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How can an API extract actionable smart building insights?

Jan. 5, 2022
SBT contributing writer Andrew Froehlich keys in on how the Application Programming Interface (API) can unlock new doors for intelligent building systems.

To non-technical people in the world of commercial property ownership and management, the term Application Programming Interface (API) likely means next to nothing.

However, smart building platforms can gain tremendous additional value when API access is used to extract, merge and analyze relevant data with intelligent and actionable insights as the result.

Let’s learn more about the purpose of an API and how it can be used to squeeze extra value out of new and/or existing smart building systems.

What’s the purpose of an API?

In prior years, IT and OT hardware and software manufacturers focused on creating proprietary platforms that were largely locked down from being manipulated, modified or connected to external, third-party systems.

At the time this was done for data security purposes and to lock customers into a a vendor-specific ecosystem of management products.

However, thanks to advancements in data analysis techniques that can more easily extract and analyze data from multiple sources to formulate new insights, customers are now looking for IT/OT products that can easily communicate with third-party data collection and intelligent management systems to gain more visibility into their systems.

IT/OT vendors took note of this shift in customer requirements and began opening access to their platforms by exposing their systems to the outside world using a standards-based API.

Depending on the level of granularity granted through a particular API, a system can be managed through an external and often centralized management platform – or relevant health/operational data can be extracted and combined with other data sets for deep analysis and insight purposes.

How APIs can be used to gain more insight into a building or campus

Smart building technologies are considered “smart” because they use data collection and analysis to provide insights into the operation and health of various building equipment. These insights can then be used (either manually or using an automated process) to make adjustments to systems for improved energy efficiency, health and public safety purposes.

Using API data collection techniques, relevant information can be collected and combined with data from other smart building systems to formulate a more accurate view of building operations and to make more intelligent decisions.

For example, information extracted from a building HVAC system can be merged with data pulled from surveillance cameras and door controllers.

The combined data sets can be used to pinpoint specific floors/areas where occupants are located in real-time. In turn, the HVAC system can be automated to heat/cool these specific areas to comfortable levels, cutting costs by not having to maintain the same temperature levels across the entire building.

Do my existing IT/OT systems allow for API access and integrations?

For building owners and operators with existing IT/OT equipment already deployed, one question they’ll have is whether their existing smart building technologies already have API access capabilities.

While it’s difficult to speak broadly on this topic, note that many IT/OT vendors have or are planning to release software updates to their smart building systems that come with API capabilities.

Thus, it may be the case that a software patch can open the door to these types of API integrations as opposed to a full replacement of existing components, which can be a costly and time-consuming endeavor.

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About the Author

Andrew Froehlich | Contributor

As a highly regarded network architect and trusted IT consultant with worldwide contacts, Andrew Froehlich counts over two decades of experience and possesses multiple industry certifications in the field of enterprise networking. Andrew is the founder and president of Colorado-based West Gate Networks, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and data center build-outs. He’s also the founder of an enterprise IT research and analysis firm, InfraMomentum. As the author of two Cisco certification study guides published by Sybex, he is a regular contributor to multiple enterprise IT-related websites and trade journals with insights into rapidly changing developments in the IT industry.

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