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December 17, 2011 / Kirsty Pitkin

Intelligent Buildings and Smart Estates

  1. Overview

  2. This workshop brought together estates managers and members of the developer community for this first time to explore the opportunities to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of university and college estates, and to identify some of the barriers that currently exist.  

    The event was designed to help build links between Estates and ICT practitioners, with the aim of stimulating subsequent technical actions on areas such as interfaces and standards.  This included a lively workshop session to discuss the issues and a series of presentations from the differing perspectives of the estates manager, the software developer, and commercial providers in this space.
  3. Opportunities and Issues: Director of Estates’ Perspective

    Derry Caleb, Director of Estates, University of Surrey and AUDE President
  4. Caleb began by questioning where the interface between the building and IT begins.  He highlighted that, as a sector, we spend £490m on energy, which is only going to go up.  This means estates managers need to understand those costs and to be transparent about them in order to demonstrate how they are delivering value for money.   The technology infrastructure now available allows us to do this with much more granularity.
  5. Caleb: We used to have 3 meters (one water, one electricity, one gas), now we have over 500! #greeningICT
  6. However, Caleb highlighted the complexity of the systems that need to integrate, many of which are traditionally held within different domains within the institution.  He questioned who should hold the entity relationship diagram showing how our data systems and activity spaces are linked together and demonstrated how many links and data sources a university space database could potentially have, if they were to be mapped out. 
  7. Caleb noted that many universities have more than one space database, but the benefits of having just one could be huge, whether it sits with the Estates Manager, the IT department or elsewhere entirely.  Understanding the relationships between systems and data is going to become increasingly important, particularly as the number of systems increases.

    He went on to discuss the difficulties in finding the right expertise to facilitate the Estates/IT interface, which he identified as being a major barrier to greater integration between systems:
  8. Caleb: Estates tend not to have the programmers you need to move a system from working reasonably well to working really well #greeningICT
  9. He concluded by discussing the importance of collecting data to help analyse and plan for the full lifecycle of our buildings, and the value that historical data can have for resolving current issues and projecting future spending more accurately.
  10. Caleb: We need good systems and good connectivity between systems to collect lifecycle data for financial planning #greeningICT
  11. In this short video interview Derry Caleb explains what he feels to be the key issues and aims moving forward from this workshop…
  12. Derry Caleb at Intelligent Buildings and Smart Estates
  13. Opportunities and Issues: Estates’ Perspective

    Grant Charman, Deputy Director of Estates, University of Leicester

  14. Charman discussed the three themes that
    commonly cause problems: project controls, people controls and
    building controls, drawing on his own experiences to illustrate the
    issues which can arise.

    He told the story of their efforts to
    source a project control system, which included the development of an in-house system based on SAP which didn’t fulfil their requirements, and ended with them purchasing a commercial solution: Imprest. This is working well and the installation went smoothly, but he did highlight some issues. The service should have one-way integration with SAP, but their local configuration of SAP does not export all the information they require, so still wrestling with this aspect of the integration. However there have been some unexpected benefits, including a data store, which is included with Imprest.

  15. Charman: We needed a project management system, but we didn’t know how to define the brief for what we needed #greeningICT
  16. To demonstrate the issue of people controls, Charman focussed on help desks. He noted that an in house solution built on SAP was initially a vast improvement, but still remains a flawed system, so they are currently considering whether to break the link with the finance SAP system as they look for the next solution. Whatever that solution is, Charman emphasised that integration with IT services is crucial.

  17. Charman: The key message is integration. If we could get all the systems to communicate, we’d be in a much better position #greeningICT
  18. Finally, Charman discussed building controls, noted that his department is lucky enough to include a former Schneider employee, who helps them to get good information from their BMS and understand where the holes are. He observed that they know a lot of their buildings do not perform as well as they could, but this is often for reasons outside of their control. However, he discussed some of their future plans for their BMS, including linking fire alarms and intruder alarms to security, and their plans for a large low-to-zero carbon building.

    He concluded by reiterating the need for Estates and IT to link together.

  19. Charman: We are very slow to react when new technologies come along, we need to use mobile devices and social media more #greeningICT
  20. Opportunities and Issues: Estates IT Expert Perspective

    Glyn Cash, Engineering Systems Engineer, Leeds Metropolitan University 

  21. Cash began by describing the Heat and
    Light by Timetable project at Leeds Metropolitan, which is funded by
    JISC and looks to drive the occupation profile of the building more
    intelligently. He provided a whirlwind overview of the history
    behind the controls we now have available from on/off switches to
    more intelligent systems with feedback loops and the corresponding
    move from proprietary to open standards.

  22. Cash: There’s a history of BMS being proprietary systems which were stand alone and didn’t talk to each other #greeningICT
  23. He demonstrated systems architecture,
    which has three levels: field level, automation level and management
    levels. He also described the different network topologies
    available, including bus, ring and mesh networks, which are the key
    networks used in BMS. In legacy systems, there were different
    networks with different topologies, which causes integration issues.
    Cash also discussed the historical trend towards proprietary
    protocols, which are now being replaced by open protocols, some of
    which are not strictly open – often subject to licensing issues or
    bespoke features.

  24. Cash: There’s no one true protocol for building controls, suitable for all buildings, so there will be a role for integration #greeningICT
  25. Cash explained that this has left us
    with legacy systems which are typically proprietary controlled and
    require gateways and interfaces to talk with other systems, they are
    application specific – not true transparent, open web-based systems
    – and require dedicated networks. These are now working alongside
    more modern, intelligent systems, which are embedded, use open
    protocols, IP based, and are “Smart Devices”. He observed
    problems with getting integration working between these systems,
    including firewalls, routers, and SMTP relays. These are
    traditionally IT issues, but estates managers now need to understand
    these systems and ITs perspective.   

  26. Cash: Estates need to be at one with IT before installing systems if they are going to work #greeningICT
  27. He also stressed the importance of training and documentation
    so people know how to use the systems properly….
  28. Cash: It is important to document and manage exactly what’s on the networks so everyone knows who’ll be affected by any changes #greeningICT
  29. Cash concluded by taking us through the
    following diagram, which demonstrates all of the systems which
    integrate and can “talk” on IP protocols. He emphasised the
    importance of the cloud in the future, and the importance of database
    support for cross platform integration.

  30. Cash: The 4th Utility is the buildings IP network #greeningICT
  31. Glyn discusses his perspective further in this short video interview
  32. Glynn Cash at Intelligent Buildings and Smart Estates
  33. Solutions: Commercial Perspective

    Stephen Harris, UK & Ireland Sales Director, Schneider Electric

  34. Harris described the evolution of
    building systems, which he observed are still very much within their
    own silos with different front ends, with their own discrete
    controls. However, once you start to look at systems by zone you can
    reduce costs and get greater granularity with devices making
    decisions between each other in the field.

    He moved on to discuss the building
    lifecycle, which has a big impact on integration. He divided this
    into two parts – cap ex for design and installation (up to 25%),
    and the operating costs (remaining 75%). If you put effort in the
    design stage you can drive down the operational cost, particularly
    the cost of “man marking” where you have individual officers for
    different systems, thus increasing human resource costs.

  35. Harris: If you don’t have a flexible architecture you’re going to struggle to drive down energy costs if building use changes #greeningICT
  36. Harris explained that Schneider are
    looking more and more at the power of cause and effect. They see
    this more in the security area, where this is very important. You
    need flexibility to respond appropriately to different scenarios,
    rather than hard wired responses. If the building changes use, this
    allows also you to make appropriate changes easily.

    He moved on to discuss open protocols
    and their strengths in different levels. Not one of them covers
    everything. Open protocols are often perceived as being insecure in
    the security space, so bespoke protocols are more common.

  37. Harris: Open protocol don’t necessarily deliver openness and value for money #greeningICT
  38. He concluded by emphasising that it is
    extremely important to specify exactly what you mean by integration
    to avoid inflated costs, as providers are not really sure what
    integration means, so it can be costly. He also advised determining early on how much it is going
    to cost to achieve your vision, otherwise the procurement process
    will breakdown.

  39. Harris: Tips for creating an intelligent building: have a clear vision; engage experienced expertise early; stay engaged #greeningICT
  40. Solutions: Software Developer’s Perspective

    Daniel Curtis, Researcher, University of Oxford

  41. Curtis described his work at the
    University of Oxford on the “Open to change” project, which has
    included providing electricity meter readings as open data that is
    accessible to everyone. He also outlined their work with with
    various tools and images, which they have trialled in workshops to
    assess how these may help drive users to change their behaviour.

  42. Curtis: We need talking points to get people engaged with discussions about energy use – guilt is not a long term driver #greeningICT
  43. Examples included:

    People and Planet Green League 2010, which is useful
    at an organisational level, rather than for motivating individuals

    – Sculptures of energy use and street
    art as talking points to get people engaged
    with discussions about energy use

    – Crying polar bear imagery, which was found not to be a long
    term driver for behaviour change

    – A dashboard which allows
    users to take a DIY approach

  44. Solutions: Software Developer’s Perspective

    Mahendra Mahey, Project Manager, JISC-funded Developer Community Supporting Innovation (DevCSI) project, UKOLN

  45. Mahey discussed the origins of the
    DevCSI (Developer Community Supporting Innovation) project, which seeks to build a community of software developers within HE that provide a rich source of technical innovation for the sector.

  46. Mahey: The @devcsi project runs lots of events to provide training, learn from each other and form networks between developers #greeningICT
  47. He described the value of local developers and how they can help take ideas forward, particularly focussing on integration between different institutional systems. He also observed that many commercial vendors have seen opportunities for their products to be taken further by local developers and have actually sponsored very generous prizes for innovation at DevCSI events, rather than seeing local developers as a threat.  Developers who know their local context very well can be extremely valuable to both HE and commercial suppliers.
  48. Mahey: Deep integration happens when you have local developers who know in detail how the systems work #greeningICT
  49. Mahey observed that there are a lot of arguments about
    outsourcing development, and sometimes it makes sense to outsource, but there is
    not much evidence about the in house development. Research by the DevCSI project found that there
    is 29% more user contact time when a solution is developed in house, which makes users feel that they own the finish product and improves user satisfaction.  He cited a number of case studies compiled by the project which provide evidence for this.

    Mahey moved on to explaining hack
    events, which are doing events where people together to share ideas
    and build solutions. He illustrated this by telling the story of a
    hack event: from coming up with ideas on post it notes, grouping them
    together, categorising them, considering and choosing from those
    ideas, getting into groups and working through the day/night to
    present a working (or workable) solution. Some of the ideas will
    then be developed further after the event. He emphasised that this
    stimulates rapid development.

  50. Mahey: The BBC are spending £1m on hack events to help drive innovation #greeningICT #devcsi
  51. Mahey concluded by discussing the options for moving forward from this event,
    including a hack event for estates people and developers, including challenges from commercial providers to encourage developers to build solutions on their
    services.  To make all this happen, the developers need access to data.
  52. Mahey: If developers have access to data, then they can start doing things #greeningICT
  53. In this interview, Mahendra explains how he got involved with this workshop and the role he feels developers can take in future discussions…
  54. Mahendra Mahey at Intelligent Buildings and Smart Estates
  55. Discussions

    Following this series of talks, participants split into workshop groups to discuss the practical issues in more detail.  Here are some of the comments that arose from these discussions…
  56. Question: Why is a BMS seen as monolithic, rather than distinct sensors, processes and outputs? #greeningict
  57. “Getting the data out of the systems is the first concern, but also understanding how skills can be transferred and where programmers have work on an area already done by don’t realise that estates need it.  Let’s not reinvent the wheel!”
  58. Need to change the “does system x integrate with system y” mindset to “does system x provide good native data interfaces”. #greeningict
  59. “Technology is great, but we need more people on the ground collecting and analysing data and reporting back – so we can make the right decisions based on those data!”
  60. A lot of talk about open standards within intelligent buildings, but how do I talk to systems from my own apps? #greeningict
  61. “We need a central wiki list of how data is held, what form it is in, where it is and what it does.  The data is there somewhere – finding it is the clever bit.”
  62. “People are the problem, not technology”
  63. More Information

    More information about this event can be found at the event webpage.

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