Connectivity in the Smart Building Revolution

Connectivity. In my opinion this single word is the creator, enabler and key to driving innovation within the Smart Building / IoT space. However like most things, change doesn’t come easy and as I am flying through my 6th year in this industry I finally feel like we are getting there and beginning to realise that to extract the true value from building systems & the data they generate , we need to embrace connectivity, not kill it.

It seems the main reason for this uphill struggle towards embracing connectivity is due to fear. Fear of the unknown? Fear of not being in control perhaps? Most of those I speak to on the subject of cloud connectivity for example are either jumping for joy at the possibilities or on the other hand shutting down with a hard ‘NO’ straight off the bat.

What causes this fear? I think its simple and highlights even more so the importance of the close relationship between the IT industry and Building Controls that is needed today in order deliver successful Smart Building solutions.

Coming from an IT Infrastructure/Networking background, I feel this needs to be looked at from a different angle instead of decision making through security fears fuelled by limited understanding. This is prohibitive to innovation, most building owners only start to realise the value in data once they open their mind to moving it around.

Modern protocols and various IP/Application security tech exists to make getting data to/from sites extremely secure indeed. End to end TLS, good password practice, VPN’s along with Application aware Firewalls & Intrusion Prevention Systems allow for a very secure connection to/from both private and public clouds.

“We are usually scared of what we don’t understand.”

In fact, the majority of risk and subsequent malicious activity on private networks happens from the inside. Do you have control and awareness over who is plugging what into where? What anti-malware systems are enforced on engineers laptops? What file sharing ports/protocols are running inside your network?

“Change your viewpoint. Embrace connectivity, understand the risks.”

Obviously we should exercise caution when deploying connectivity solutions, this means understanding risks and knowing how to mitigate them. There is always argument for keeping critical control on site, usually at the local controller level, not even at a supervisor level. The reason for this is to protect against communication failures, your control logic is useless if the control signals cannot reach the controllers, so we can cut that risk right down by implementing local control. A typical ‘Supervisory’ system or ‘Head End’ may be used for data archiving and as the ‘SPOG’ Single Pane Of Glass interface into a system, however all critical control function still operates should this system become unavailable.

There are numerous ways to make an IP connection fault tolerant or highly available to a degree, both for on site campus networks and for WAN deployments. The good news is that in most managed networks nowadays these redundancy practices are commonplace and therefore network downtime is a rare occurrence.

However, when you are using the internet as your transport mechanism to an offsite system, be it in a public cloud such as AWS or an off-prem private data centre, there are numerous elements of the route that sit outside of your control. For this reason, you should be seeing network reliability as the key risk factor when deciding what data to ship off to the cloud, as opposed to shutting down the idea due to security fears alone.

I hope that through the close relationship building services now has with IT, we are all able to increase understanding of communication as a whole and move this industry forward. We can deliver some even more amazing Smart Building solutions that leverage new & exciting technology offered by large cloud providers running at the cutting edge of data science. AI, Analytics, Business Intelligence… Its all available to us now, if we open our minds to connectivity within the building space.

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