Building management systems and IoT: towards the smart building

The building management systems and building automation market is changing fast. The Internet of Things (IoT) is impacting the industry with smart buildings as one of the fastest growing cross-industry IoT use cases.

Martin Feder - responsible for the EcoXpert building management systems or BMS certification badge - on LinkedIn
Martin Feder on LinkedIn

Alongside with these technological enablers and drivers, the growing focus on energy consumption, energy costs and ecological footprint (more about these topics in our previous interviews on connected power and on critical power) are also key in the evolutions of the building management landscape.

Martin Feder knows everything about the past, present and future of building management and of building management systems (BMS). Martin is, among others, responsible for the BMS partner and certification badge of EcoExpert, the awarded partner program of Schneider Electric.

Martin has over 30 years of experience in the BMS field and takes us through a journey across the building automation evolutions, challenges, standards, drivers and solutions. As you will discover it is an increasingly accelerating reality whereby IoT is moving fast from its initial role in the management and control levels of building management systems and building automation to an expanded usage across the entire building towards the edge.

IOT AND BUILDING MANAGEMENT IN FLUX - building management systems standards protocols solutions priorities and certifications amid the movement to the edge and the Internet of Things

From HVAC to converging Internet of Things approaches: the accelerating role of IoT

Martin, can you start by telling us a bit more about the BMS badge and the types and background of companies which are part of it and thus active in the BMS market?

Martin Feder: The Building Management badge is predominantly for system integrators and partner companies which have been working in the building management and building automation field.

EcoXpert partners in BMS mainly have a mechanically HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) background. Some are ran by former employees of larger vendors in this space who decided to launch their own business to service customers. Others are long standing companies which have been in the HVAC market for several decades and where passed on to the next generations or acquired by other companies.

It’s an evolving landscape, whereby the Internet of Things is a key game changer although the typical BMS partner has already evolved a lot in the last 30 to 40 years. Since their traditional main background is mechanical, they originally provided rather simple automation services for HVAC equipment such as boilers, air handling units, chillers and heat pumps in commercial buildings. Over the years their skillset moved from traditional HVAC controls and the understanding of essential thermal dynamics of creating heat or cooling in a building to more advanced skills.

Tomorrow’s trend will be to move the field controllers to the IP level, enabling for faster connectivity of the entire building management system

These include programming and networking skills at a proprietary level as the technology evolved to control systems and integration into third party systems, whereby they, for instance, acquired knowledge about how lighting systems and fire systems work and about security access control and video technology. Most BMS partners don’t install the latter but they are able to connect to them. However, this is changing too and that’s where the Internet of Things comes even more in the picture.

Today they are looking at this new challenge and opportunity to move to a complete Internet Of Things approach which requires true open IP protocols connectivity and network design, using hubs.

Some of them already are used to this but for most it is a major change and, from the perspective of the EcoXpert BMS badge it’s also a major swing.

Building management becomes more central (again)

So, today it has increasingly become a mixed environment in the ongoing integration of IT and OT, in this case in the BMS space, with the need to combine several skill sets for a more future-proof offering in times where IoT becomes more important? What are some challenges in this regard?

Martin Feder: The integration of IT and OT is indeed key. Once challenge for partners is to understand how they can bring these two technologies together in order to create a building that will add value to the customer.

Interestingly, this convergence and integration, along with changing demands, is putting building management more central again. This is also related with the growing importance of energy in the whole commercial building management equation. In a sense, that also brings us back in time.

The intelligence is moving further and further in the field to the edge, away from the central part where all the data is stored and analyzed, which enables to learn how the building is operating

In the early days of building management, the systems were called building energy management systems (BEMS). Then people started dropping the ‘E’ and talked about a building management system instead of an energy system. Later on, with the advent of the IT world of things, buildings were designed around the network connectivity. And about ten years ago, regulation and certification such as LEED (the certificate of the US Green Building Council) brought back the energy dimension in building management.

If you combine those evolutions, the Internet of Things and IT networks, there is somewhat of a debate as to whether the full IT needs to remain independent from the BMS or whether the BMS is part of the IT system. As you can imagine, IT executives aren’t keen to have a BMS on the same bandwidth as the office network. These are the kind of challenges that show up and impact our BMS certification program. We also see an evolution happening in BMS and IoT with a shift to the edge and an impact on the thinking about the network.

Your colleague Kevin Morin, who is responsible for the EcoXpert Critical Power badge certification said that, within his field, the use of separate networks can lead to security issues as IT security experts are often not involved in the building networks. How do you see that?

Martin Feder: That is indeed a challenge in BMS. We have seen cases in the markets whereby controls in a critical environment where hacked. It’s an issue we have addressed for several years with Schneider Electric as in terms of our EcoXperts it shouldn’t become an issue.

In the EcoXpert certification program we provide the information BMS partners need. Yet, as a manufacturer, Schneider Electric also designs and builds its products with security by design in mind. To do so we follow a US military standard which used to be known as DIACAP and has been moved to a more public domain framework, now called DIARMF.

These are protocols and test procedures that we put into our products and then run through the procedures to ensure that customers you have the latest antivirus and anti-hack profiles in any equipment. Anything with an IP connection is soon going to conform to these standards.

Building management standards and protocols amidst the movement to the edge

Talking about standards, protocols and what you previously said about the edge: where do you see the Internet Of Things in smart buildings moving to in this regard?

Martin Feder: The BMS market has been using its own proprietary, standard, communication protocols for a long time. Examples include BACnet, LON, KNX and others which traditionally have been running via twisted pair, RS485 style cables.

Approximately 5 to 6 years ago the enterprise and server level of building managements systems started to use these protocols over IP: BACnet/IP, LON/IP and so forth.

While the network architecture did not change a lot, the use of hubs and/or switches entered into the BMS world.  Many saw this as an opportunity to move the BMS onto the already installed IT infrastructure of the building but due to the earlier mentioned concerns there was a choice for separate networks.

Building automation and building management has a long history with many changes, yet the Internet of Things is a true game-changer

Thanks to IP, which was perceived as the common ground, even if protocols were still different, this led to the ‘easier’ integration of other building systems and enabled the resulting increase of connectivity and flows of information.

Tomorrow’s trend will be to move the field controllers, which are the actual control devices in the rooms and spaces, to the IP level, enabling for faster connectivity of the entire BMS.

This in turn will allow information and decision making to happen at the edge. The result will be a more autonomous decision making happening at the field level whereby only the critical information is pushed up the line to the BMS visualization system.

Towards autonomous decision making with IoT: building controls moving to the IP and field level

So, more a hybrid approach where there is a tendency to keep the networks separate but to bring the data, analytics and insight to the edge. Can you give an examples of that more autonomous decision making?

Martin Feder: The intelligence is indeed moving further and further in the field to the edge, away from the central part where all the data is stored and analyzed, which enables to learn how the building is operating.

With the integration of IT and OT, building management system partners need to understand how they can bring these two technologies together in order to create a building that will add value to the customer

For an example of a decision making parts let’s take a simple actuator that can decide whether it should open or close the flow of water or any other flow of energy in a room. The rooms become intelligent enough with IoT and can steer decisions based upon parameters such as activity in the room, the fact that no one has come in or has gone out and so forth. Based upon such parameters, it will decide to reduce energy consumption by having actuators close specific parts off and send a message to the front end about this decision and about how much energy is saved this way.

You expect that field controllers will move to the IP level next. What are the main IoT components today in a building environment and how do you see the evolution towards field controllers from an IoT technology perspective?

Martin Feder: The two levels which have been connected are the enterprise and management level: the computers and servers that are collecting all the data (enterprise) and the next level (management) which we call main plant controllers. These are controllers that are out in the field but traditionally in environments such as the boiler room or on top of the roof where they measure the cooling and air handling.

In the next step come the mentioned field controllers, which are the field level of BMS. They are the controls that you don’t see and will find, for instance in the office space, a hospital room, a classroom and so on. They are up in the ceiling or behind a wall. The only thing you might see is a temperature sensor, the light switch and the controls that show you a number which you can move up or down. This is the next level that is moving to the IP IT domain.

We also see the first little actuators that sit on your radiator or control the actual airflow in a room. These slowly are also becoming connected and as part of the IoT evolution offer advantages such as less wiring. You don’t need to keep running separate wires for communication, power and so on. There is view to run power over Ethernet and plug into the IP networks, making the installation time theoretically faster. Yet, some of the components in the building are motors and here the you will still need external power and some local wiring.

Energy efficiency in buildings is not a choice anymore: ecology, energy consumption and legislation in the intelligent building

We’ve touched upon the energy savings, energy costs and ecological aspects a few times, with a clear role for regulators. Would you say that in general regulations, ecology and cost savings are the key drivers of the market?

Martin Feder: They absolutely are and in particular legislation. Before the Energy Performance and Building Directive. (EPBD) was established within the European Union, having an idea of how much energy got used was one of the advantages which were already sought but building management was a bit of a reluctant thing. Since the legislation has come in in the EU and elsewhere, there is also a real value attached to the energy saving and environmental dimension of a building and an understanding of the importance of the whole greenness of the planet and energy consumption overall.

This is also the case in the US, for instance, where  you have the Green Building Council and the previously mentioned LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program which is all about environmentally friendly designs of buildings and systems.

Green building regulations and certifications, ecological footprint, building energy efficiency and, in particular, legislation are key drivers of the building management systems market

That LEED certification has spread across the globe, among others because of the perceived value. It increases the asset price of the building and it’s also easier to find tenants who care about ecology to move in and these are traditionally larger organizations who have their own environmental group departments that will not rent a building unless it meets certain criteria. The latter is also driven by peer pressure.

Last but not least, there is even more legislation that requires the building intelligence much faster than was the case in the past and that’s becoming a trend. A large company such as manufacturer in Switzerland, for example, need to be able to tell its local authority on a year in advance basis how much energy is it going to reduce its consumption by. So, while in the past the mentality was one of ‘you tried, you didn’t make it, next year better’, it shifts to a taxing on your energy consumption in case you missed the target. That requires a totally different approach whereby you need to see potential over-usage and its root causes almost in real-time.

BMS expertise – the holistic approach

A huge difference whereby IoT and data analytics can make a lot of difference indeed. A last question: what is unique about the EcoXpert program and/or the BMS certification?

Martin Feder: It is the holistic approach, the coverage, the product portfolio of Schneider Electric and in the BMS certification scope, the acquisition of all these different skill sets which are increasingly needed and also make our program evolve.

Moreover, it’s not just about our traditional BMS management system, we can offer so much more such as the lighting and room control, the critical power, Datacom and so forth.

That holistic approach is unique to Schneider Electric and it is also what we are trying to achieve with a multi-badge approach whereby we want to bring a larger percentage of the pie in a building to our partners so they can do more and more profit on a single project.

Building management systems and IoT - towards autonomous decisions in the intelligent room and smart building

Read next: Light and room control in motion – from home automation and smart building to IoT

Disclaimer: we deliver services to Schneider Electric’s EcoXpert program, including content services. Top image: Shutterstock – Copyright: Montri NipitvittayaBottom image: Shutterstock – Copyright: Sergii Khandozhko