Countless advancements have been made in building management technology in recent years. Much of them have to do with the convergence of IT and OT. These steps forward could range from anything from industrial PLCs (programmable logic controllers) and conveyor belts in manufacturing, right through to building management system (BMS) controls on a commercial building. They’re all now talking in common protocols, with IT protocols coming in on the operational side.
There are millions – make that billions – of connected devices out there. In the past they had different layers of controls, which could be clunky to integrate. All of these disparate technologies can today be converged into one system. These are big advancements.
It’s the ability to take data and insight straight from a device to the client’s cloud. Once it’s there you can conduct analysis, run algorithms and routines, and work out how best to utilise it to implement change or drive desired outcomes. All of this new technology can give increased visibility over your assets, boost efficiencies, maximise savings and consolidate OT security. But no matter what stage you’re at along this journey, a clear, well-articulated goal is what’s needed to ensure a successful integration.
We are working on a project now, for example, with a national supermarket. We’re looking at how we can bring up to six different services, including BMS control, energy meter data, refrigeration control, lighting control and security control, in through one conduit. The supermarket will be able to visualise efficiencies in-store, cut costs, understand when and where it’s using the most energy and how it can manage its spend moving forward.
All these services would previously have had their own software and sometimes physically sit on six different computers, six different screens, to manage the products. We’re trying to streamline that process, creating ease of use for the end customer.
It goes beyond practicality and ease; it helps recognise and control cyber risk. As those six computers become out of date, there are more levels of access and therefore greater risk. With an integrated network, there are certain things you can put in place to manage it as one big network as opposed to six different ones. So an integrated BMS will create efficiencies in your day-to-day, but also protect you – because you’re not managing dozens of systems and losing track of different logins.
So what’s stopping more FMs from integrating BMS? Maybe you’re managing an older building, or you’ve inherited what has been delivered through the construction stage, and are working with dated technologies. You may feel stuck with it and have to try and make it work. Perhaps you have a lack of understanding or don’t have access to all the knowledge available to you. Whatever the case may be, there is help available.
Many will go down the wrong route for price-centric reasons, too. As terrible as that sounds, it still happens. Someone will go ‘this is the more economic option, let’s use this’, but they may not be getting the whole functionality.
A good BMS provider will partner with you, to team up and look at the outcomes you’re trying to achieve, to arrive at the proper solution.
Perhaps the most common mistake I see is integration for integration’s sake. People connect everything but fail to actually interrogate the data correctly. They walk away saying, ‘I’ve got a smart building’… No, they’ve just got a lot of data. But what are they doing with it? Who’s implementing what? It’s like buying a car but not servicing it. You still need to look and see if it’s working for you. How are they making it work effectively for the application?
There must be a target – and the best way to get there is by looking at everything holistically across the building, portfolio or asset, and working out the best outcomes. Most providers will conduct an audit to reach this point. Take what you have audited, get a detailed report, understand the life cycle of your products and the support functions in place. Is there an upgrade part required? What does it look like? Attaining this clear picture of your desired outcome will help immensely. Your building may be in the middle stage, or it may have been run the same way for 20 years. All of these factors have a massive impact on what you’re trying to do, and must be taken into account.
I like to work backwards. Ask yourself: ‘What is the outcome I’m expecting? What functionality and efficiencies am I trying to achieve?’ Look at the end goal and then work back to achieve it. Do this and partner closely with your provider. They need to be involved and make sure the outcome is achieved. Scopes that get too cloudy will exclude certain items and won’t deliver exactly what’s required.
Once it’s in place, your integrated BMS will, in turn, make it easier to visualise and communicate your needs for future works and upgrades. The more things are properly connected, the more you have the opportunity to gather data and use it effectively and efficiently, delivering compound benefits.