What is a Smart Building? We can all take a fair guess at what exactly the term means, and we’ll likely all end up with slightly different, albeit similar answers. However, if there’s one thing we can all agree on, its that the term Smart Building is a big one and has been driven straight into forefront of our minds as part of the IoT (Internet of Things) revolution.

There is no official, set in stone definition of a ‘Smart Building’, so I’m going to tell you mine.

A Smart Building leverages communication in order to operate efficiently and provide an enhanced user experience.

In my opinion, its these two things “User Experience” and “Efficient Operation” that really define the end goals of any Smart Building project no matter how big or small. What will differ however, is the road we travel in order to achieve those goals. Of course, this road can vary in length based on the size & type of building(s) in question, but the destination is the same and you’ll find there’s one constant that if adhered to, will make your life a whole lot easier throughout the whole process.

Start Open, Stay Compatible.

It should be obvious what I’m getting at with this statement. The choices we make about the products we use and the way in which they communicate has been important for several years, but given the current trend of everything being connected, it’s now more important than ever to ensure we embrace open standards & inter-operability wherever possible.

The 21st Century Smart Building consists of many different systems. Sure, we have been fighting the integration fight for a while now, but the Internet of Things revolution is here it’s changing the way everyone thinks about devices and the data they produce. We are now seeing a much greater demand placed upon the Systems Integrator than ever before. Your typical large Smart Building project can now require comms between 20+ systems, some of which are not anything even the most experienced Systems Integrator would have seen before.

Here at One Sightsolutions, we find ourselves working with so many different systems on a daily basis that we probably lose count sometimes. But thanks to the experience we have gained working through these challenges presented by the modern Smart Building, we understand that when you combine the right skillsets with the right tools, the only real limitations are not caused by technology… but rather those that you create yourself.

The answer is yes, But what’s the question?

Niagara 4 from Tridium is at the very core of what we do here at One Sightsolutions. Niagara 4 is an ecosystem of software that spans from the edge to the cloud and is available on a variety of hardware platforms as well as for installation on PC’s & Servers.

Most importantly, Niagara 4 is a platform built around the concept of open standards and communication. Its core function serves to aggregate and normalize data no matter what the protocol or connectivity media, this alone makes it the perfect place to start any integration project, but that’s not all that Niagara 4 brings to the table.

However… Where do you go? Or what do you do when asked to interface with a system that doesn’t support any of the standards based protocols we are familiar with such as BACnet, Modbus, SNMP etc… How can you account for the new wave of cloud based web services from the likes of Amazon, IBM and Azure that offer brand new analytical functions, artificial intelligence etc…. One things for sure, these services are in demand and therefore the modern day Systems Integrator should expect to be asked to ensure their system can exchange data with such systems in advance. Infact you may find more often than not, that the requirements of connectivity to these new breed of systems are left open ended and that limited information will be available to you as an integrator until agreements have been signed, fees paid and a business relationship established.

Expect the Unexpected.

You can’t truly expect the unexpected, but you can prepare for it by ensuring you have the right tools and access to the right skillsets. This brings us onto arguably the most groundbreaking feature of Tridium’s Niagara 4, the capacity for extending its capability through software development.

Niagara 4 provides a platform upon which there is scope for unlimited integration potential. By making available API’s, providing documentation and encouraging growth by offering developer training courses, Tridium have given life to a community that have the tools & the skills, to drive our industry forward, bring down barriers and make innovation happen.

The Building Controls/Automation/Energy Management industry is moving forward at an incredible pace, but as it moves forward, its also moving closer and closer to the IT &Telecommunications industry. We know this simply by looking at the evolution of building system protocols and the installation of building systems onto fully managed and converged ethernet networks. No more dedicated BMS networks, no more dedicated BMS workstations, it’s all being absorbed into the same technology fabric as everything else.  As we steam ahead into the IoT revolution where big data is the talk of the town, we are expected to be able to take part, to interface and exchange data, to be part of that bigger ‘internet of things’ and to do so as anyone else in the big data business would.

This brings me onto the most important 3 letter acronym in our industry right now. API (Application Programming Interface). You’ve likely seen it pop up in a recent Smart Building specification, or if you haven’t, I’m sure you soon will!

API by itself mean’s there are programmatic functions available to you, should you want to interact with a piece of software programmatically (i.e. writing code). Tridium’s Niagara 4 has various API’s available that allow the community to add new functionality, this is a great example. Being specific, here I am talking about Web API’s or RESTful API’s. The same core definition applies, except that a Web/REST API operates over a standard HTTP(S) connection and relies on a handful of key HTTP functions (PUT, POST, GET etc..) in order to provide data exchange.

This is the standard for data exchange for just about all modern web services, as well as the vast majority of IoT devices that have an IP connection themselves. Web/REST API’s provide a clear and standards based method for efficient data exchange between IP connected systems and are already in use for just about anything! This is why being able to interact with them is going to be a vital part of any new Smart Building system, and also making your own data available in the same fashion for other systems.

The scope of what can actually be achieved as part of a Smart Building project is so huge we couldn’t possibly talk about everything. However I guess what I’m trying to say here is that if you choose the right tools and have the right skillsets from the get go, then you will set yourself up for success.

Bottom line? Choose Tridium’s Niagara 4 as the platform on which to build the ultimate Smart Building! You won’t regret it.

If you want to talk about how Niagara 4 can help you deliver your next Smart Building project, then give us a call! We’ll be happy to help.

Tom Stephens
One Sightsolutions