#2 Sunday Spotlight - Connected Buildings must be open to third parties

Who will take control of the future? What will be the drivers and what role do buildings have to take in a Smart City context?

On Tuesday, voters in Massachusetts chose, by an overwhelming majority, to extend the state's real estate "right to repair" law to cover Smart Buildings platforms and telematics services. As a result, the state will require that from 2022, all new sensor-equipped buildings be accessible via a standardized open-data platform that allows owners and third-party stakeholders to access building data from mobile devices.

The State’s building "right to repair" law was the first in the nation when originally passed in 2013. The aim was to fight the growing problem of vendors restricting their proprietary diagnostics tools to anyone other than official franchised dealer networks. When the law came into effect in 2018, it required that every building sold in the state has a "non-proprietary building interface device" for accessing mechanical data.

But the building industry is rapidly going wireless when it comes to getting data out of buildings. Almost every new building sold in the United States in 2020 is fitted with several onboard cellular modems, and every OEM has invested in cloud infrastructure, promising benefits like buildings that know when to ask for preventative maintenance servicing. Those cloud platforms have been guarded by the vendors, some of whom smell dollars in all that data.

Question 1, the "Right to Repair Law" Building Data Access Requirement Initiative, asked voters if there should be a standardized open-data platform for buildings fitted with "systems that collect and wirelessly transmit mechanical data to a remote server." The answer was a firm yes, with three-quarters of voters approving the measure.

When the revised law comes into effect in 2022, building owners should be able to authorize third-party repair shops to access their buildings’ remote diagnostics systems through an open-data platform administered by a third party. However, that does not leave much time to create this standardized open-data platform, which will need to take security seriously given that it must allow for "the ability to send commands to in-building components if needed for purposes of maintenance, diagnostics, and repair."

The original article was about cars and their platforms. But doesn’t it resemble that of buildings as well? Will this happen? How many years will it take to have these rules enforced en masse?

“The call of the Wild” article touches upon this subject as well as taking control of the data flow, allowing others access and enabling a platform on top of buildings for the entire lifecycle. And of course, that it’s becoming increasingly easier as well as harder to get buildings into Smart Buildings. But the importance is there for real estate portfolios to take their role in a Smart City context.

And this discussion on Linkedin that I found thanks to Chad Ruch and Lewis Martin is interesting for the same reasons. It is a presentation regarding the need for Smart Building standards, software-defined networks, and design networks for both people and machines. Where the latter is at the core of everything I talk about these days.

Kathy Farrington does a great job of depicting the existing silo-landscape and different ways of attacking the challenge that exists worldwide. And she echoes my views on building the future on yesterday’s technology (perhaps it needs changing). The presentation has got the classic BACnet and MQTT stuff in there, and some other drama that is probably even more dramatic these days. I really like what she is saying about the need of looking at HVAC-R and OT as devices that should be a part of a larger context. And just that, devices. Not only looking at the building from a lifecycle perspective but having full control of the nitty-gritty things into the device level side of things for true lifecycle management with data at the fingertips.

Google couldn’t quite make it with Sidewalk Labs in Toronto, but that’s another story. However, Google has also recently come out with a new Building Ontology, Video here, that is said to make things easier to get devices to talk to each other. My mentor and industry guru Ken Sinclair posted an announcement here with a nice discussion thread and Brian Turner also wrote his thoughts here on automatedbuildings.com.

And it all looks pretty good and all but… is it? Most of the people that are in any industry know about standards wars, and now there are the ontology wars? Being part of the Digital Twin Consortium allows interesting access to discussions of Digital Twins, where they are, and what people think. And what strikes me is that they are not interoperable. In the slightest. There are Mobility Digital Twins, Water, Buildings, Infrastructure, Trees, Pharma, Oil and Gas, Industry 4.0 and the list goes on. But once companies start making sense of these together (if they are there yet) it’s exceedingly difficult.

And most Smart City Digital Twins are just fancy stuff with some GIS data and a database that is built for ingestion, but not sense-making. “Welcome to the party all data sources, we got room for everyone, but no idea on how to make sense of anything you do, but we’ll figure that out once you get here"!

Going back to the video which I really like from Google, Kathy Farrington discusses three important factors.

  • Security

  • Scalability

  • Insights

It is impossible to list everything that is needed. But what about interoperability? Or is that inferred as a requirement to be able to create insights?

Instead of building platforms that can deal with any technology, standard or ontology, most if not all of them are built to be industry-specific. And the way they use ontologies, as well as taxonomies, is to put requirements on data to be changed. ANd for data to be mapped to predefined structures. What are the effects of this in the aggregate? How long does this take? And how dynamic is it?

Recently I expressed it as if people would like to go into an arena to watch a football game but the bouncers only allow players at a certain height, weight, language, and appearance. Come back when you’ve changed all of this and then, and only then will you be allowed in to sit with the others.

Is there no other way to ensure interoperability at scale than mapping the data to an ontology that is industry-specific? What happens when trying to merge these data lakes with others now that the world is moving beyond 5G and the technology convergence is for real?

How do we create a landscape where both people and machines understand what is going on from a granular as well as a holistic level speeding up the time to value creation for all?

And so that we can reach the SDGs at record speed, knowing that there’s no business to be done on a dead planet? Will there be standards for easier access to data? Should buildings be open to third parties and what does open mean? What should these standards look like?

Please leave a comment on what you think!

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Let us know what you thought and if you got any questions, ideas, or general feedback, please comment! And reach out to Nicolas Waern directly if you have any immediate questions. If he can’t help you directly, he can find someone that can within 24 hours. Guaranteed.