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|The Road to System of (Building) Systems
I am anticipating 2022 with great enthusiasm. I feel that a great deal of clarity has emerged on many fronts for the smart building industry, though not quite on all fronts yet. Let’s work to clarify things in 2022.
Represented from https://padi.io/#public=tQqWgK7MF7qk7RsaGR8j
Anto Budiardjo, CEO Padi, Inc.
In the midst of the stress and hardship of the continuing pandemic, I am anticipating 2022 with great enthusiasm. I feel that a great deal of clarity has emerged on many fronts for the smart building industry, though not quite on all fronts yet. Let’s work to clarify things in 2022.
But first, I’d like to tackle a few myths about buildings:
Myth #1 Building Automation Systems are complex: Yes, it is, but so is everything else involving information technology, get over it! When I hear someone repeat this myth, what I am hearing is an excuse of not wanting to find a way to simplify.
Myth #2 Every building is like a snowflake: Again yes they are, but so are people and other “things” being connected to the Internet. If we can make billions of humans and things work on the Internet, are we simply going to give up making unique buildings smarter with technology?
Myth #3 We absolutely need master system integrators: Integration is the discipline to create a tightly integrated system made up of predefined components to perform something specific. After years of working in integration, it’s clear to me that specifying a tightly integrated building for decades of operation is a futile goal because that would assume that nothing changes over those years! We have to build for flexibility.
So, how do we make buildings smarter?
The key here is to simplify, and for this, I find biomimicry an amazing tool to find solutions.
The most complex entity in the universe, where everything is a snowflake, and there is no integrator is the natural world. Specifically us, animals.
We, animals, have spent the last few hundred million years figuring out how to efficiently live with each other. Darwin explains that we survived because of our ability to adapt to change.
So rather than thinking of the systems in a building as static as the steel and concrete of a building, we have to look at them as flexible to change as we animals are in our environment.
And how does System-of-Systems (SoS) play here?
Let’s look at how animals gain efficiency and adapt in real-time. Let’s consider a flock of birds, specifically a flock of geese.
We’ve seen the images of flocks fly in a V shape. We also know that they do this to efficiently fly in each other’s turbulence to save energy in order to fly further. Birds are experts when it comes to efficiency!
A flock of birds is an SoS. A flock is a system to gain that efficiency, and each bird is also a system (brain, heart, wings, etc.). So SoS isn’t just a computer science concept, it was “invented” millions of years ago by birds and other animals.
How do birds create an SoS?
Birds do not use complex computer systems to fly as a flock, although they do fly in the cloud!
They have each learned how to be constituents of a flock by embedding into their DNA and understanding some very simple rules such as:
As a leader bird, if you need to fly somewhere, just start flying in that direction.
If you see a bird flying where you want to go, fly behind them to one side.
If the bird you are following is following another bird, follow it on the same side.
All geese know the above. From this, the emergent behavior of a flock is created by them acting together in this manner. A flock is also very flexible; if a bird wants to leave, it can, other birds will adjust their flight accordingly. A new bird can also join at any time, up to a certain size.
How do we replicate this in buildings?
The key to simplifying the complex SoS is to look for the simplest interaction between constituent systems. From birds, we see that interaction between the constituent birds is at the core of how they create an SoS. In fact, that’s all there is, there is no “flock” entity as such! The flock emerges from the behavior of birds.
To make smart buildings to be an SoS, first, we need to view the building as an SoS made up of constituent systems (HVAC, lighting, access, janitorial, etc.). We then need to define a mechanism by which ALL of those systems can interact with others when they have a need to. I really do mean “ALL” here, there can be no exception,
even with types of systems that we don’t even know today.
And no, I am not talking about network communication or even semantic protocols. I am talking about a mechanism to enable clear relationships between any and all types of entities to be discovered, matched, changed, rediscovered, and maintained over long periods of time.
Enter Connection Profiles
The mechanism that I believe will enable this is Connection Profiles.
Connection Profiles is a metadata orchestration mechanism designed to apply uniquely named profiles that define the information that needs to be shared between two entities so that they can establish a useful relationship. Think of Connection Profiles as a template for a contract between systems.
So just like the relationship in a flock is between two birds, the relationship of building systems is defined between any two building systems that need to interact, and the rules of that interaction are clearly defined in the Connection Profile(s) that are shared between any two compatible systems.
Orchestration in the Nature vs Digital Worlds
In the natural world, the orchestration of a flock of birds occurs in the collective minds of the birds. The relationships between birds are always between constituent systems in a flock, the birds. The collection of these thoughts together with each bird’s senses as inputs (eyes, ears, etc.) and their bodies as outputs (wings, vocal cords, etc.) are what actually makes a flock.
Comparing a bird with a building system in this way isn’t hard. Each building system has its own computing processor and memory, its “brain”. Each system also has its own inputs and outputs by way of data and information streams.
In the digital world, relationships between any two systems that need to communicate for some specific purpose can be modeled in this way using Connection Profiles.
The missing element is an orchestration mechanism. Here the digital world needs a little help from an orchestrator platform that has to understand the circumstances of the relationship between constituent systems. Think of this orchestrator as a virtual bubble that represents some function within a building or a room/space within a building. In computer-speak, we can think of this as a context.
For example, a new system X is introduced into an SoS representing comfort for Room 123 of building ABC; this is equivalent to a bird joining a flock. System X would declare its capabilities as a list of Connection Profiles to the SoS. The SoS would match those capabilities and establish a connection(s) with compatible systems in the same context (comfort for Room 123), enabling them to exchange information as they see fit, in accordance with the specifications defined in the Connection Profiles.
This model is flexible, dynamic, and scalable!
This model is scalable because it breaks everything down to its smallest following concepts that are simple to reproduce and use to allow systems to connect with others.
Constituent Systems are the systems in an SoS that perform specific functions and work with the Orchestrator in a defined Context to match Connection Profiles with other Constituents.
Connection Profiles are named specifications of the relationship between two types of systems in order to exchange information pertaining to a specific purpose.
SoS Context is the context defining the circumstances where connections between matching Constituent Systems can provide a new valuable emergent behavior out of the SoS.
SoS Orchestrator is a management system that understands and implements the relationship between Constituent Systems, Connection Profiles, and the SoS Context.
The following is a comparison between Birds and Building Systems:
The System of (Building) Systems
With the increasing number and complexity of systems in buildings needing to work together, this path presents a System-of-Systems approach for building systems to dynamically establish and maintain useful relationships with each other within specific contexts over the life of the building.
SoS changes the view of smarter buildings by regarding each system in a building as an interoperable constituent of a dynamic System of Systems. As constituents of an SoS, they can discover and work with other systems in accordance to industry-set rules as codified in Connection Profiles.
This model also enables a systematic and holistic approach to securing systems in the SoS. The way that multiple Connection Profiles define each relationship can be used to enforce specific relationship attributes, such as trustworthiness and security necessary in a dynamic and resilient system.
This model reduces the complexity to simple key concepts described above, each implementable by vendors and other stakeholders with minimal effort for a return of collective gain to be enjoyed by the building owners, operators, and occupants.
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