Smart buildings have been talked about for a long time with reference to architectural designs that can measure elements such as security, video cameras, heating, energy consumption and air-conditioning, and even, if necessary, take actions accordingly, based on preconfigured parameters. However, creating consoles or dashboards that make control simple for non-specialists has continued to be a challenge.
Now the veteran American conglomerate Honeywell is taking aim at just that problem with what it calls its Command and Control Suite. This is a consumer-like front-end that lets users see building information and act on it, all at the touch of a screen. At the heart of the suite is the Command Wall, showing all elements that are controlled, together with maps and workflow tools to connect related activities.
“Oftentimes it’s a specialist group that use that infrastructure on a daily basis because they need a certain amount of domain knowledge,” says Deborah Learoyd, global offering leader for platforms and security at Honeywell Building Solutions, when we speak by phone.
“Our intention was to create a user interface that was accessible to senior decision-makers, building occupants and third parties such as first responders.”
That means that, for example, emergency services could take over controls and perhaps view the information on everyone who is in a building and evacuate them, providing the system had been linked to HR data.
Part of the problem is that what we might call intelligent buildings today have been assembled piecemeal, by accretion over time and/or by subcontracted specialists in each field.
“The amount of interoperability and integration you have is based on what equipment you have in the first place, what standards you’re using and so on,” Learoyd says. “The traditional model is that they get a builder and every little pack is subbed out. The end result is five or six UIs and it’s sometimes quite challenging to make it all interoperate together. But what we need is a common ontology presenting something meaningful in a human way so people can understand what’s going on.”
In effect, what Honeywell is trying to do is join up the dots of the many different points of intelligence within buildings and fix a situation that today often requires a degree of delegation.
“Often I’d go into the control room with a supervisor and he’d tap on the shoulder of an operator to call up the video camera to show me something but why should the building super need to tap on a shoulder to do that?”
To a large extent, Honeywell is taking its cues from consumer technologies, here, just as many enterprise IT companies have done the same to make enterprise hardware and software more usable.
“People are more tech savvy and aware,” Learoyd says. “They expect commercial products these days to be accessible to them and as easy to operate as an iPad. In fact [the Command and Control Suite] looks like an iPad and it uses zooming and panning in the same way. We need to up our game because every business person is also a consumer and even though it’s a business tool it has to have a nice look and be a pleasure to use.”
As for showing return on investment, Learoyd does not claim to have impeccable ROI calculations, but it stands to sense that there will be energy efficiencies through more precise control. Great staff will like to work in great buildings and the owner of a great building will find it easier to find great tenants.
“A datacentre operator is trying to showcase their technology and demonstrate that it is up to date, secure and energy efficient, and our technology helps them to market to their customers.”
Learoyd says that the old divisions are blurring, and building design and control today requires a mixture of IT and architectural skills. Honeywell itself is becoming more software-centric in its product lines and increasingly selling on a cloud/managed services basis.
There’s also movement on who will call the shots on building design decision-making.
“It’s already happening to a certain extent,” Learoyd says. “Security and [facilities management] used to be their own departments. But now they’re so linked and it’s often the CIOs who are the ones making decisions.”
Stronger standards in smart buildings would help, Learoyd concedes, but she says these are emerging.
“BACnet has become the standard in HVAC and is relatively mature. That’s less the case on the security side but we’re seeking camera integration and there’s movement in access control.”
Ultimately, smart buildings will stand or fall on what they deliver to the organisations that will inhabit them – and the same applies to Honeywell, a company that has its roots in the 19th century.
“It’s part of our evolution to go from more of a products company to more of an outcomes company. That’s where Honeywell can excel.”
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