BUILDINGS - Smarter Facilities Management


Interoperability Pipeline?

An update on XML and oBIX initiatives


oBIX 101

The Open Building Information Xchange, better known as oBIX, seeks to enable mechanical and electrical control systems in buildings to communicate with enterprise applications, and to provide a platform for developing new classes of applications that integrate control systems with other enterprise functions. Enterprise functions include processes such as human resources, finance, customer relationship management (CRM), and manufacturing.

oBIX uses the programming language XML (Extensible Markup Language) and Web services - automated resources accessed via the Internet using an XML platform - for seamless, Internet- and intranet-based communications between building systems and enterprise applications.

Currently, control systems usually deal with a single control application, such as HVAC or security, and deliver information only to “the man in the control room.” According to OASIS, the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (an international standards development consortium that serves as the governing body for the oBIX protocol), there is a need to connect these isolated systems into the larger business enterprise systems.

oBIX takes control systems further into the realm of functionality by abstracting them to enable common applications. The goal is for systems to interoperate using Internet business communications standards. oBIX will provide easy integration into a broad range of facility systems beyond HVAC and security (including fire alarm, electrical, and more) into such business applications and tools as databases and spreadsheets. “oBIX is bridging the world between IT and control systems,” says Brian Frank, software manager at Tridium Inc., Richmond, VA, and one of the authors of the working drafts for the emerging oBIX technical standard.

Using oBIX, facilities managers, building owners, and tenants are able to make decisions based on a comprehensive view of their enterprise, including life-cycle costs, environmental considerations, operations, and other performance factors.

San Jose, CA-based Hirsch Electronics Corp.provides a clear example of oBIX’s capabilities in its white paper, “Interoperability: Building Systems Working Together for the Enterprise.” The white paper suggests this scenario:

A tenant or employee enters a building after hours by presenting a card to a reader or entering a code on a keypad at the main entrance. At that point, several things happen. The door unlocks. The HVAC system is notified that the individual’s office on the fifth floor needs to have temperature set-points changed to normal occupancy values so the individual is comfortable when he or she arrives. The lighting system is notified to turn on the appropriate lights for the office area on the fifth floor so the individual feels safe.

Property manage­ment, or the ac­­counting­­ department, is notified of the exact time when the individual enters and leaves the building so they can be billed for after-hours energy usage.

The tracking can be done from the Internet or company intranet, from any location. Everyone benefits, the white paper notes.

“There’s a strong economic payback,” says Rob Zivney, vice president of marketing at Hirsch Electronics Corp.

Imagine being able to connect your building to the Internet to improve tenant amenities while decreasing operating expenses.

The technology to do this is already here. It’s called Extensible Markup Language, or XML. Experts are working to define an XML standard for facilities called Open Building Information Xchange, or oBIX.

oBIX, a Web services implementation of XML for the building management and controls industry, will enable mechanical and electrical systems - such as HVAC, elevators, life safety systems, access control, intruder detection, closed-circuit television monitoring, and more - in facilities and buildings to communicate with enterprise applications throughout an organization.

oBIX also will deliver real-time access to sensors that measure or monitor the physical space in a facility, including environmental sensing, electrical panels, and power meters, giving facilities managers and building owners increased knowledge and control of their properties.

oBIX in Action
Visitors to the buildings systems conference BuilConn Americas 2005, held in March in Dallas, learned that the buzz about oBIX isn’t just talk.

oBIX works.

Attendees saw the first-ever XML demonstration based on emerging oBIX standards, giving them the opportunity to see oBIX in action.

The live demonstration of connectivity between different building and enterprise systems using XML and Web services technology was done by representatives from Hirsch Electronics Corp., Santa Ana, CA; Gridlogix Inc., St. Louis; Plexus Technology Inc., Stafford, England; Trane Global Controls Systems, St. Paul, MN; and Tridium Inc., Richmond, VA. Participating companies are involved in OASIS, the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, an international standards development consortium that serves as the governing body for the oBIX protocol.

“We had five different companies up there showing how buildings can use XML,” says Rob Zivney, vice president of marketing at Hirsch Electronics Corp. “Some showed how their products will use oBIX, while others showed general XML.”

Examples of relevant facilities industry building systems that could tie into oBIX include maintenance management, energy information, and asset management systems; human resources systems; and enterprise resource management. oBIX uses the same technology as many of these systems and is designed to make the movement of data possible using standard tools.

Paul Ehrlich, president of the Building Intelligence Group in St. Paul, MN, and co-chair of the OASIS oBIX Technical Committee, says OASIS wants to achieve a way to take a building and, in effect, plug it into the Internet. “There are people developing tools that can go in and look at a building’s mechanical systems and determine if they are working correctly. They can see what has failed, what needs to be repaired, and when it is scheduled to be repaired - all from the Internet,” Ehrlich points out.

Using oBIX, facilities professionals will be able to view utility energy usage, study how a building is operating, and implement real-time changes from a computer or a network of computers. “From a facilities perspective, it can centralize a lot of facilities operations - resulting in a building that has improved comfort and lower operating expenses,” according to Ehrlich.

A Steady Progression
The demonstration - the culmination of a day-long session on XML and oBIX offered at BuilConn - reinforces the reality of an oBIX standard that will reach across all verticals in the facilities management space. The standard soon will be published by members of the oBIX Technical Committee for open review. The review should happen in late summer or early fall, Ehrlich says. The standard is at Version 0.7, notes Ehrlich at press time. When it reaches Version 1.0, it can then be released to the OASIS membership for a 30-day review period.

“oBIX is continuing to move forward,” he says. “We’re confident, from the technical side, that it will be done within the next 3 to 6 months to go for a vote with the OASIS membership. We had the successful demonstration. That is a giant milestone for us. We’re making good progress.”

But right now, it is a waiting game, says Barry Haaser, executive director of San Jose, CA-based LonMark Intl., an organization that develops and maintains technical design guidelines to help manufacturers build interoperable products based upon the LonWorks platform. LonMark is an active participant in the oBIX initiative and one of the founding members of the technical committee.

“People are waiting for the standard to pass to deploy it. They hate to take the risk on emerging standards because they figure things will change. But, as far as standards go, this is moving fast,” Haaser says.

Haaser adds that he suspects some manufacturers have already initiated the development process, and that the first oBIX products could possible appear in early 2006.

“One of the important things in the OASIS world is [that] before you can have a standard, you have to prove it works,” Ehrlich says, pointing out why the success of the BuilConn demonstration was historic and crucial to the oBIX timeline.

oBIX Redux
While the first incarnation of an oBIX standard, known as oBIX Version 1.0, is just reaching the review stage, the oBIX committee already has started considering its next generation, oBIX Version 2.0.

Ehrlich predicts Version 2.0 will tie into facilities management and planning, including such areas as LEED™ certification and more. The ultimate game, he says, isn’t to just create standards. It is to find a way to run a building on standard protocols and techniques that optimize a building’s efficiency and its link to the enterprise. “Our mission is to tie in much more broadly,” he says. “We want a standard way [for] buildings [to] interface on the Internet. That is why all of the XML and Web services work is important.”

Those involved in the development of the current oBIX standard are seeking to build the framework to achieve just that. “While there are numerous open communication protocols employed by building systems and equipment, there is a great need for a Web-services standard to make it easy for these systems to communicate with other applications used at the enterprise level,” says John Petze, president and CEO of Tridium Inc. “We believe the success of oBIX under the auspices of OASIS will usher in a new era of efficiency in real-time facilit[ies] management.”

Editors’ Note:
The latest review drafts of the oBIX standard are available to the public at (

Robin Suttell (, based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.


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