December 2010

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Business Intelligence and Building Automation Analytics
Every intelligent management decision will pay back quickly. The question is, are we able to distinguish information from terabytes of data?

Nino Kurtalj

Nino Kurtalj, President,
Elma Kurtalj Ltd

Contributing Editor

The last 20 years have rapidly changed our world. Today it is not a problem of the absence of information, the problem is the surplus of information. It has become difficult to answer simple questions like: Who? Why? Where?  Therefore, we need models, which will instantly answer these simple questions, and help us predict the future behavior of systems. Our buildings are very complex systems as well as our business.  For years business has been using Business Intelligence technologies for gathering and analyzing data as a key milestone in searching for better business decisions. Simply, BI is a very important decision support system with extraordinary developed tools as well as techniques like reporting, statistic analysis, forecasting and others. Today we are looking at information as intelligent content. It is now a very huge and serious industry. The outcome from BI is creating new services and sources of revenue. It helps business to better position themselves in the market place. It is a new model of learning with an extraordinary ability to dig out knowledge from terabytes of data streams. And as we all know knowledge is power. In general BI is one of the keys of a lean corporate process. Reducing waste and improving quality and in the end lowering cost and raising profit. Every intelligent management decision  will pay back quickly. The question is, are we able to distinguish information from terabytes of data?

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Such a challenging economic climate needs good understanding of all events with and around our organization. To grow successfully and overcome recession issues we need well presented information with clear meaning. Good BI software will include everything needed for dashboarding analysing as well as real time reporting. Very critical will be to have access to unified data from multiple sources, so that we can view, share and interact with the information and to benchmark as well as measure performances. That will help us to see how well we are performing and where are our KPIs. Having such, we are able to drill down and see opportunities if there are any existing. Furthermore, we can model future behavior in a blink of an eye.

Process data integration with the BI proactive approach is helping organizations to take control. However, to use that data unified and comprehensive models should be created. Once created such models help prompt business actions with very low risk factors. Such models should be neutral and metadata driven with strong rules.

BI could be observed as a circle process which starts with the gathering of information from distributed data sources, then based as the gathered information ad the problems are defined. The information is then analyzed through BI processes, and often the conclusions are used as base data for a new circle. The process goes on until we get a clear picture.

We can divide the data by source to primary and secondary data, as well as quality. 
We need both data types to better understand information. Primary data could be our history data, and secondary data could be general statistical KPIs from various sources.

As Sun Tzu said "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. ...If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."  And that is precisely the aim of Business Intelligence - know yourself and your enemy.

The question is, where do Business Intelligence and Building Automation cross?  We know that building automation systems (BAS) are designed to answer comfort, security and energy saving requirements. Energy can represent a significant percentage of the total building expenses, in other words, organizational expenses. An integrated BAS will significantly contribute to the decrease of maintenance costs as well as energy costs. To achieve optimum Business Intelligence, techniques as well as models could significantly influence building automation day to day activity. 

Today, the most popular and well-known standards in Building Automation are, LonWorks, BACnet, ZigBee and KNX which we consider as open solution standards. LonWorks, ZigBee and EIB/KNX are considered as field-level and control centric solutions (bottom up), while BACnet is considered as a more service oriented (top down) protocol positioned more for upper-level functionality. The goal of today's building automation solutions is to achieve seamless integration of all building sub-systems (e.g. heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC), lightning, security, etc.) through both horizontal (data points interactions) as well as vertical (management service interactions) domains.  A critical issue for such a system is how to establish multi-vendor and multi-protocol interoperability through all sub-systems and still keep the same reliability.   Within such a system, it is possible to share sensor data among different subsystems like lightning and HVAC.  An open solution offers numerous benefits, including competitive bidding, consistent installation, consistent maintenance, system integration and interoperability, data acquisition and product interchangeability.
Generally, it is almost impossible to close the building automation system into just one of the mentioned protocols; therefore, we still need the integration of several different protocols, to handle the range of building automation needs. It is very important to understand that there are lots of deployed buildings where automation of the different subsystems is done by different protocols.  Intercommunication between such sub systems is done through gateway devices. Every protocol defines its own application model with the data representation description (data format, encoding) as well as the communication model between applications (data manipulation methods). Since, all application models are specific, it is impossible to establish a direct gateway-free communication across protocol borders, and the use of a gateway is a must in such integrations. Gateways generally contain a database of mappings between network entities (data points) of both sides. The data points correspond to the logical inputs and outputs of the underlying physical process.

The main characteristic of a data point is its present value. Typically, it corresponds to the real world physical representations like room temperature or the state of a switch. The data points from different devices on the same network could be directly connected. Often data points have attached attributes (Meta data), such attributes add a semantic meaning to the present value by describing, for example, the engineering unit of the value. Typically, data points are logically grouped to describe specific functions of the system, including both data points and the processing rules that belong to them. Such logical groups are called functional blocks.

Communication between devices on the same network (horizontal communication) is established through data points. Since, the horizontal communication is involved in the exchange of present values, alarm indicators or trend data, it is possible that the semantics interpretation could be assured at setup time.

In the contrary, vertical communication is more stochastic, and is represented by service related tasks such as accessing and modifying data from the application outside the networked devices. Good examples are; set point adjustment, trend logs retrieving. Such tasks are often described as management services. Other tasks which are guided by the same principles are, for example, modifying the application itself by changing binding information. Usually such tasks are called an engineering service. Vertical communications most often follow a client-server model, unlike horizontal communications that follow a producer–consumer model.

The gateway functions needed for internetwork communication are limited to a small set of services, such as read value, write value and change-of-value subscription. Gateways can directly translate information between two control networks, providing horizontal connections from data points of one system to data points in another system. To successfully integrate distributed applications spread over heterogeneous networks, we need to translate data points as well as application services from one network to another. Every network has an application model; equally important communication services and data structures and gateways are not able to seamlessly translate all specifics. Therefore, there is a need for a common application model which will be able to satisfy all relevant building automation networks. Such structure will move the mapping from gateway type data point mapping to full application model mapping where both data points as well as application services will be translated. The biggest obstacle to such structure is the non existence of well defined common building automation ontology. Therefore, there is a need for a framework that is developed to help in solving such issues as well as to enable seamless service interaction with the multi protocol building systems.

Such framework should include the tools for an easy integration, maintenance, supervision and development of new automation applications as well as objects (Prototypes of user-defined constructs, which govern how variable data is processed), and plug-in for horizontal and vertical applications.

That kind of system opens space to ICT professionals, who are not necessarily experts in automation, to build connections to the  Enterprise class of applications, as well as to build special corporate and service applications like the energy management dashboards, analytics applications, or real time simulation engines. A complete “syntactic-semantic notion of network infrastructure,” that makes the system expandable to different services bounded directly to data points of the underlying networks significantly simplifies commissioning of the system as well will reduce the number of people engaged in passive maintenance and will help in an establishment of Outsourcing Services in the building automation control infrastructure and at the same time will maintain high corporate standards.

If the system is designed with service infrastructure in mind, combining the technical systems in buildings with analytical services that provide expert’s knowledge will be a simple task without obstacles. Opening automation boundaries to ICT Business Intelligence tools is turning building automation data and services, as well as general understandings of patterns, into financially controllable systems.  To do so, there is one very important step to be done; we have to look on data points as we are looking at data sets in a database as well as services as we are looking at the database relations.  This is hard to achieve, since after that there is no more customer loyalty base.  There is no more fear!

Such a distributed software framework with a primary goal to successfully mediate between building automation control networks and their desired uses, and service providers is a must if we would like to really include building automation into a general corporate model. The control networks are, in essence, structured collections of information, and we need a two-way information conduit that connects control networks with server and client programs. The actual function and purpose of clients should not be predefined, enabling complete customization of Server and Clients through an API connecting them to the rest of the framework. The entire system should have a well-defined encapsulated core structure, and it has to be completely extendable to be sufficiently versatile for today’s continuously changing market demands. Solving the problem of polytypic networks with the “adapters” who monitor wanted network traffic and convert it to the common encapsulated object model which preserves specifics of native network both data points and services will allow us to really look at the building automation networks from Business Intelligence perspective as we are looking at databases. Furthermore, the model has to be open on the way that we create and edit object classes needed in a process. One very important feature is to be able to bind the data points and services between dissimilar networks. The variable-to-object and object-to-object mapping has to be done through a straightforward drag and drop.

Multiple adapters have to be able to run simultaneously allowing interconnection of many systems over IP. Therefore, we can assume every building as one node of the infrastructure. Furthermore, the built-in routing service should allow data to be transferred from one protocol to another, either on the same altitude system or between altitude systems, across the IP network. Clearly, the system should be constructed with the idea to manage an arbitrary number of control networks of multiple arbitrary types, as well as a system that could work as a vertical service from the cloud. As we achieve that we will be able to do seamless integration of Business Intelligence with the Building automation.

Without such structure analytics could be only done through proprietary models or by just copying data points into the database, and after we have such databases, analysing of the data could be done through models from separate applications. Such a system will work too, but since the level of real integration is very low the power of combined data and service will also be low. 

Furthermore, any advance in technology is not instantly usable, since we will hardly interconnect dissimilar system information into one model.  As of today, first we need to get common ground by gateway to the data points, and then we have to move them to general database for further processing. Another issue is that all data is not really automation type data. Therefore, we have to include this information into account too.

At the end various KPIs which are presenting the quality of the buildings corresponding to similar buildings will significantly help in lowering of expenses, and that is exactly what Business Intelligence will provide us with. The KPIs help in both the efficient day to day operation management of the facility, as well as future trend development.

To achieve combining Business Intelligence principles with a Building automation eco system, we need a fully open system at both data point and service level as it is done within the BrightCore framework model.  


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