Digital engineering standards – why should we care…

Who works in a smart building these days? When you think of “Smart buildings”, intelligent lighting, heating and cooling based on people in a space, fault detection and AI probably come to mind. Whilst these applications exist, onboarding and integrating them is time-consuming and costly – a smart building strategy does not easily ‘scale’ across a building portfolio, and the time and costs to re-implement do not reduce with the number of buildings integrated across a portfolio. Each building requires its own consideration and bespoke strategy. Does it have to be this way?

2021 saw significant developments toward standardisation involving building data ontologies and digital metadata models in the “smart building” sector.

Why should I care about this?

Imagine being able to choose between advanced energy management algorithms, fault detection diagnostic dashboards, one-click energy auditing engines, sustainability benchmarks and KPIs without the significant onboarding costs and disruption to existing systems and processes. A building and/or sustainability manager could choose to trial a digital application service like an online subscription service or phone application, and compare the results and benefits in a test environment with limited risk and cost.

Sounds crazy? We believe this is the future of smart building management and it’s not far off…

The nuts and bolts of ‘smart’

All building and financial data requires some manipulation of type, format and or/protocol involving edge-to-cloud processing to transform data into a usable schema for use in applications, automation events and BI tools. The parameters that control the output functions, data manipulations, modelling scenarios, tolerances, set-points, dead-bands, and even the program designs themselves can be determined and configured by you! Now that’s smart!

What’s the hold-up?

Digital meta-data models have existed, albeit inconsistently in each company and vendor’s mind. Herein lies the problem. Applications and services rely on a standard data structure to drive them. This makes the application scalable.

Imagine the IT sector without standards. A web browser relies on the fact that standards exist to ensure that the web browsing application will work with as many websites as possible. If Microsoft, Google, Apple etc. decided they would have their own standards for their own web browsers, it would mean that everyone would require multiple web browsers, and it would be a mystery as to which site would work with which browser. We see glimpses of this on occasion; Chrome works here, but Edge doesn’t. Efforts are taken by all to minimise differences. This is a standards-based approach.

Where are we now?

Operational Technology (OT) in buildings has resisted standardisation efforts, and for some reason. Vendors of building subsystems (HVAC, lighting, access control etc) have developed domain-specific ontologies and meta-data models over decades – since the digitisation of plant and equipment began.

Vendors have not had any real demand or use case to integrate/interoperate with other building systems due to IP protection and ongoing commercialisation and commodification. This is changing, and for various reasons:

  1. Market expectations have risen. Seamless experiences with personal electronics are expected to carry over to large systems in the built environment
  2. The market is seeking different outcomes. Drivers for change include improved tenant experiences, greater occupant comfort, improved energy efficiency, and opportunities for demand flexibility. This is achieved through the integration of all sensors and devices where feasible.
  3. Market maturity. The market is typically prepared to accept proprietary technology and services until the benefit and value become questionable.
  4. Vendor lock-in. Market maturity evolves, driven by the need for flexibility in service provision. Vendor lock-in is identified by the market as a problem, and a need arises to mitigate perceived risk against the cost and disruption of switching products or services.

Where are we heading?

Since 2017, CSIRO has led international efforts to establish research aimed at standardising the approach to digital engineering under the COP21 Mission Innovation framework “affordable heating and cooling challenge” and International Energy Agency research annex (IEA) – Annex 81 – Data-Driven Smart Buildings. Buildings Evolved have been invited by the Australian Federal Government, on advice from CSIRO Energy, to participate in these forums.

The work is multifaceted. Key areas of research include:

  1. Open data and data platforms
  • Open data concepts & data governance
  • Data management and information models
  • Data sets
  1. Control-oriented modelling framework
  • Model predictive control tools and scenario test case
  • Control-oriented modelling methods
  • Benchmarking algorithms
  • Automated fault detection, diagnostics & recommissioning
  • Building-2-Grid
  1. Case studies and business models
  • Smart data-driven innovation strategies

Standards are an interesting thing. The private sector will rush to market, standards or not, to grab market share. Fair call. But what if that vendor has painted themselves into a corner, figuratively speaking, and is, by extension, doing the same for your business? We see approaches by very large companies (in the “IoT” space) that are/will be incompatible with the emerging standards. So what risk does this present to an emerging digital engineering project?

We see building meta-data models such as Haystack and Brick/Mortar dual it out. But what about RealEstateCore? Or VBIS? Or BOT? Or ASHRAE 231P? Why do these exist at all when the work to create international standards is still underway?

Which of these, or which elements of these, will come to the fore?

All good questions. We have insights, but the debate is still underway.

A good digital strategy consider the above, and plans for the future to mitigate risk and ensure outcomes are delivered. A good strategist is aware of the above in great detail and can provide the right guidance to navigate what is an emerging market.

What can I do?

  1. Do nothing and run the risk of stranded, non-standardised assets subjected to inflexible vendor solutions, or
  2. Start thinking about a unified and standardised metadata strategy that is ready to expose operations to best-of-breed, open-source technologies, and an applications marketplace that delivers high-value low-cost smart building solutions.

Buildings Evolved have been helping individuals and organisations realise their technology vision with outcomes-based strategies backed by sound benefit analysis and business cases. Find out more by contacting Arne (details below) or downloading our digital engineering info sheet.

Many organisations will find that they can fund their entire data management programs, including staff salaries and technology costs, from the savings realised by consolidating data sources and decommissioning legacy systems.

Want to know more about what we have been up to?

Aside from active participation in research meetings with leading academics from around the world, we are contributing to the R&D efforts by onboarding a diverse set of smart-building data into a data clearing house for smart buildings. Our work this year has looked at healthcare, education, local government & water authorities as well as our usual areas of focus: commercial, office and industrial.

We are doing more than simply engineering data into one spot (as challenging as that is); throughout 2021 we have also been developing software to assist with modelling and forecasting opportunities and what-if scenarios against real data sets.

We have been on a huge journey over the last few years, and the pandemic response has provided us with challenges. As they say, a crisis is an opportunity. One we have relished improving our capability and service offering. Exciting things are coming in 2022!





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