December 2020

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Future Building Operators

OT-technicians? IT-people? Developers? The Users? Or will the building itself running, AI?

Nicolas provides his perspective and comments/summaries of past articles and blogs
Nicolas WaernNicolas Waern
"The Building Whisperer"

Contributing Editor


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Will the future building operators be OT-technicians? IT-people? Developers? The users? Or the building itself running AI?

I was just going to do some research before writing my December article, but I couldn’t help making some comments and summaries of my own. Which led to the slippery slope of writing this December article.

My thoughts are these:

Vendors need to talk about what makes them different, what is possible with their tools and what sets them apart and give concrete use cases. Not just describe the hammer, but what is possible with their tools and how much faster, better it is. We all know about the problems that exist. And everyone is just describing their tools and how shiny it is and stuff that you can google. I want to read stuff that I cannot google, or articles that make me think. They often go hand in hand.

As such, this will become my article for December but if you want to go above and beyond buildings, then the Beyond Buildings Podcast & Newsletter might be something for you!

Cameras are Watching

This is a thought provoking and thrilling article that I really appreciate because the topics are extremely important. Ethics, long-term thinking, what happens if AI has a data fabric where it can roam free?

The author asks:

-        “What happens after we have covid under control?

-        What can the cameras watch next once they stop tracking for masks?”

The answer is, everything. It is an interesting read about the pros and cons of short-term and long-term thinking and that everything is possible. I have talked to Sudha before where we talked about Digital Twins, semantic interoperability and what is needed to make AI operate with more intelligence, amongst other things. She is a recognized world leader in self driving cars, and she is a force to be reckoned with.

As many people should know by now, I am obsessed with solving problems and I hate inventing the wheel more than necessary. That is why I have been working closer to AI-initiatives the last couple of years. And now that I’m working with Digital Twins and AI in parallel, I can’t help that those Miles Dyson moments creep up on me from time to time. Maybe I will help judgment day happen faster?

By making it easier for people to use AI everywhere… what will happen? I wrote about AI specifically in this 1,5 year old post Artificial Intelligence on the Edge where I also provide some use cases for AI and not just explain what AI is regarding HVAC. It’s a novel in its own right but I still like the content.

I wrote these suggestions back then and fortunately I can still stand by them now.

·        As I have said before, just go out there and get started. But do not take 1000 steps in the wrong, or even right direction, take the first steps and then involve experts.

·        Wherever there’s complexity beyond human control, AI/ML might be something to look at.

·        It is all a race to IP-level, and the platform of data must be robust and qualitative enough for others to create future value on. Do not cut corners for too long, or you will regret it.

·        Even though everything technical is here to solve all the problems in the industry, it is more of a mindset challenge, where organizational interoperability issues stand in the way of success, even more so than technological ones.

·        Breaking the silos between all players in the building lifecycle is the key to unleash the true powers of digital twins, and that of AI/ML on a grand scale.

Eight months in

is a great read that is basically summarized in this image below:


And the opportunity for companies that say it like the oracle does “When the world changes you adjust to it”. That is as sound as it is unreal. Because most companies, and people, do not have an easy time adjusting to anything. The article provides a smörgåsbord of quotes, thought leadership and insights from the real estate industry and I loved reading it. If someone still thinks that the new normal is anything but normal after reading that article then… yeah, they are not the ones adjusting, but in dire need of some attitude adjustment.

Open Systems: A Key Pillar to the Mass Adoption of Building Automation Technology

Very interesting read about Brainbox AI and also their relationship to Niagara. But…is Niagara open? Or just a different kind of lock-in? Or does open not take vendor-lock-in into account?

It is Niagara. They have a great ecosystem strategy that a lot of companies benefit from. And it is great that Brainbox have built an application to run in the Niagara ecosystem to provide AI from the top. It is a promo for Niagara and also Brainbox, and that is all well and great, but it is not what I would call open.

However, when looking for an open product…

I think I found it in the BASpi from Contemporary Controls           

Zach seems to have answered the question” What should be in an open BAS-product which enables SI’s to do as much as possible for free out of the box”?

“These Ethernet and Wi-Fi connected, BACnet compliant, Sedona programmable edge controllers are fully web page configurable and come standard with advanced features such as BACnet client/server, schedules, email alarms/notifications, weather service, web-based customizable dashboard served over an IP connection or directly out of the resident HDMI port, and secure cloud connectivity to Azure IoT Central SaaS (software as a service).” (Great sentence and it reminded me of this scene)

BASpi-Edge is license-free and comes with free software tools – the BAScontrol Toolset which is offered as a free download and consists of the Sedona Application Editor (SAE), BASbackup project utility, and BASemulator for BASpi-Edge emulation on PC.

Very nice product in bringing the existing BAS/BMS to the next level. Fantastic product that caters to the past, present and the future of building automation in a very robust, useful and attractive way. Together with some wireless stuff sensors that turns IoT into the OT/IT conversation would also be nice out of the box, possibly with some actuators to go with it and not only sensors. Azure compatibility is interesting also considering Azures move to go with “their own” real estate ontology called Real Estate Core which will be their DTDL (Digital Twin Data Language) in providing semantic inveroperability in the real estate space.

I’ve written about this before here:

Semantic Interoperability

Where I talk about Haystack and the 223P movement and other things. However, since Haystack I have also gotten to know about Brick Schema, Digital Buildings Ontology, Real Estate Core, as well as others in adjacent fields. These taxonomies, ontologies, tagging standards and schemas are a must in speeding up the time to value creation in the short term. But there might also be some danger in the long term when talking about industry interoperability regarding AI-initiatives. How to make cities AI-ready is a future topic that I am working on over at my Newsletter/Podcast Beyond Buildings

Speaking of amazing podcasts…

James Dice’s NEXUS
The Nexus Podcast and Newsletter is great! I am a pro member and I have rarely had as much fun as I had the last time during a discussion with likeminded people for 1 hour, talking about the challenges and opportunities that exist in the space.
Amazing times and the best therapy session money can buy for a building automation nerd like me. The Nexus starting point is energy, BAS/BMS but I agree with James when he says that we need to take a holistic look at the building and not only from a building automation standpoint. If you are a building automation person, I strongly recommend his (and mine) newsletter and podcast!

Edge AI Empowers Smarter Building Management

I have been talking to several people from Foghorn for a couple of years and I really love what they do. The article is interesting in the sense that everything everyone else says about what smart buildings could do via a cloud approach, the author says that it can be done without data going to a data center somewhere and turning back (That said the future is about a modular data-strategy approach where the companies win that has the possibility to do everything).

Otherwise, it is similar to what Brainbox are saying or basically anyone else in this space. Which is rather unfortunate since I know that Foghorn do amazing things and that they play a vital role in the ecosystem. They democratize data manipulation closer to the source and similar to Node-red, Sedona based tools, they make it easier and faster to create value from otherwise black-boxed data streams. I will see if I can get the founder on the Beyond Buildings podcast to clear out any doubts of what role they play and what makes them different from the rest.

Facilities Management Software?

This article is interesting in its own right but it’s also something which I can probably find 10000s of articles a google away or just looking at their website. Great insight into what Facilities Management could be, but it is too generic for my taste.

Adapting to the New Reality: KNX is the ideal standard for market-leading building control projects now and in the future

This article has two major topics that are quite thin in nature.

·        A decentralized system

·        Commissioning software

I am no expert in KNX and I could be wrong. But for me KNX is everything but open, it’s got less building automation and more lighting, and I believe they also have something like the Modbus-tag list as in a KNX master something that needs to exist for the system to continue to operate. That is not necessarily decentralized, so I might be writing on yesterday’s data. However, the point with commissioning software is not necessarily something I would call future proof and it adds to the lock-in effects that I am not really a fan of.

That said, KNX might be a choice for the lightweight buildings that don’t have that much of intelligence to start with and do not require that much intelligence to become somewhat smart. After all, from a user perspective in the sense of providing value, KNX does probably a great job of providing that value, lock-in effects or not.

However, I think most of the value should/will be created on top of buildings and the myriad of different solutions in buildings add to the complexity of creating value for users and other stakeholders and it is tricky for someone with a real estate portfolio but great for someone with one or two buildings that are not that complex.

What will the foundation of smarter buildings look like?

Will it be the same foundation for small, medium and large buildings?

But if it is not that complex… then I’d go for Contemporary controls above instead of KNX. But then again, if it is the user in mind, then I might go with KNX. But then again, if Azure IoT ecosystem includes more home automation stuff as well, then I don’t need KNX, but I can choose to open up the building, have a modular something from someone that specializes in whatever area they specialize in, without sacrificing analytics capabilities, robustness, usability, nor attractiveness and also get rid of vendor lock-in. Will the future building operators be OT-technicians? IT-people? Developers? The users? Or the building itself running AI without the need for people intervention? Swappable layers regarding the tech stack?

Is it more technology, or more of an understanding about market dynamics and business models? Shout-out to Andrew Rodgers for taking it back to reality.

Are we there yet? No. Not yet. I think we are still at the thousands cut problem and it gets easier and harder every day to raise digital maturity in buildings.

What will make the industry change? Will it be a big push in regard to regulations? Will it be user behaviour? Will we see the Smart Phone approach in someone providing an interface to actual users, not only to the building automation bodybuilders that are behind the scenes? Will it be Google Stadia and their new Building Digital Ontology that will save the world?

Will it be a global Event that will accelerate Digital Transformation efforts forward?

It will probably be all the above, and much much more. It is a bumpy road ahead… and we cannot find all the answers in the building automation industry. We need to go beyond buildings, to then circle back, and create buildings together that pass the test of time. We need to go above and beyond!

If you want to find out what the world is going to do a month, a year, a decade from now and how it might benefit you or anyone you know, reach out! I try to have a holistic understanding of what is needed to stand out from competition, to better advise on pros and cons, and be the strategy partner for both technology and organization-advice in a Smart World Environment (Construction/Industry/Smart Buildings and Cities).

Please reach out if you have any questions and comments or if you have any ideas on what I should write next!


Nicolas Waern

“Smart World Architect” and Digital Transformation Expert –

Helping companies find their role in a Smart World Context



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