courtesy of Cisco
Bob Cicero

Cisco's Bob Cicero says smart buildings complete the design-feedback loop

June 14, 2022
Power over Ethernet, data collection, and intrepid owners and designers are essential to optimizing building operations, says the company's Americas smart buildings leader in the third part of SBT's conversations with thought leaders.

Since its founding in 1984, Cisco has been a technology innovator across disciplines. Its products and solutions span software and communications, networking and cybersecurity, the Internet of Things, and cloud computing. In May, the company presented its recent retrofit of its New York office in Penn 1, a skyscraper formerly known as 1 Penn Plaza. The hybrid work environment is a showcase of the company's integrated  smart building technologies, which includes Cisco's Catalyst 9000 switching, 90 watt Power over Ethernet, and Cisco DNA Spaces, its facilities and networking management platform.

From the company's smart buildings solutions webpage, anyone can virtually tour the Penn1 intelligent work environment. Greeting you at the virtual reception desk is Bob Cicero, Cisco's principal, Americas Smart Building Studio. Based in New York, Cicero spoke with Smart Buildings Technology earlier this year on the feasibility of making new and existing environments intelligent.

SBT: What defines a smart building today?

Cicero: As we look at our customers' goals in terms of sustainability, air quality, and all the things we care about inside buildings, we see an opportunity to re-platform the way we have designed and constructed—with line voltage AC (alternating current)and move over to DC (direct current). In our world, it’s Power over Ethernet. Now that we have 90 watts available as a Class 2 limited power source, we are moving those built environment components—lights, shade motors, VAV controllers—over to the actual infrastructure for power and control. When we start doing that, we can begin creating a data fabric that is everywhere in the environment, where it becomes a sensory component in the building naturally, as part of the base infrastructure.

We have added a smart building capability to everything that we’re doing, from a company standpoint. We’ve added sensory components to our Webex Room Kit endpoints that can measure temperature, humidity, VOCs, ambient noise, and people count. That [occupancy data] can then be fed into my BMS platform to make better decisions about comfort inside of space.

We’re repurposing and adding a lot of edge intelligence throughout our entire product line. The combination of these technologies on top of that base infrastructure allows us to view that data and gain real-time access to the things we want to do from a smart building standpoint.

In what projects types are these technologies being implemented?

In New York, where I’m based, we have customers that have taken this journey from project sizes ranging from 10,000 to 800,000 square feet. But [smart buildings are] happening everywhere and not just in large metropolitan areas. The opportunity, from the customer standpoint, exists for anyone doing a deep retrofit or moving into new space. A lot of space is being moved now, post-COVID, which provides an opportunity for people to invest in the right buildout of technology for the next 15 years, from a real estate standpoint.

Which smart building technologies are being adopted today?

In Manhattan alone, customers are adding an intelligence layer to their line-voltage lighting and shades; adding sensory components for air quality, including carbon dioxide or PM 2.5 levels, and for the building envelope [to monitor] solar heat gain and shading platforms.

We’ve been building in a certain way for 100 years. The customer at the endpoint is now saying, “Hey, I want this,” but we also have to educate the design community, who’s in the middle, on how we actually do this. In our data journey, we don’t talk about systems first, but rather what we are really [seeking] with the data. Once we understand what’s possible, then we can start filling in the pieces.

"We’ve been building in a certain way for 100 years. ... Once we understand what’s possible, then we can start filling in the pieces."

Are systems and components becoming more interoperable to help realize this vision?

We have formed a major ecosystem by going to market with partners. Part of that effort is making sure everything works together, but the key here is the data side—the interoperability and communication protocols. You’ll still see BACnet out there, and we’re seeing MQTT and CoAP. We are starting to hone in on the certain protocol set, which is going to allow for easy integration. We’re trying to get to a world of not having everything bespoke, where every single building is different. To do this at scale, [the technology] needs to be 80% to 90% out of the box, with the remaining 10% for customizing it to what you’re trying to achieve in your particular space.

What are the risks with smart, connected, and integrated technologies?

Security is part of our fundamental process when we look for and work with vendors, in terms of checking whether a security layer is embedded and inherent in the product to which we’re connecting, or ensuring from an infrastructure standpoint that those devices are secure. Whether we’re micro-segmenting the network or onboarding devices with a true understanding of what’s running underneath the cover with our endpoint analytics technology, cybersecurity is absolutely part of everything that we do.

What’s the next step for smart buildings?

We are seeing the opportunity to bring a bunch of micro sources of energy into the environment—including solar panels and emerging technologies such as window film on glass—in combination with bulk energy, and then transition everything over to DC. That’s where the world is going to go. Once that’s in place, we can have a truly net-zero energy building.

And that will change how we design. In traditional buildings, we would define a strategy upfront, design a layout concept, build it, and deploy it—and then we would stop. With smart buildings, we are completing the loop by gathering data and insights about the space and then moving into an optimization phase. Everything in our lives is digitized except real estate. Now that we have the right data about space, we can think about that optimization phase.

What should proactive building owners and designers do today?

For building owners, there’s legislation out there that is encouraging us to think differently from the standpoint of how tenants are coming together to achieve the goals of a building. Building owners can help by providing services right back to the tenants, who might want access to [occupancy data] or a radiometer on the roof to understand and make better decisions on how to operate shades, for example.

These base building services will become prominent inside the world from a building owner standpoint.

Design teams can embrace the new technology, which is advancing quickly, and stretch and think about what’s possible in the world. What can be achieved from a data side can help them formulate the design side of a space or structure.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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About the Author

Wanda Lau | Editorial Director

Wanda Lau is the editorial director of Smart Buildings Technology, LEDs Magazine, and Architectural SSL. She is an award-winning editor, writer, and podcaster whose work appears in several publications, including Architectural Lighting and Architect, where she was most recently the executive editor. In 2021, she was named one of Folio: and AdMonsters' Top Women in Media, in the DEI Champions category. Along with working a decade in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, she holds a B.S. in civil engineering from Michigan State University, an S.M. in building technology from MIT, and an M.A. in journalism from Syracuse University.

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