January 2006

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Virtual Value Visions

My Virtual Value Visions for Building Automation in 2006

Ken Sinclair, AutomatedBuildings.com

As published

January Issue - Article 

My wife Jane, and I were very pleased to be honoured with last year’s Vision award at BuilConn 2005, in Dallas. This award chosen by more than 400 of our peers was given to us as the folks who best support the vision of networked building systems. As BuilConn Europe in Amsterdam has past and BuilConn 2006 in Palm Springs, CA in May 2006 rapidly approaches, we feel compelled to dig out our future vision glasses and peer into our IT-centric future to try and restore the faith of those who called us visionaries.

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All my visions for 2006 include a new ingredient I like to call virtual value.  I think we all know what the word value means, but adding the word virtual requires some clarification. There are a lot of definitions for the word virtual but the one I like is “existing only in software”. It is a simple definition and lets me drive home what I want to talk about virtual value and my vision of it.

What do BuilConn Visionaries know about virtual value?  Jane and I have been making a living for the last seven years selling virtual holes for advertising in the virtual media website we call AutomatedBuildings.com. Ten years ago, I would not have thought this possible, but now it seems to work and does demonstrate the concept of added virtual value. It has value, yet it only exists in software.

The process of assembling AutomatedBuildings.com along with the reading and editing of the large amount of monthly insightful content, as well as absorbing the information that evolves out of BuilConn and the myriad of industry events we attend, propels me to extend my thinking forward to provide you my vision of the importance of virtual value to our industry in the new year. The fact that I am assembling these visions in another hemisphere, half a world away, in the day before that time will occur in my North American home is a testament to the anywhere-ness value of virtual mediums. My visions for building automation in 2006 follow, with a brief description of each.

True convergence in our IT centric world will occur with or without us. Our success is dependent on our ability to step out of the comfort zone of our industry and enter into the convergence industry. The new convergence industry is built on virtual values that exist only in software but bring great value to our clients.  I love this quote from Henry Ford, the automotive pioneer: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." I believe there are those in the traditional building automation industry who are designing faster horses, rather than trying to get their minds around the fact we are moving into a new era when all the rules will change and everything will be done differently.

I love this quote from Henry Ford, the automotive pioneer: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." I believe there are those in the traditional building automation industry who are designing faster horses, rather than trying to get their minds around the fact we are moving into a new era.

The convergence industry will lead us to new solutions and new ways, whether we are part of it or not. Trust me, we all do want to be part of this exciting new era. In my December 2005 ES Building Automation Column “Guess Who's Coming To Dinner” and my January 2006 column “The New Kids on the Block are Giants” talks about Cisco and Hewlett-Packard (HP) entering our arena. This is a very positive step for our industry but it is the harbinger of a new era.  It is no longer about horsepower, it is all about change and successful convergence. Do not fear change, embrace it. These giants will need all the partners they can get to help define our virtual value future.

Presentation and interaction of our industry information will occur only in accepted IT formats, such as web-based browsers, cell phones, VOIP, video broadcasting, digital signage, etc. The amount of man hours of virtual value added when we become part of the IT-centric world has made it impossible and undesirable to keep up the development of custom and unique interfaces for building automation. New IT power and new mediums provide unheard of reach and power to the building automation industry. We must now conform to evolving IT standards.

Network knitting now greatly amplifies the virtual value model.  Open protocol supplied equipment is making connection to the virtual world easier, but hurtles still remain to provide a truly integrated project.  A good example of this is that over the years, building automation has become pointless. Years ago, DDC points were added to a system to improve energy performance and make the facility easier to operate.  The tide has since turned, and now almost all devices are equipped with DDC points as an integral part of the device.  If the manufacturers and designers of the HVAC and other building-related devices have done a good job of “future proofing,” they will have adhered to one or all of the open communication protocols.

These integral points are assessable as part of an open network of points which results in a radical drop to the building infrastructure cost.  A large part of today’s large building automation task is connecting the networks of the points supplied with each device or sub-system into a useful integration that becomes a valued part of our client’s enterprise.

The Web will continue to lead the way with strong examples and models to follow for adding virtual value to everything in our industry. Most of the methods of presenting information now exist on the web; on-demand video, sound, radio, news feeds, narrowcasting, PowerPoint and Flash presentations, etc.  All point clearly to the way the intelligent building communities can be created with displays of static and dynamic information on a network of interactive I/O such as digital signage.

To add the desired virtual value to our clients projects we simple have to understand the information flow requirements and determine how best to achieve them. We have all the tools and examples we need, and in the future, new methods are being developed, not by or for our industry, but to improve the overall process of IT communication.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] The advertisers and the content provided in ES and AutomatedBuildings.com supply vivid examples of the race to build virtual value into products and services. Providing links back to legacy systems and leaping forward to powerful, but cost-effective, Web services are great examples of added virtual value.

The focus for 2006 will be on providing the greatest virtual value. We now have the capability to add virtual value to almost anything and Web-based IT-centric solutions allow us to leap frog costs effectively.

The puzzle piece players will provide powerful software and Web services that will arm our virtual value tool kits. One of the most visible pieces will be flat screen networked interactive digital signage with multi-function displays customized to our intended function. Narrowcasting will allow targeted, on-demand broadcasts to be delivered anywhere in our virtual value environment. This service will carry all of the functions and interfaces of today's systems combining Web and video, but will also include powerful VOIP phone integration and whatever else the IT giants bring to the party.

Large International Companies buy companies that can add virtual value

News releases on the Automated Building Web site show movement by the major companies buying IT solutions to add virtual value. My vision for 2006 is that this trend will continue.  I have captured a few past examples;

Conclusion: IT innovation for companies that provide virtual value leads to acquisition.

Virtual Value Architects

To provide the necessary multiple-industry cross over necessary to bring true virtual value to the enterprise, new players will be required. This virtual architect is not one who works with brick and mortar, but a new entity who uses IT systems and the correct underlying protocols to bring virtual value to the enterprise and the affected community. As we now depend on the traditional architects to turn art into function while preserving community, the new architect will find valuable functions in multi-media and make this more valuable to the online community and his client’s enterprise.

This is actually starting to happen; from the December issue of AutomatedBuildings.com, an article titled ”Flexible Master Program for Intelligent Buildings” I have extracted the following; http://www.automatedbuildings.com/news/dec05/articles/reading/reading.htm

Intelligent buildings are about building management, space management and business management. One recent definition is:

An intelligent building is a dynamic and responsive architecture that provides every occupant with productive, cost effective and environmentally approved conditions through a continuous interaction amongst its four basic elements: places (fabric, structure, facilities; processes (automation, control systems;. people (services, users) and management (maintenance, performance in use) and the inter-relation between them.

There are other definitions but they all emphasise integration, responsiveness, flexibility, process and management in business, places and people. Reading University offers master’s level programme in Intelligent Buildings emphasises these issues.

The architect and the owner, with the chief information officer, will control what information is presented, but the people will feedback what information they actually require with the help of their virtual value mentors.

Personal Virtual Value Mentors

[an error occurred while processing this directive] These mentors will be necessary because we are entering into a time warp where we do not know what we want from virtual value because we do not know what it can provide. There is a strong place for virtual value mentors to show us the available virtual systems and information that is available to us so we can understand how to best use these new ways to provide our own optimized and personalized best virtual value.

A "digital dashboard" simply means aggregating a wide variety of information from a variety of applications and systems to give executives the collective "overview" needed to make educated business decisions. These virtual value presentations are a great example of what I am talking about.

I have extracted the following virtual values from Paul Ehrlich's (2004’s BuilConn Vision winner) article, Part 2: Intelligent Building Construction and Operation."  This article appeared in ES' November 2005 issue in a special supplement entitled What Is An Intelligent Building? and on AutomatedBuildings.com November issue as part of the same supplement What Is An Intelligent Building? Part 2

System Dashboards: Like the dash of your car, a system dashboard provides a summary of critical building alarms, energy information and key maintenance items at a glance. The dashboard is responsible to summarize all of the critical building information and present it in the proper format for different members of the facility management team. For example, the operating engineer requires detailed information about specific mechanical systems, while the property manager needs a summary of energy and operating expenses over the last 4 weeks. The difference between a system dashboard and a typical user interface for an integrated building automation system is in focus. Dashboards are more focused on sorting and filtering data to provide the information needed to perform specific roles. Building automation systems tend to be much more generalized and designed for the operating engineer

Virtual Concierge: It is even possible to centralize “high touch” functions such as visitor management. Services are available that utilize video and voice over Internet communications to allow for real time interaction with visitors, allowing them to be greeted, present identification and receive building badges all from a centralized, often remote, location!

Tenant Portals are another method of providing virtual value: One critical element is providing a method for the building occupants (tenants, employees, associates, students, patients, etc.) to interact with the building and building management. In the past, this has been done with phone calls, face to face meetings, and faxes. Today, it is most effectively done with an internal website called a portal. Tenant portals provide information about the facility, contact information, directories, energy efficiency, emergency preparedness and a central place to enter issues. Information from the portal can then be used to drive maintenance and operation requests. Since the portal is a two way communications channel, it can also be used to collect critical feedback on occupant satisfaction and comfort levels.

Community Virtual Value

Community virtual value simply grows out of the collection of a community of well-executed virtual values. The online community learns from each well-executed lesson and also will learn quickly what does not work and what is not accepted in the community. The presentation of public information such as weather and news is being fashioned into virtual value Web services that can be added easily to personal dashboards or home gateways.

Some hardware changes are aimed at making virtual value easier to achieve power over Ethernet (PoE). The prospect of PoE will change the balance of this equation dramatically, since the removal of the need to run power to building automation devices will bring significant benefits overcoming most, if not all of the negatives of Ethernet. IPv6 will also further drive IP-based architectures for smart devices in buildings.

The large number of existing and readily available non-IP devices, as well as the massive installed non-IP legacy systems base, will dictate a need for gateways and other protocol translation devices. The only logical architecture of such interfaces is to ensure that data and connectivity on the Ethernet and IP side is structured using XML and Web services. Anyway you look at it, Web services will play a crucial role in both the implementation of native IP solutions and the adoption of IP infrastructure as the integration backbone for building automation systems.

Wireless will become battery less for 2006 using new energy-harvesting techniques. Stand alone sensors connected to virtual networks will wake up on demand and send us information only when required. As the number of wireless devices available for building applications such as HVAC, lighting, and security control grows, so does the challenge of how to power them efficiently and independently.

New energy-harvesting techniques, which scavenge minuscule amounts of ambient energy present in the environment, are quickly being developed to power a variety of wireless networked devices including sensors, switches, and the radio electronics necessary to transmit their signals.

Conclusion: Virtual value and our command of it will determine our success for 2006.  Happy New Year.


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