance.
What is interoperability?
Interoperability is the ability of different systems to communicate using a standard communication protocol. For building automation systems, interoperability is achieved by BACnet, Modbus, which are requirements or protocols that manufacturers should meet when designing or manufacturing industry products to enable equipment and devices to communicate and share data.
The case of open systems
While many buildings are full of PLCs, they are not connected and cannot spontaneously communicate with each other because manufacturers deliberately design the technologies to be “closed.” Closed systems prevent access to data needed to monitor and manage the building’s performance optimally. Further, while adding PLCs and installing sensors may solve the problem of interoperability they come with both higher costs to building owners and increase the complexity of the system managed by IT staff and facility managers. Most importantly before making substantial investments in technology building owners need certainty the equipment will not only work within its existing infrastructure and is also compatible with technology requirements as its need evolve.
These factors are driving an increasing need to establish open and universal standards for connectivity that enable devices and software technologies to communicate with one another easily. Global connectivity between systems is only possible if two conditions are met: first, the building’s technical systems must be open or have the ability to make the system’s data and controls available to third-party services and exchange information with one another. Second, there is a need for an intermediate software layer or a Building Operating System (BOS) which functions as an “app store” or library of digital services that are independent of the technical components but ensures their transparent, fluid interoperability.
A BOS system also enables the building’s various operating systems to update regularly protecting the building from obsolescence and serves as a scalable services library to provide for technology that could augment and meet the building need future needs as well.
Challenges to open systems
While standards focusing on interoperability like BACnet exist, best practices on how to best integrate disparate building systems remain unclear. Many contractors or system integrators that provide off-the-shelf solutions less concerned about whether the integration is successful. For these reasons, its essential for building owners and facility manager to make sure they do their research and understand the limitations of the systems. For example, some controls contractors lock points available to BACnet if not specified to be exposed- and it’s important to make sure that facility managers are deploying “truly open” technologies.