Echelon recently released findings from an online survey showing that a majority of planners intend to integrate lighting, HVAC and security systems into a common platform.

This was hardly a surprising finding. Nor was the statement that almost half of building automation projects today involve legacy systems running multiple protocols from different vendors. It's clear that multi-protocol and converged solutions will be key to extracting optimal benefit from the emerging building internet of things (BIOT).

Integration of different siloed building services can be achieved through joining them together at the top end through specialist software products such as Tridium’s Niagara Framework. While this solution has its limitations, it is a practical means of reducing operating costs that boost energy efficiency while increasing comfort for people in the building. For existing buildings, this solution is likely to continue for many years as building operators are unlikely to justify the case for ripping out the existing systems and migrating to a single BIOT platform.

For new construction projects, BIOT is a much more technically and financially attractive solution. But is it currently a viable technical and commercial proposition?

The answer is no. Despite all the hype from the scores of research reports about the opportunities to realize the technical market potential, few provide any details about the technical and commercial challenges that still have to be overcome.

BIOT networks will place huge demands on nodes and the network infrastructure, creating significant engineering challenges and the need to look at the total end-to-end network solutions. A comprehensive understanding of the scale of data capture devices and the diverse locations transmitting information analytical software needs to be in place.

A single solution will not be able to serve the vast array of sensor types and network characteristics, while at the same time, achieving optimal performance and use of resources to meet the needs of all stakeholders.

The good news is that today’s engineers are prepared to tackle these challenges. So BIOT will happen, but not as quickly as some market research companies say it will.

The bad news is that the routes to market necessary to implement BIOT are not yet in place. The role and responsibilities of decision-makers will need to be changed, because they are different for each of the major building services.

The contract for a facility's building energy management system is part of the mechanical contract; lighting is organized through the low-voltage electrical contract; security is bid separately through a security consultant designer. In addition, there are many relatively smaller contracts, including fire detection and voice evacuation, lift controls, electrical power backup, communications, parking, utility meters, vending machines, energy management, water management, landscaping/irrigation and digital signage. All of these data sources will eventually need to interface and work within the BIOT network.

In the near future, the BIOT network needs to work alongside current building automation systems that are implemented gradually according to an established prioritization scheme. Over time, the BIOT network will be scaled up and have the capability to interface with all the services that the building owner requires.

At the same time, there is likely to be a gradual consolidation in the number of protocols used by various building automation systems. This will allow more direct integration between those services so that both product and installation costs can be brought down, thus simplifying the interface with the BIOT.

Memoori's research into lighting controls shows that one platform could be used for both HVAC and lighting in small and medium-sized commercial buildings for each new LED fixture, turning them into nodes in an intelligent network. But those sensors can also be used to harvest other useful data about temperature, occupancy and their surroundings that have many other applications not associated with lighting. That can provide additional value.

We are convinced that LED lighting controls could now act as a catalyst for the opening up of the BIOT; however, the network will require time to develop.

Our research has shown many instances in which bus-based lighting controls have taken the responsibility for controlling HVAC services. But that has been in relatively small to medium-sized projects where heating and cooling was achieved through a combination of chilled beams and natural ventilation. 

The case for retrofitting buildings with LED lighting has become very compelling and wireless technology has negated the need for control wiring, thus reducing the installation cost. This will result in LED lighting controls being installed in many more buildings that don’t have building energy management systems.

Having struggled for the last fifteen years to get all the environmental services in buildings to work together, we have reached a point where connectivity can be achieved directly through IP, allowing the BIOT to become a reality. But it will not all come at once.