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The Internet of Things and Smart Buildings

The Internet of Things (or everything) is somewhat of a wild card. It seems to be a concept with little definition. The Internet of Things will basically connect everything to everything else using the internet, which will lead to an unprecedented level of automation for a variety of fields. The fact that IoT a concept without boundaries may be a good thing and spawn new ideas. However, standards development may be the Achilles heel of the IoT. It may take some time and may eventually result in multiple standards, including proprietary ones from groups of commercial technology companies. This could delay the IoT market everyone is expecting.

This level of connectivity could provide integration to enhance functionality that none of the systems or devices could provide individually. Or it could simply acquire data from devices and analyze or mine the data in order to develop and gather information. This is essentially what many astute facility management groups are already doing; integrating building systems to provide greater functionality and deploying analytic software applications to improve the performance of building systems. It's difficult to see if IoT can add much for building owners who already are integrating and analyzing data.

If you examine the commercial companies involved in the various associations or consortiums attempting to create the IoT standard, all are technology companies; chip manufacturers, and hardware, telecom, and software vendors. It would seem that home automation, wearable technology and IT will be significant sectors of the IoT given the involvement of IT companies.

What effect or influence will the IoT really have on building management? If the initial products are related to wearable technology and home automation there will not be much interest by facility managers unless a building is mixed use, in which some apartments or condominiums require home automation to be deployed. Facility management can and will deploy additional sensors if needed without thinking much about IoT. With the building automation industry's long history of a handful of well-known global communication protocols and the excellent gateways and middleware in the market, facility managers have the tools to take their buildings to a higher and more valuable level of building automation, with or without the IoT.

Numerous research companies and organizations are predicting significant growth in the smart building market. One company, Markets and Markets, expects the global marketplace to grow at a stunning compounded annual rate of 35% over the next five years. While it's difficult to compare market research because there are various definitions of what submarkets (smart homes, smart grid, etc.) make up the larger smart building market, most research in the smart building area indicates substantial growth worldwide. Given that the general economic outlook for the global economy is relatively flat, or for modest growth at best, it's impressive that smart buildings are such a rapidly growing segment, but, this is by no means a surprise.

There are several factors creating demand for smart buildings. One of the most potent is the results from building owners that have already deployed smart building technology. These building owners have found reductions in energy consumption, enhancements to operations, and a very attractive return on investment. Such examples and stories validate the approach, verify the likely results, and reduce the risk for other building owners to plan to deploy the technologies. Another element driving the market for smart buildings is our global society's habituation to real-time information and communications technology; people not only accept cutting-edge technology as an integral part of our buildings but expect that their buildings will be smart.

An additional factor to consider is that while the marketplace is rapidly evolving, there are existing elements that comprise a smart building. These include system integration, advanced building management tools, extensive automation and sensors, energy management, enterprise data management, data analytics, software applications and the leveraging and incorporation of IT. It is this emerging clarity that can guide designers, contractors and manufacturers, as we complete the definition of a smart building by addressing HVAC, communication and data infrastructure, access control systems, advanced building management systems and sustainability.

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