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Data and Integration

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Data Ownership, Management & Access | Data Storage and Governance | IT/OT Integration | Data Normalization and Existing Building Stock | Digital Twin | Data Privacy and Cyber Security


Data Ownership, Management & Access

In the building space, data is collected at every conceivable step of the design, construction, operating, renovation and eventual decommissioning phases. Data is generated early during the design and construction phase be it architectural drawings and/or more sophisticated Building Information Modeling (BIM) systems. This data is then used to drive the design of the building subsystems, lighting, HVAC, access, electrical power distribution and others. The data created during this phase might be in the form of physics-based models, 3-D CAD models, or subsystem specific languages, tools and protocols. Once the building is turned over to the owners, tenants and operators a completely new set of data is derived. Post occupancy evaluations, utility bills, energy meter data, maintenance data and operational cost data are examples of the enormous amount of data generated by modern buildings. An in-depth description of the various sources and phasing of data generation is available on the Designing Buildings Wiki. 

In order for this plethora of data to be usable several questions about the data must be answered, not least of which is, “who owns the data?”  Although it may seem like a rather benign question, it is actually fairly complex. The ownership of the data may actually change as the construction process passes from one phase to another.  Who owns the BIM models?  Who owns the physics-based models?  If the maintenance is outsourced, who owns the maintenance data? In the world of big data, these questions need to be thought about early in the process and be given serious legal consideration. In more and more instances, legislation exists that defines who and how the data must be managed and who may access it. They dynamics of building ownership, buying and selling, leasing etc. only add to the complexity of data ownership, management and access. Key to the Kingdom: Who Owns Smart City Data?, from The Possible offers a solid description of the complexities of data ownership and access, complete with challenging examples of biometric data, smart city integration and some recent legislation.

Beyond data ownership yet at least one other aspect of the data requires consideration, data types. The type of data being collected, analyzed and potentially distributed will drive other critical decisions. For instance, temperature trending data has, at least for now, significantly different compliance requirements than video data or biometric data. The data type will drive decisions regarding periodicity of collection, size of storage required, access and compliance levels, connectivity to other subsystems, user needs and expectations and the requirements of the entire IT system. These decisions are complicated at a single building level, but as decisions grow to campuses and cities the complexities multiply. Smart Cities, Big Data and the Built Environment from Government Business provides a view of this complexity from the perspective of a UK government.

The building industry is in an excellent position to begin to harness the power of the data generated and collected during the building, update, maintenance, and operational phases.  For too long, much of this data has gone to waste. Rather than evolving and expanding the data from one phase of construction to the next, the industry has, to date, duplicated effort to recreate the data from step to step.  In order to fulfill the ASHRAE 2030 vision, “In an interconnected world, the ubiquitous collection and use of data to drive every aspect of our daily lives is envisaged to be an inevitable reality” the approach to data management needs to change. 

Data Storage and Governance

Buildings are and will become even more capable of generating extreme amounts of data.  To truly unlock the value of the data, a data strategy is imperative. The data strategy should include elements such as types of data to be collected, frequency of collection, sources of data to be collected, uses of the collected data, access levels to the various types of data and the amount of data that will be collected to help drive storage technology decisions. This is but a short list of consideration for a data strategy.  For a more comprehensive discussion of data storage strategies, please refer to pdf_icon.png  The 5 Essential Components of a Data Strategy from sas. Similarly, Data Management Strategy: Introduction fromTowards Data Science is a good source for a description of the elements of a solid data strategy. 

This summary of the components of a data strategy is applicable to a wide range of business systems and solutions. Building systems, like other systems have unique characteristics that drive the need for a more detailed data strategy. First and foremost is the question of use; is the data going to be used to help energy savings, operational improvements, to improve building and occupant health and safety, all of the above?  Existing building stock is likely to have several generations of building systems, it is still possible to find pneumatic based control systems, while the same building may have a state-of-the-art lighting control system. The disparity in the age of the systems will imply a disparity in the protocols and data types used throughout the building. The plethora will span from very old proprietary protocols to the most modern IT-based communication technologies.  Although a bit dated, the following framework from PNNL helps conceptualize the challenges in building system data integration and collection, pdf_icon.png  Buildings Interoperability Landscape

Future needs and uses of building data will drive more complexities of storage and governance. In the case of interoperability, will the industry be able to drive standard protocols, definitions, and requirements?  Several attempts have been made to date including BACNet™, OBix, and consistent web-services.  As the IT/OT integration continues to build momentum, will the standards be driven by the OT Building system side or the IT professionals? As external data such as weather data or energy cost look ahead data becomes more readily available and useful the need for IT/OT collaboration increases. The building industry must step up and participate in these discussions. They understand their goals and objectives, uses cases, sources and uses of building data and the integration opportunities afforded by ubiquitous data. This section is by no means a complete description of the entire scope of data storage and governance. The technology alone in this area is exploding and could fill an entire white paper. Rather, this section highlights the importance of the building industry to participate in data strategies, integration definitions and the continued IT/OT merger.

IT/OT Integration

Foundationally, performance success for systems, buildings, campuses, cities, country and the world will be driven/measured by clearly grasping the concept that all inanimate objects within the built space will become smart, connected and data rich. The digitization of real estate on a global scale is being transformed by the fact that all building components have or will become a part of the exponential growth of IoT “Internet of Things.”

Stakeholders who clearly grasp that data is the new oil and that the integration of data to create new uses cases and sequence of operations with a clear connection to value will succeed and lead as we move towards performance based and sustainable infrastructure. The realization of value (Capex, Energy, Safety, Utilization, Experience) will be visualized, tracked and documented through clear KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that will be the dashboard for success for all stakeholders in the organization.

Smart object-based design with the understanding that all systems whether they be building automation, lighting, access control, Wi-Fi or Collaboration + Audio Visual, are now Data Platforms will allow the industry to eliminate individual system silos and bridge the world of Operation Technology (OT) and Informational Technology (IT).

Bridging often referred to as Convergence + Integration will flatten networks, normalize data protocols, and secure data flow as new applications and use cases address the needs of the occupant, owner, investor and the planet.

The power of individual smart objects and systems is being unleashed through infinite unique addressing (IPV6) and the fact that decision making and closed loop algorithms with low latency has moved from centralized control/compute to the front line via edge computing. Edge computing brings unique decision-making capabilities to the applications and enhances resource utilization in the form of lower bandwidth and greatly strengthens the cybersecurity profile as the attack surface grows.

Software/Hardware IT/OT integration is defined within the design and construction world as the fourth utility “4th” complementing the three primary base building utilities of power, gas and water. The specific details of a 4th utility are captured in Division 27 of the CSI (Construction Specification Institute) Framework. The 4th utility is often referred to as “The Digital Building Plumbing” that is the connector for both physical devices (Structured Cat 6A cabling + DC Power, PoE “Power over Ethernet”) and wireless devices (Zigbee, EnOCEAN, Z-Wave, Bluetooth “BLE”, LoRaWAN, WiFi6). The secure and seamless connection of devices in turn unlocks the data which is leveraged by other controllers, systems and applications and integrates to both on prem or cloud-based Enterprise Integration Platforms and Analytic Engines.

The power and business value of IT/OT integration is unlocked through a clear engineering understanding of the business objectives that each stakeholder of a project is demanding. The objectives/values are designed and articulated through use cases and sequences of operations which become the contractual scope of the Master Technology Integrator (MTI). MTI scope is generally documented with Division 25 (Building Automation) with a clear line of site on the design and development of the 4th utility found in Division 27.

The building blocks of having all devices becoming smart (IoT) and seamlessly connected across converged and flattened architectures becomes the foundational enabler for business to unlock real value and digitize both real estate and business.

The process of integration begins during the strategy phase followed by design, construct and operations phases. Smart integration unlocks the business drivers including:

   a.) lower construction costs,
   b.) lower energy costs and lighter carbon footprint on the planet,
   c.) operational efficiencies via dynamic and real time insights,
   d.) healthier and safer spaces that attract and retain talent.

IT/OT integration Success Formula: precise and actionable 

IoT (at the edge) + Compute + Open Date linked to Defined Use Cases bridging IT and OT = Business Digitization and Differentiating Value


High level design and thinking set tone and direction. Embracing a PoC (Proof of Concept) or a real project demonstrates real value and drives transformation and industry scaling.

ASHRAE saw the changes in the market and the power of IT/OT integration and embarked on a strategy and design journey with a group of well aligned strategic partners to reimagine the ASHRAE HQ in Atlanta.

Below is a detailed example of what can be done and how ASHRAE has come to market with a Lighthouse Smart Buildings Project.


ASHRAE HQ, IT-OT Integration and the Power of Master Technology Contracting

Case Study:     

ASHRAE Global Headquarters
Transforming Buildings for a Sustainable Future

In Appreciation of Investors

Data Normalization and Existing Asset Stock

Data Normalization and Existing Building Stock

If we’re to see the rapid interconnection and usefulness of the data, we need to agree on common data storage methods and nomenclature. We expect to see growth through common standards, from ASHRAE in cooperation with others such as Brick, Haystack, RealEstateCore and others. Further, there is a need to adopt open and interoperable standards which facilitate adoption through all the domains in a building, not just the smart equipment.However, when it comes to making sense of the disparate “things” we have in our IoT buildings we have a challenge to normalize, standardize and build relationships between the data and its storage. The task of providing a common framework and nomenclature for this data spans multiple domains and people groups making it a large challenge. Recently, through the focus of data scientists on our built environment domain, we’ve started to see a convergence in the method used to bring normalization and relationships to the data. However, we’re still early in the process and, specifically, standard nomenclature has not been solidified.Our newer built environment, being composed of new systems, provides owners and operators with a wealth of data about the equipment and the environmental conditions. This data can be incredibly useful to optimize the occupant experience and the efficiency of the building itself.

We often hear talk about the ability of application programming interfaces (APIs) to provide the ability to connect the data from multiple sources. This is true, APIs do provide the ability to connect systems and data. However, by definition, APIs require application programs and tend to result in unique solutions rather than mass adoption of standardized routines. It’s the latter which will drive costs down to the point where all buildings can leverage the power of data.

We have an even greater challenge making sense of all the building data in our large stock of older buildings and in particular our smaller, older buildings. The vast majority of small buildings haven’t been upgraded with building automation, lighting systems and sensors leaving managers of these facilities to struggle to leverage newer technology to drive productivity and efficiency improvements. The advent of smart lighting systems and IoT sensors offer these facilities the ability to do just that. However, these new systems don’t yet use common data protocols and methods, primarily because there are few standards to employ, but also because open and interoperable data standards are perceived to be in conflict with corporate competitive advantage and market viability. ASHRAE’s BACnet standard, primarily driven by building owners, has demonstrated that we can use open and interoperable standards to further cooperation between corporations and facilitate interconnection of systems. More cooperation along these lines is warranted and expected.

The exponential growth of residential IoT infrastructure is expected to increase acceptance of connected devices and may offer rapid advancement of data communication protocols and nomenclature. Here too, the work is in its infancy, but some of the world’s largest corporations are involved, sparking hope that viable data standards will result. Certainly, one outcome of the proliferation of connected residential devices is the expectation of smart infrastructure in the workplace. Occupant expectations are driving demand for new and useful smart technology in the commercial space, and we expect to see this demand filter throughout the entire building stock.

Digital Twin

A Digital Twin is a digital representation of a physical object or system. In the context of built environment, a Digital Twin can be created from BIM and other 3D models or through ground or air capture (point clouds, photogrammetry). AI/ML/deep learning can then be trained to auto-identify architectural/construction elements (such as roofs, walls, shading devices, light shelves, doors, windows) – resulting in a Digital Twin with additional attributes. Effective data utilization in design evolution can enable virtual design and commissioning. Digital Twin continues to evolve as IoT, sensors and other data are incorporated as the building goes into operational phase.  Digital Twin will cut across the entire life cycle of buildings involving the extensive use of Data and IT/OT Integration in both new and existing asset stock.

Data Privacy and Cyber Security

As the ASHRAE 2030 vision highlights, “In an interconnected world, the ubiquitous collection and use of data to drive every aspect of our daily lives is envisaged to be an inevitable reality.” It would be nearly impossible to overstate the importance of a robust cyber security plan and implementation in a highly interconnected world. The consequences of cyber-attacks against building systems range from potential life safety incidents and damaged equipment to productivity loss, corporate IT network infiltration and even brand damage. Multiple trends in building space are occurring now and will continue through the duration of the 2030 Vision time horizon; among them, IT/OT integration, greater and greater movement of processing to the edge, integration of outside data such as weather or energy bills, and a continued scarcity of cyber security talent will pose serious threats to the merged network infrastructures.  A good overview of these compounding risks can be found in Cybersecurity for Building Automation Systems on the Security Boulevard website..  Similarly, an excellent description of the IT/OT convergence and the associated cybersecurity risks can be found on the Cybersecurity page on the Whole Building Design Guide website.

Understanding the trends that are escalating the cybersecurity risk level to buildings is a good first step, the better step is understand how best to protect the building systems and what to do when the inevitable attack is encountered. Obviously, there is no “cookie cutter,” “one size fits all” approach to building-level cybersecurity much less, common methods of protecting cities of connected buildings. However, some basic elements of planning, architecture and policies can be adapted for most situations. PNNL provides some of these principles and an excellent list of resources in their publication pdf_icon.png  Challenges and Opportunities to Secure Buildings from Cyber Threats. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible for networks to be 100% protected from cyber security incidents. So, not only is a plan to prevent attacks important, but response plans to the inevitable hack are also equally important.  Although a bit dated, in 2015, the Department of Justice published guidelines on what to include in a cyber security response plan. Those guidelines can be found on the DoJ websitepdf_icon.png 

Where the cybersecurity battles end is unknown and if they end is equally unknown. Some have called for buildings to have cybersecurity certificates, not unlike occupancy or elevator certificates. Obviously, a certificate will not be a shield against all invaders, but it might set a baseline as we attempt to interconnect more and more smart buildings.

This overview is not intended to cover the watershed on cybersecurity. The field is changing at an amazing pace and is likely to do so as far into the future as can be seen. Rather, this summary is intended to remind the reader that the interconnected world, the smart cities comprised of smart buildings operating together, will need to be based on a rock-solid cybersecurity foundation.  This summary is provided to encourage readers to stay current, to stay vigilant and be prepared for the continuous barrage of cybersecurity attacks.