Unlike IT -- which has an abundance of standardized protocols, open source integrations and API hooks for centralized management and control -- in-building operational technologies (OT) are not quite as fortunate.
In this article, let's look at five issues involved with centrally managing building technologies such as lighting, HVAC, elevators and smart meters to gauge the likelihood that these systems can truly be managed through a single administration and monitoring platform.
1. Differing communications protocols
Depending on the type and age of the smart building or building automation technologies installed inside a facility, several proprietary or non-IP communications protocols may be in play. Common examples include BACnet MS/TP, CCN, Modbus RTU and LonWorks.
The problem with this is that many of these systems and protocols do not natively communicate using IP — which is the communications protocol used by today’s in-building IT networks. Thus, to be able to centrally manage all these components, this traffic must either be sent through a gateway that translates a specific communications protocol into IP — or have some sort of mechanism to tunnel the proprietary or non-IP communications through an IP network.
In either case, the addition of gateway appliances and/or complex configurations may be required to achieve this goal.
2. Lack of a centralized network
Speaking of IP-based networks, it may or may not come as a surprise to some — but many commercial properties do not have a centralized IP network with which to connect various smart building technologies into. Instead, it’s still quite common to see buildings with isolated networks that serve to connect and control specific technology deployments.
For example, elevator control and monitoring systems may be connected to one network while surveillance cameras are on another. But to achieve true centralized control, these physically segmented networks must not only be interconnected – they must also be protected from a data security perspective.
While this may seem like an expensive and time consuming task, most have found that the long-term benefit of a fully centralized network is significantly higher than the integration costs associated with it.
3. Access to in-building systems are limited or outdated
When remote access and monitoring of building automation systems were first introduced years ago, many vendors and integrators of said systems were not yet fully up to speed on how to properly connect them to modern IT network infrastructures. As such, some of these remote access and monitoring features were setup incorrectly.
When looking at what it might take to centrally control all the building systems within a facility, each system and platform should be reviewed to verify whether software or firmware updates are required — or if reconfiguration of the systems needs to be performed. In some situations, new hardware and software may need to be purchased to reach the desired level of centralized management.
4. Where are the smart building management platforms?
Simply connecting smart building and building automation systems to a network won’t get building owners to the “single pane of glass” management and control they are seeking. It also requires the integration of a smart building management platform that can bring all building systems under a single consolidated platform for advanced data analysis.
While these systems do exist, few, if any platforms work with all of the various technologies that are integrated into a building or campus. Thus, consideration must be made to choose the right platform that can centralize most of the smart building and automation tech that meet your specific goals.
5. Centralized management is possible — but look to the experts
While the potential challenges and risks mentioned in this article can indeed be overcome, it must be understood that careful planning is of the utmost importance. Working with the various smart building, building automation and centralized management platform vendors is likely the best path to success as they are the ones with experience in knowing which type of integrations work – and which do not.
Additionally, bringing outside expertise from a smart building consultancy perspective can significantly reduce risk and likely speed up the time it takes to consolidate all systems into a centralized management platform. Thus, when it comes to the topic of centrally managed in-building technologies, never be afraid to ask for outside advice or assistance.