Sponsored By:
The Internet of (Some) Things
Author: Darlene Pope

The "Internet of Things" describes a networking scenario in which physical objects are provided with unique digital identifiers and the ability to automatically communicate with each other or share data without requiring human interaction. It's things communicating with things over a network.

In the built environment, those might include things such as door locks, security cameras, light bulbs, ballasts, VAVs, fans, motors, elevators, garage doors, temperature sensors, access control, digital displays, control devices, or even a coke machine or coffee maker. There are literally thousands of things in a building that could be connected.

According to Gartner, the Internet of Things ("IoT") is expected to grow to 26 billion things (excluding smartphones, tablets, and PCs) by the year 2020, representing an almost 30x increase over the 900 million things connected in 2009. The question we need to ask is, "Do we really need to have everything connected to the Internet?"… Or more importantly, "Do we really want to?"

Connecting everything to everything is not practical. There needs to be some kind of value associated with connecting things to things, either in cost savings or other intrinsic benefits. And do the benefits of connecting those things outweigh the costs or risks associated with that connection? So let's focus instead on the "Internet of Some Things"… and which of those some things may make sense to be connected and communicate in a building without human interaction.

Let me point out one thing… the decision to connect or not connect things to communicate without human interaction requires human interaction. And there are several very human factors that will play into that decision:
  1. Knowledge
  2. Skill sets
  3. Security
Knowledge. How much does the "buyer" really know, or understand, about the IoT – and more importantly, do they understand the value to them of connecting some things to the IoT. If you're talking to a building engineer, I would suspect they have much more knowledge on the intricate workings of HVAC systems than they do on hooking up an LED to an IP address. Asset managers are probably more concerned about cap rates than data transmission rates. So, we need to overcome the knowledge gap first. This is where the role of a master systems integrator becomes essential, so that the building owner (the "buyer") gets the full value of integrating (connecting) multiple systems and devices (things).

Skill sets. Once you decide to integrate systems and/or devices, what are the skill sets needed to manage your little microcosm of the IoT? If you start connecting thousands of things together, what do you need to know about IT, networking, monitoring, management, analyzing, and storing all that data? Do you have a team ready to manage your IoT? Connecting things in order to collect and share data is meaningless if you don't actually act on that data. And if the things themselves are supposed to act on that data, you need to know how to make the things use the data in a meaningful and valuable way.

Security. I don't care how many firewalls and passcodes you imbed into your network, there is always going to be the concern of the security risks associated with connecting things to the Internet. So as you are contemplating this transition to the IoT, you need to make sure you understand both the benefits and risks associated with a universal network of things and the data associated with all those things. Who owns the data? Who has access to the data? Who manages the data? What are you going to do with the data?

And most importantly, "What is the value of the IoT to me?"

There is great value to most building owners to integrate systems and devices that directly affect temperature and comfort, or that immediately reduce energy costs – such as access control, HVAC systems, and lighting. How deep you go into connecting all the components and parts within those systems again depends on what additional value you may realize from the additional points of data. You could realistically connect thousands of fans, motors, valves, sensors, drives, dampers, switches, controls, windows, blinds, doors, locks, and other operational devices in a single building for ultimate operational efficiencies.

Integrating security cameras and other components of your security system has definite value, but also comes with a certain amount of risk. Some of our clients opt to keep security systems on a completely separate, private network, with no intention of ever connecting to the IoT.

The technology is there to do all of the above, plus add a layer of advanced analytics to make sure you're squeezing the ultimate efficiency out of every device in the building. This also provides the ability to perform "predictive maintenance," which allows you to potentially fix or replace failing equipment before it fails. It's really up to you how far you want to go with the IoT based on the benefits that can be realized from connecting so many things to so many things.

You may have seen the ads from Cisco promoting the "Internet of Everything" (Cisco makes networking routers, so I guess that's not a bad marketing strategy). They have even created a dynamic connections counter to track the estimated number of connected things increasing exponentially from July 2013 until July 2020 (as of today, it's just over 12 billion). Cisco says the number of potential "things" in the world is expected to reach 1.8 trillion in 2020, growing 3% annually, and the number of connected objects on the IoT to be in excess of 50 billion in 2020 (or 2.7% of the total things in the world).

Only 2.7%. Whew, I thought they really meant they were going to try to connect everything!

So there's no need to be intimidated by all this talk of the IoT and how everything will be connected to everything and run themselves. Sure, it would be phenomenal if all buildings could connect all of their operational things and realize maximum efficiency, functionality, convenience, security, and financial returns... but perhaps we should start with connecting the basics and work our way up.

Rate This Article:   
About Our Sponsor: Tridium's NiagaraAX Framework merges multi-vendor automation systems and real-time integration into a single, extensible platform that monitors, manages and controls the power consumption of all building systems - driving energy efficiency and reducing energy costs. By taking into account all critical subsystems, streamlining devices into a common system, utilizing measurement and verification tools and so much more, it's easy to understand why the NiagaraAX Framework is the platform of choice in thousands of buildings, plants and facilities in more than 40 countries worldwide.

Recent Newsletters
-  Big Data Is Useless