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Smart Buildings are correcting the “Tower of Babel’

Chris Doran, who heads up our iCAM department here at Arden Group thought some of our clients who are looking at Smart Building solutions, might find this article interesting.

Arden Group are proud to be offering pioneering solutions for our customers in the migration to Smart Buildings and the benefits this brings with cost savings, efficiencies and future proofed infrastructures.  We are able to provide IP CCTV, footfall, wi fi and IT as well as the communication network to support our customers but always make sure it works for them and in a way that is easy to understand.

Intelligent Infrastructure

4/1/2015 by Holly Gilbert Stowell
Appears In April 2015 Print Issue

The familiar Tower of Babel story comes from the Bible in the Book of Genesis. After the Great Flood, all the people on earth spoke a common language, and they decided to build a tower that would reach to the heavens. Upon seeing their actions, God was angered, and confused their languages so that they could not communicate with one another, and scattered them across the face of the earth.

In many buildings today, a similar disparity of language exists in the technology deployed throughout the structure, creating scattered data points that can’t be leveraged in a useful way. This inefficiency leads to higher energy and facility maintenance costs, and less productivity overall.

But experts say smart buildings are correcting the “Tower of Babel” effect in disparate building management systems, and saving companies millions of dollars. A smart building turns the multitude of data coming from sensors and equipment throughout the structure into actionable intelligence, giving operators one platform that controls everything from lighting to life safety systems.

Smart buildings are energy information systems that have diagnostic and performance monitoring feedback tools, according to Jessica Granderson, research scientist and deputy of research programs at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Known as Berkeley Lab, the prestigious research institute has been associated with 12 Nobel prizes, and is one of several labs across the nation overseen by the U.S. Department of Energy. “What’s at the core of a smart building is the intersection of sensing and measurement, or production of information, combined with connectivity and cross-system integration to be able to deliver and improve efficiency, improve operations, maintenance, and management,” Granderson says.

She says the experience of those who actually occupy the building and maintain the services that need to be delivered is a critical component of a smart building. Also at the core is a strong IT agenda, governing how the company can “use data sensing and measurement to not only optimize the operation of any individual system, like the HVAC system or the lighting system, but then also use networking and an increased degree of connectivity to integrate across those systems for those who are running and managing the building,” she says.

Smart buildings are a growing industry. Research by the International Data Corporation forecasts that the smart building revolution will grow from around $8 billion in 2014 to more than $21 billion by 2018. Using smart technology, building operators can detect when something’s not working properly, or be alerted when a piece of equipment is about to fail and dispatch an engineer to fix it. And because corporate buildings account for 65 percent of electricity consumption in the United States and 36 percent of total energy use, according to numbers from the Environmental Protection Agency, integrating smart building technology is set to save industries millions of dollars in energy costs.

Following is a discussion of how Microsoft turned a sprawling corporate campus into a more efficient network of smart buildings. Then, experts discuss the challenges wireless devices create for smart buildings and how standards and best practices can help mitigate these concerns.

Microsoft’s Smart Campus

Microsoft’s corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington, spans 500 acres and consists of 125 buildings. Approximately 59,000 people work at this campus that totals close to 15 million square feet. “We’re a small city,” says Darrell Smith, the company’s director of facilities and energy.

Challenges. When Smith came to Microsoft in 2008, he and his team were tasked with making a more efficient campus that would allow them to leverage existing data from the buildings. “Microsoft had always done energy-efficient work, but we really needed to find a way to accelerate it.” The greatest challenge, he says, was the disparity that existed across building systems. “Your HVAC system, your lighting control system, power monitoring, elevators–were all in these silos,” notes Smith. “Having and managing all of these assets in disparate systems just wasn’t effective. So we said, ‘there’s got to be a better way.’”

At the time, buildings were being fully inspected only once every five years. “We would run the building through its paces, but we only focused on the large assets…the really large equipment, because we didn’t have time to go very wide nor did we have time to go very deep,” notes Smith. He says each year they’d only cover about 20 percent of the campus, touching only around 200 assets. They would assess big items, like air chillers, but not the distribution centers that affected how the air was feeding into individual offices, for example.

His team began a procurement process that would determine how to best make the campus more efficient. Smith says that there were two options before him. Option one was to take out all the existing systems, controllers, control systems, and replace them with a single, integrated system at a cost of approximately $70 million. “It just wasn’t feasible,” says Smith. This option would have included shutting down buildings during construction, making it an intrusive process.

The second option was a software overlay, which would integrate with existing technology throughout the buildings to create a central command and control center where managers could use data points to improve efficiency.

The solution. Although the industry was not embracing smart building technology during that period, the option of installing software to integrate the systems was more affordable and attractive to Smith. In early 2011, Microsoft rolled out a pilot using three vendors at 13 buildings within its corporate headquarters to simultaneously test how the software would integrate and improve operations.

“The software was seamless to occupants and a fraction of the cost,” Smith says. He points out that all the data already existed on campus, but the company wasn’t doing anything with it. “We overwrote it, we deleted it, maybe saved it for 30, 45 days, but we never leveraged it,” he says.

The system works by combining equipment-level data, including information from energy meters, from the building management system servers to a central cloud server. Other information, such as how many occupants are in a building and the building type, feed in from Microsoft’s existing software. A series of analytics are run on the various data points to determine what outputs to display to operators. Engineers can read the information on any smart device or via the central command center. The data is output in a variety of logs and charts that show operators exactly when and where a fault occurs or an alarm goes off, for example, or can predict when something is about to fail. The information is aggregated via a combination of cloud technology, Microsoft’s servers, and the third-party vendor servers.

The team built a central command and control center, known as the Redmond Operations Center, where they now monitor their assets throughout the campus. In turn, they can effectively perform a number of other tasks and save on maintenance and labor costs, as well tailor the campus to the needs of the occupants.

With this system, the team is connected to 2 million data points across its portfolio, and collects half a billion data transactions every 24 hours through graphics, charts, and trending reports available at their fingertips. “The impact of the amount of data that we’re able to sift through and leverage is changing the way we manage our buildings. It’s changing the way we operate,” says Smith.

That pilot phase ended about a year later in early 2012, and Microsoft awarded the full deployment to ICONICS. It then began rolling the smart building technology out across the entire campus, which is an ongoing process.

Systems management. With smart building technology, Microsoft was able to focus more closely on alarm management, energy management, and fault detection and diagnosis. With an array of maintenance alarms going off in buildings around campus, engineers needed a way to determine which were of highest importance. Software within the smart building portfolio can help classify this. When it comes to energy, an unoccupied building may have the lights or air conditioning system on, creating inefficiencies. The technology now helps determine traffic patterns and establish which buildings have occupants and where.

One of the critical features of the new system involves using data for fault detection, Smith says. Previously, when a piece of equipment or a system in a building was going bad, engineers wouldn’t know about the problem until it actually failed. Now that the equipment is online and can be monitored remotely, equipment can be fixed quickly: “Roughly 48 percent of the faults we’re finding we can fix in 60 seconds or less.” The other 52 percent of the time, Smith explains, someone is physically deployed to fix the issue.

Before the project, engineers were walking around the different buildings, performing manual inspections. “We were only spending about 20 percent of our time truly doing the engineering work that’s our core priority,” notes Smith. But the smart campus initiative has turned that process around entirely. “Because we have all the data at our fingertips, we get to do the engineering that we’ve always wanted to.”

When it comes to fire and life safety systems, Smith notes that the smart campus is streamlining the way the company remains compliant with regulations. For example, the National Fire Protection Association requires fire extinguishers to be inspected to ensure that pressure levels are correct. “We have 8,500 fire extinguishers…and I used to have somebody walking around the campus with a punch card, inspecting every one,” he says. “So we actually put our fire extinguishers on the network.” Each one is now equipped with a sensor that monitors the pressure level, and also sends an alert if the cylinder is removed from the wall or someone blocks it with a piece of furniture.

The Internet of Things

With every smart building comes a host of cybersecurity concerns. The Internet of Things (IoT), the ever-expanding web of devices with wireless connectivity, is at play in smart buildings. Wireless connectivity is what allows sensors and other devices to feed into the smart building systems, and allows the data to be leveraged in meaningful and intelligent ways. But experts warn that with that power comes great responsibility.

Cybersecurity. “Network vulnerability, security, and access are just as important in a building operational context as they are for any of the other business services that are IT-based that we’re seeing across multiple industries today,” says Granderson.

When these devices were made by the manufacturer, they weren’t necessarily built with security in mind, says John Steven, internal chief technology officer at Cigital, a consulting firm that specializes in application and software security. “These new devices add to the attack surface considerably–they’re physically accessible,” he says, adding that securing such devices is difficult and expensive.

“There’s a massive push to get IoT products to market, and security is clearly an afterthought,” says Chris Rouland, chief executive officer of Bastille Networks. He points out that enterprises will also have to find a way to manage the “personal area networks” employees bring into a corporate network with their smartphones and all the devices that pair with them. This could create IoT overload, where new devices are disrupting networks by consuming bandwidth.

Standards. With so many devices communicating with computer networks, getting them to communicate with one another is critical. Historically, the manufacturers of different building automation systems have worked hard to maintain proprietary communication protocols to essentially “lock customers in,” says Dan Probst, chairman of energy and sustainability services at Jones Lang LaSalle. “So a system made by one manufacturer wouldn’t talk to a system made by another manufacturer.” But over time, there’s been work to create standardization among communication protocols. “That enables you to take this building automation to the next level, where you’re fine-tuning the operation of a building’s systems and equipment all the time, in real time, in response to changes in occupancy, changes in weather, changes in the actual performance of the piece of equipment itself,” he says.

“There’s a real need to converge to some commonality as you’re talking across systems, across vendors, proprietary systems, and open systems,” says Granderson.

The U.S. General Services Administration, for one, has made an effort to set federal standards for smart building technology. That agency is working to modernize existing buildings and implement standards for design and construction to make government infrastructure more energy-efficient, according to specifications laid out in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Hugh Boyes, cybersecurity lead at the Institution of Engineering and Technology in the United Kingdom, is working on standards to address cybersecurity concerns as they relate to smart buildings. “What we’re hoping to do, and the work we’re doing in briefing the industry, is trying to explain the need for better built-in security.”

Boyes’ organization has published a body of standards with the help of the British government that they hope will one day become the international protocol for smart buildings and cybersecurity. “What we’re trying to do is educate the engineering community about the cybersecurity risk to the technology infrastructure in the built environment, [including] building management systems and asset management systems,” he notes of his organization. They are taking existing standards for things like industrial control systems from the National Institute for Standards and Technology and making them more understandable for building engineers. For example, they are creating minimum security standards for devices with wireless connectivity.

Energy efficiency. Buildings make up about 19 percent of the world’s carbon footprint, according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. To tackle this problem, some certifications have been established around energy standards. Experts say one notable industry accreditation is the LEED rating system from the U.S. Green Building Council. To be LEED-certified, a building must meet a number of design and operational criteria depending on the function of the structure. However, Smith says that shouldn’t make an enterprise complacent, noting that some of the Microsoft campus’s LEED buildings were the ones wasting the most energy. “It turns out the building is only energy efficient if it’s operated energy efficiently.”

Over time, Microsoft could save money by understanding how individual buildings consumed energy and where it was being wasted. The aforementioned advantages to smart building technology, such as fault detection and alarm management, allow Smith’s team to see exactly where energy is being consumed and at what rate. “We have cost-saving algorithms that we can say, if the fault occurs for this type of asset, the energy waste is this dollar amount,” he notes. And because Washington State has the third highest energy costs in the nation, efficiency is even more critical to the bottom line.

Looking Ahead

“It’s a really exciting time for our industry,” adds Granderson, who says there’s been a groundswell of work that will allow for a higher degree of smart building integration. “I think in the next five and 10 years we will see a lot of change and advances in how we’re able to monitor, control, operate, and optimize our buildings.”

One future challenge could be making the case for smart buildings when the value proposition is less than, say, that of a 500-acre campus. “One reason we’ve seen great successes at the enterprise level is that the energy and operational expenditures are large enough to justify and offset some of the first costs that are involved in really implementing a smart building,” says Granderson. “So scaling to smaller buildings in a nonenterprise context is something I believe we’ll see, but is currently a challenge.”

Another foreseeable challenge is the integration process, which Granderson says includes all of the different players involved in the operation of a building. “There are legacy systems, there are multiple independent proprietary systems, and we’re not to the point yet where the smart solutions scale easily in every case and are straightforward and simple to adopt,” she notes.

Overall, Smith says that smart building technology is a “gift that keeps on giving,” and optimizes what can be accomplished from existing infrastructure. “Buildings are living, breathing things,” he says, “and once we have a building ‘plugged in,’ if you will, it does nothing but get more efficient from that point on.”

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