Smart Buildings and the IoT are Complex and Challenging

iotNew technologies generally bring confusion and a certain amount of uncertainty. The challenges grow in proportion to the complexity of the innovation being deployed. This means that smart buildings and the Internet of Things (IoT) on which it relies are raising a lot of concerns.

The confusion is evident in a survey in the United Kingdom sponsored by the Electrical Contractors’ Association (CEA), the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) and SELECT, which is an electrical trade group in Scotland.

There is no reason that the themes are different on either side of the Atlantic. The survey, in which 229 people participated, found that about 40 percent of responders were unfamiliar with the term the “Internet of Things.”

The responses suggest that vendor marketing departments are ahead of both the understanding and desire to participate of building personnel:

In addition, over half of respondents (55 per cent), who include consultants, engineers, end clients, local authorities and facilities managers, say that a ‘lack of clear advice/knowledge’ is a barrier to installing connected technology in their buildings. While over six in 10 respondents (61 per cent), say they don’t have any plans to ‘evaluate and install connected technology’.

The leading drivers of installations, the survey found, are energy efficiency and the desire to reduce costs. Those responses garnered the support of 58 percent of participants. Most likely technologies for installation, the survey found, were closed circuit television and security (78 percent), heating (74 percent), fire systems (69 percent) and building energy management systems (67 percent).

The confusion is understandable and goes hand in glove with the significant challenges of transitioning a building into the IoT age. The Internet of Things Institute looked at the issues:

A common technical problem is the mishmash of equipment, components, systems, and interfaces that often can’t talk to each other or coordinate. A legacy BMS with its proprietary architecture, perhaps assembled in a piecemeal fashion, is rarely up for the smart building challenge. It’s not set up to deliver the measure of coherent data collection and analysis, information sharing, and master control capabilities needed to manage all of a building’s systems at the level sought in the most ambitious of smart building models.

The solution, the story says, is to enable multiple systems – the story identifies the electrical, gas, mechanical, HVAC, plumbing, lighting, power, and other “observable, controllable, and sensored systems” – from one or more buildings to be hosted on a hub that uses a common database. That’s an elegant solution – but one that is not easily achieved and certain to lead to significant change in how building personnel do their jobs.

The challenges noted in the U.K. survey and the Internet of Things Institute story refer to the basic ideas around smart buildings and the IoT. They don’t consider the layer of confusion caused by unknown and often competing vendors. It is difficult for energy managers, many of whom have done their work in the same way for years, to become accustomed to new concepts. The is harder if the ecosystems are fluid. Greentech Media noted the problem:

How is a building owner/operator to make sense of this situation? Given all of the other responsibilities these professionals have, is it really surprising that many are delaying their investments in smart building technology?

The challenges are significant. At LinkedIn, industry veteran Joseph Amidor discussed several: The smart building model “has not been sorted out,” he wrote. In addition, there has been a sole focus on energy savings at the expense of other priorities; vendor value propositions are not always “compelling and differentiated;” switching costs are high and traditional HVAC and lighting changes reduce the rationale for smart buildings.

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