Smart Building Buzzwords: How to Determine Which Are Relevant for Your Systems

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IoT, Single Pane of Glass, Overlay, Open Source, & Data Analytics: What Do They Mean & Do You Need Them for Your Systems?

If you’re like most building owners or facilities managers we talk to, you’ve heard all the smart building buzzwords before. But what do all these buzzwords — like Internet of Things (IoT), single pane of glass, open source, or data analytics — really mean for you and your building? How can you determine what’s important to you, your facility, and your management needs?

In this blog, we’ll discuss common smart building buzzwords to provide insight into what’s essential and what’s nonsense. If you’re considering a building automation system (BAS) upgrade project or are concerned that the latest silver-tongued salesperson just fed you a line, this article is for you.


A Few Typical Smart Building Buzzwords Explained

  • Internet of Things (IoT) is a high-level description of automated systems interacting with each other to share information. A concept for the building industry is integrating your lighting controls with HVAC controls and shade controls to optimize indoor environmental control. Typical challenges here are technology communication protocol discrepancies across various systems—these present challenges for seamless integration.
  • Single pane of glass is a BAS software overlay that allows users to access multiple systems through one user interface. In the building industry, this would be a software overlay that integrates disparate vendors into one system.
  • Open source is a buzzword that applies to many industries. For the building automation industry, open source involves a basic communication protocol called BACnet. This is an open means of communication. Over time, vendors have put individual fingerprints on their systems, meaning system integrations require a deep technical understanding for seamless vendor communication. Many building owners and facility managers are asking if they need an open source system to keep their options open in the future.


Focus on Your Unique Requirements, Not Smart Building Buzzwords

All the new smart building buzzwords and features sound great. While some tools push the boundaries of the building automation industry, it’s important to remember that all buildings, systems, and use cases are unique. Something suitable for another facility might not be the right fit for yours.

Start with the requirements first. Forming a small committee of team members is essential to assess and document your organizational goals and system requirements upfront. Vendor-agnostic consultants like Enica Engineering are great resources to help you facilitate the conversation internally and evaluate your options in the rapidly changing industry. It can be daunting, but we’re here to help.


Involve All Stakeholders to Identify the Root Problem You Need to Solve

Once you’ve established a small committee of stakeholders within your organization, you’ll want to elicit input from the various parties: operations, energy, IT, EH&S, space planning, leasing, and capital projects. These stakeholders all rely on the BAS for performance within their respective departments. When gathering input from them, anchor the conversation around “problem statements.”

There’s a natural inclination to default to the operations and facilities management teams to have “more say” in developing a building automation initiative since their teams rely heavily on the BAS. However, other stakeholders might have potential financial interests that could provide additional funding mechanisms to support the effort as a whole.

For example, the energy team might have annual energy cost savings goals that could open the door to rebate programs or other incentive funding avenues. These could help support the automation system initiative. Leasing or space planning is another department that has valuable insight into how kiosks, dashboards, or occupancy sensor integrations could help the overall bottom line of your organization. Their input could unlock other funding avenues that otherwise might have been missed.

Start by asking, “What problem are we trying to solve by upgrading our building automation system?” The problems will vary for each stakeholder. Ultimately, you need to get to one underlying root problem that might have various related sub-problems. The problem statements must be documented and shared in written format with the group for approval. The team must agree on the problem being solved before you can move on to how you will solve it.


Typical Problems We See Building Owners Dealing With:

  • Incomplete or inaccurate metering dashboards cause confusion for the energy management program.
  • Disparate automation systems from different vendors, causing operational confusion for alarm response and troubleshooting and compromising uptime.
  • Inability to optimize systems due to lack of proper data.
  • Non-standardized system operation confuses operators, increasing learning curves, slowing training programs, and hindering reliable scalability.


smart buildings buzzwords

Determine the Impact of Each Sub-Problem

Identifying the impact of the problem is where most organizations struggle to take initiative and turn them from problem statements into actionable projects. For a problem statement to be complete, there must be a quantifiable impact associated with the problem.

A practical activity is to make a two-column table. Column 1 is the list of the problems the various stakeholders within your organization have identified. Column 2 is the impact each of the problems has on the organization as a whole. Each problem should have an associated impact statement. The impact should be financial in nature and quantifiable.

Do not move on further in the development process if you haven’t clearly documented the quantifiable impact to the organization.


Problem Identified, Impact Qualified — Now What?

The next step is to understand your own real-world users and use cases for solving the problems you’ve collectively identified and documented. Discussions about the features, benefits, and capabilities of the smart building system should not be entertained at this stage in the process.

Often, we see organizations wasting time and resources chasing the benefits of attractive new buzzwords and smart building features without a practical means to deliver results or without a tangible problem worth solving. It’s important at this stage to take a realistic look at your organization and negotiate what is reasonable for you to achieve. You need to be informed and weigh the pros and cons.


Explore Your Smart Building Options

If you follow the process outlined above, you should be able to identify a clear problem (or problems) with quantifiable impacts on your organization. You’re now ready to start exploring innovative solutions. Only now can we begin to unpack what some of the industry buzzwords actually mean to you and your organization.

The key takeaway here is that buzzwords are essentially meaningless until you have a solid grasp on how we can apply them to your unique use case.

Enica can help you navigate the often confusing or murky world of industry buzzwords to help you make the most informed and highest-value decisions specific to your organization. From there, you can work on creating a roadmap, evaluating costs, and iterating to land on the right solutions for your facility.

Reach out to our experts today with your questions >>