November 2011

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Critical Mass
The unstoppable momentum for open and integrated building systems.
Jim Sinopoli
Jim Sinopoli PE, RCDD, LEED AP
Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings LLC

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If you take a look at the industry sectors that are involved in some aspect of building systems it’s clear that the interest in open and integrated systems is both wide and deep; this is despite the fact there are few truly integrated buildings, uncertainty as to why integration is needed and just how does one go about integrating systems.  The drivers are of course energy consumption and advanced technology but also the factor of increasing complexities in managing buildings. Many different industry associations now have initiatives, task forces, imperatives or committees with the intent to research or create standards or guidelines related to open and integrated building systems. Supplementing the organizations are some authentic grassroots movements, led by industry stewards, whose participants understand buildings, operations and systems and can envision where the industry needs to go. What follows are some of the industry activities that indicate they not only understand but actually embrace system openness and integrated building systems, and are moving to standardize the process of integration in building design and operation:

ISAInternational Society of Automation (ISA) ( – ISA has been around for about 60 years and is best known for industrial or process automation.  Some may dismiss the industrial process legacy; however, what you find is that there are many similarities between process and building automation. In addition, ISA has a solid suite of standards they have developed that can be used for or ported to building systems. For example, ISA has developed ANSI standards for alarm management, enterprise control system integration, and the tracking and reporting of control data; none of which exists in the building automation industry.

Most recently and more relevantly is that ISA has initiated the development of a standard titled ISA 111 Unified Automation for Buildings, essentially integrated building systems.  The objective of this effort is the development of “standards and guidelines to communicate the necessary information to enable building subsystems to be managed and to interact so that an individual building, a local collection of buildings such as a campus, or a geographically diverse collection of buildings appear to a user to be a single, coordinated, cohesive building automation system.”  The standard will define the terminology, concepts, characteristics of automating building subsystems, and building automation architectural models necessary to unify the management of the variety of building automation subsystems.  This effort will provide guidelines for integrating building systems, adding further credibility and tools for building system integration and spurring the market and building owner deployments.

InfoComm InfoComm ( is the international trade association representing the professional audiovisual and information communications industries. As a group, AV contractors and designers have some of the best skill sets in integration. For years AV professionals have had to integrate different pieces of equipment from different manufacturers, with varying signaling and communications protocols into unified systems. They’re also familiar with lighting systems, dashboards/HMIs, audio systems, digital signage, cabling, control systems and shading.
Earlier this year InfoComm announced the Sustainable Technology Environments Program (STEP) in conjunction with CompTIA, an IT industry association. At the heart of STEP is a rating system to guide sustainable practices in technology projects. It covers not only AV, but IT, communications, security and building automation.
In addition to STEP, InfoComm has created a Smart Buildings Initiative, an Integrated Building Technology task force and is also supporting ISA’s development of the standard for unified automation for buildings.

NIST The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. It deals with physical science research and is staffed with top scientists and technical professionals. It has several ongoing projects and programs related to integrated building systems and smart buildings. Here’s a sample:

•    Smart Building Automation and Control Testbed and Standards – The basis of this NIST project is to provide better  information about the practical implications of integrating building systems and “improved” industry standards for integration (the little that there is). NIST is creating a testbed for investigating building system integration and providing the technical basis for improved industry standards.
•    Intelligent Building Agents – This is a program to assist in the development of “embedded” intelligence in buildings. NIST calls this “integrated cybernetic building systems with distributed, embedded intelligence that can optimize building system performance, detect and respond to faults and operational errors, and enable integration of building systems with smart grid technologies.”

•    Integrating Building Automation Systems with a Smart Utility Grid – NIST is of course deeply involved with the interoperability of the Smart Grid. This particular project is meant to develop standards to enable building systems to interact with a smart grid by 2014 addressing real-time pricing, distributed energy resources, demand response, distributed generation and energy storage.

ASHRAE ASHRAE is the international society for those involved with HVAC systems. Because HVAC can account for 40% of typical energy consumption in a building and because HVAC systems are the most complex of building systems, ASHRAE plays a very large role in building automation and energy management.  ASHRAE standards address ventilation and indoor air quality (ASHRAE 62.1 and 62.2), energy standards for buildings (ASHRAE 90.1), the dominant BACnet communication protocol (ASHRAE 135) and the standard for the design of high performance, green buildings (ASHRAE 189.1).

Of particular interest related to system openness and integration is the ASHRAE Technical Committee 7.5 - Smart Building Systems. The committee wants to help develop and evaluate technologies that could enable the widespread application of smart building systems. Their definition of a smart building is one that takes advantage of the building and building systems, using data analysis technologies in order to operate in the most cost-effective manner. Admittedly, it implies integration of building services, automation of many of the operation and maintenance functions and the interaction of the building with the utility grid. The Technical Committee has four subcommittees: building operation dynamics, fault detection and diagnostics, wireless applications and the building/utility interface.

Smart Building Institute Smart Building Institute (SBI) – This is a non-profit corporation organized in 2011. Its objective is to facilitate the growth and education of smarter buildings and smarter building operations. More importantly, SBI has a Smart Building Certification process. While the structure of the certification process is analogous to LEED or the proposed STEP process the focus is different.  The certification process addresses (a) the capability of the building to provide actionable information regarding the performance of building systems and facilities, (b) the capability to proactively monitor and detect errors or deficiencies in building systems, (c) the integration of systems to an enterprise business level for real-time reporting and management utilization of operations, energy and occupant comfort, and (d) a building that incorporates the tools, technologies, resources and practices to contribute to energy conservation and environmental sustainability. SBI establishes an ongoing and updated series of conditions and criteria that qualify a building as “smart”. 

Control Solutions, Inc “Grassroots Initiatives” – While several formal organizations are working on or involved with the push to integrated and open building systems there are also informal initiatives by industry participants. These are colleagues who understand the industry, see the potential, and facilitate the change needed. Here are two great examples, one addressing open control programming languages, and the other open source naming conventions. – This is one of the premier industry websites published by Ken Sinclair, a veteran and icon of the building automation industry. Its relevance to the open and integrated topic is the viral discussion Ken touched off earlier in 2011. He wrote an article that was a call to the industry to speed their evolution to an open protocol for control languages. (Note that an open control language is different than using an open communications protocol such as BACnet or LonWorks.) The issue Ken identified was the internal control language of all large building automation vendors is proprietary software forcing building owners to rely on the local branch of the BAS company or train their own staff to make changes. An open control language for BMS systems would be analogous to the process of creating web sites – that is you can use different tools to create a web site but the result is standard html that can be read by all web browsers. Ken touched a nerve in the industry; it was reflected in an outpouring of interest via group discussions, articles, blogs and other communications. While obviously not as organized as initiatives from ISA, InfoComm, ASHRAE or NIST, the viral discussions reflect insight and support of many in the industry.

Project Haystack Project Haystack – If you have ever integrated existing building systems and found 10 different names for the same type of equipment, you’ll appreciate Project Haystack. It is an initiative to develop open source naming conventions and taxonomies for building equipment and operational data. Brian Frank with Sky Foundry ( is the brains behind the effort. He and John Petze and others have donated their time in this development. The benefit of an open source naming convention is that it makes it easier and less costly to model and configure the data; in the short term it allows faster analysis of the data and in the long term facilitates better management of the building. Note that all Haystack intellectual property is open and freely available for any commercial use.

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