December 2017

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Brad White

EMAIL INTERVIEWBrad White and Ken Sinclair

P.Eng, MASc
SES Consulting Inc.

Contributing Editor

"Open Source Finally Arrives"

It’s this need to marry the new with the old that is the driver of a lot of innovation. So I think we should be ready to embrace the messiness as we stumble our way to better buildings.
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In our December issue themed " R U IoT Ready? " Contributing Editor Brad White and the SES team feeds back their combined thoughts in this interview while providing insight on their company's transitional journey to an open IoT world.

SinclairBrad last month you stated "Open Source Finally Arrives" in this feature article for ES Magazine. Here is your quote;
In 2018 we will hear much more about serious open source efforts that can compete in the commercial BAS and data analytics market. This will be centered mainly around software tools to support the collection, visualization and analysis of building data. Tools such as Volttron, UT3, ECAM, and Grafana, just to name a few, are already making data much more accessible. These tools will start to become the basis for commercial products and services in much the same way that software like Linux and mySQL now provide the basis for many traditional IT systems.

SinclairPlease explain more and provide examples of how this is unfolding for SES and our industry?

Brad:  Open source software has long been a serious force in the realm of commercial IT systems. There is a very good chance you’re reading this interview on an open source web browser, hosted on a server running an open source operating system. The building automation world remains an outlier in that the vast majority of software is still proprietary.  I think that there are signs that this change is upon us, like the growing Project Haystack an open source initiative helping to make BAS data accessible in an Internet of Things world and the Sedona community and the work being done by Contemporary Controls in creating a truly open source controller. The rise of software focused building analytics solutions will be another key driver of this change in the years ahead.

The particular challenge that SES was looking to address was the need to have low cost access to BAS data to help our engineers with building optimization. There are commercial offerings out there, but most of them either offer way more features than we need (and this is reflected in the cost) or we couldn’t rely on them to be around over the long term. Having the Volttron open source software out there with the core functionality we needed has proven to be a more cost effective and durable solution to our problem. There are several other companies that we’re aware of that have embraced Volttron as a solution to their own similar problem. The open source nature of the software allows us to collaborate with others on developing Volttron as a platform while we continue to separately develop our own service offerings. This is a game changer for our industry and we’re only starting to see how embracing open source can lead to a tremendous boost in innovation, especially among those organizations with only modest resources at their disposal.

SinclairRecently, your team gave me a demo of the SES Volttron Box.  Very interesting on several levels, first please explain the device itself, and then the larger concept that SES has an open source box to help automated building analytics to amplifying the value of their engineers?

Brad:  At its core, the VOLTTRON box consists of a small network device placed on the building automation system network that securely transfers data to a cloud server hosting a database and web portal. There is obviously a lot more technical detail to it, for anyone interested I would direct them to In terms of how our we picture our engineers making use of it, a picture speaks a thousand words: 

OPAS Cloud Platform

The SES engineer would have a variety of ways of interacting and making use of the data, depending on the type of project they are working on. Options include exporting data directly to Excel, or open source visualization and analytics platforms like Universal Translator, ECAM+, and Grafana. We aren’t necessarily tied entirely to an open source environment, we can also connect our database to a commercial FDD software where we desire more advanced features.

SinclairIt seems you are transitioning from a pure engineering company to Agile scrum driven IT developers of never before provided services for our industry.
(The following article gives  us some insight.)

Cope with the IOT Revolution by Staying Agile  As the smart building industry rapidly evolves, management strategies pioneered by software developers can help us successfully adapt. - Brad White, P.Eng, MASc, Principal & Christopher Naismith, BASc, EIT, LEED GA, Energy Efficiency Engineer, SES Consulting Inc.+

SinclairCan you update us on your latest journey and vision?

SES:  I’m finding it harder and harder to actually put a label on what we are as time goes on. At it’s core, we remain focussed on providing consulting services that support our mission to help existing buildings perform better and reduce their environmental impact. However, it is certainly the case that we are branching off into more diverse services to help us achieve that mission. As we go, we’re finding that we need new tools to support these services, some of which already exist and we can find and adopt, and some of which we’re finding we have to build ourselves. The adoption of Agile and Scrum has really been all about giving us a framework to prioritize and then deliver on the tools and resources that we need to support the delivery of our services. The main challenge here has been balancing the resources we need to put into new development vs resources to deliver work to our clients. Ironically, success is actually a major barrier to our progress!

It also continues to redefine how we deliver projects to our clients.  The type of multidisciplinary projects that we need to make existing buildings work better don’t always lend themselves to the traditional project delivery approaches used in construction. This is another area where we are certainly finding a lot of value in adopting methodologies, like Agile, that originated the software world and applying them to projects in the real world of buildings.

SinclairLast month we had an interview IoT tech will win the race to smart buildings  IoT tech for smart buildings is evolving rapidly; much more quickly than traditional controls industry products. - Steve Raschke, CEO Candi

In a LinkedIn post, I responded to Steve, thanks for sharing your valuable thoughts. Not so sure it is a race but more of a fun run where traditional controls and new IoT folks will gather to discover each other strengths and build on them for the greater good.

I understand that your new open source devices depend heavily on the "BACnet Brick" as the source of much if not all of your data and that most of your work is with large existing buildings. Could you share your combined thoughts on this and our IoT verses Traditional controls future?

SES:   Candi is a great example of the kind of company that is really changing the face of the smart building industry. Rather than a competition, what I am seeing is that there is a new breed of companies that are approaching the problem of ensuring good building operation from a data analytics and software point of view, whereas the conventional approach is more grounded in the physical infrastructure of the building. This brings a new way of looking at old problems and offers significant expertise that our industry hasn’t had. There are also many customers out there who are very comfortable with big data in other aspects of their business (e.g. retail) who are eager to embrace this new approach to building operations. That said, the traditional players in the controls industry aren't going away anytime soon. On top of just the tremendous investment in legacy hardware that is out there, the people who have been in the industry for a long time have a huge amount of very practical experience in how buildings work, experience that can only be acquired with time. No doubt there will be some realignment as everyone figures out what it is that they do the best, but I believe the end result will be buildings that run a lot better.  

At SES, we’re trying to draw on the best of both worlds to inform how we approach making buildings perform better.

Sinclair You seem very focused on the goal of getting the data into an open database; could you comment on the value of that for SES and your client? Who owns the data in SES's world?

SES:  Open = Accessible

Ultimately, it’s the data being accessible that we really care about. Already, there are numerous applications for data analysis and visualization that are built to make use of open database standards. We expect the same to be true in the future, so we want to be as ready as we can be so that we can make use of these new applications and not have to start from scratch collecting new data. So the drive to be open is really about the desire to be able to extract the most value out of the data over time as we can.

In terms of ownership, with the potential for data to be stored in the cloud anywhere in the world, this isn’t as simple a question as it used to be. I think it always starts with a conversation with the building owner, they should always be in control of how their data is used and where it is stored. The nice part of a lot of what we’ve been working on is that the solutions are flexible enough to allow data to be stored and analysed on site or in the cloud.

SinclairAs leaving thoughts could you share at least one vision for our future?

SES:  In one word, messy. Few and far between are the buildings that have been built from the ground up with the latest and greatest technology as we now define it. Most buildings out there are already some awkward mix of old and new. Pneumatic actuators commanded from a DDC controlled EPT, the operator with three computers in their office with various vintages of control systems running, fault detection reports printed out and marked up with a highlighter. We typically envision the future as slick and seamless, but looking in the rearview mirror should tell us that it will be anything but.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]However, it’s this need to marry the new with the old that is the driver of a lot of innovation. So I think we should be ready to embrace the messiness as we stumble our way to better buildings.

Sinclair: This is an evolutionary interview that will cause lots of discussion from Chicago to Helsinki. Thanks to the SES team for sharing their thoughts in these interviews and articles.


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