Data is playing an increasingly important role in smart buildings. Analysis of building system data is guiding an expansion of capabilities in the smart building environment, making building systems – including HVAC – more efficient and effective. The convergence of multiple building management systems is inevitable -- it's just a matter of time and it’s already happening. The data collected from the various systems make up a data profile that can be put to work to create new outcomes. Customers want to increase their control of environments using smart technology.

I spoke with the folks from Johnson Controls (JCI) about these topics at the recent AHR Expo in Orlando. As it relates to HVAC, they say data can guide system operation based on historical data and a variety of sensors that can determine, for example, that there are 15 to 20 people in a conference room and adjust the HVAC system accordingly. Contributing technologies include wifi access, smart phone connectivity, smart meeting room technologies and sensors such as proximity and heat systems. Sensors used for fire and security are augmenting data that can be used to guide the operation of HVAC systems.

Improving efficiencies

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can do even more to optimize how systems operate

"Every generation of HVAC we launch is more energy-efficient and more environmentally friendly," says George Oliver, JCI Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. As the largest consumer of energy in a building's infrastructure, HVAC is the focus of efforts to improve efficiencies. Applying new tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can do even more to optimize how systems operate.

"We want to optimize the equipment, processes and sensor data to create a model to best operate a building," says Oliver. The benefit is a huge reduction in energy usage and lowering of the carbon footprint. The goal is to combine an energy-conscious view of operating a building while improving the customer experience. There are cost savings in the range of 20 to 40% of operating a system.

Building platforms, access control, and video management

Johnson Controls is seeking to incorporate new technologies into building platforms and control, as well as access control and video management.

“Buildings have so many kinds of systems, but how do we put all that together?” asks Oliver. Technology is coming together through protocols and an operational technology (OT)-informed world.

Johnson Controls has been working with direct channel partners and end users on enhancing their platform and improving their ability to manage data, whether in an existing building or new construction, to optimize how equipment is being utilized.

Concepts of AI, machine learning, smart Internet of Things and “smart edge” guide how Johnson Controls operates as a company. A single data platform enables creation of a smart building today that incorporates an integrated, streamlined approach. The additional capabilities are being managed by Android or iOS “apps.”

Adopting new technologies

The user environment of HVAC has been slow to change"

“The user environment of HVAC has been slow to change, but it is accelerating now with adoption of new technologies,” says Mike Ellis, JCI Executive Vice President and Chief Customer and Digital Officer. Adoption of new HVAC equipment is critical to modernizing systems, and the new equipment works alongside the trend to “digitization.” “The industry is at an inflection point in a positive way, and is accepting the technology,” said Ellis. “What we’re hearing from customers is that they want to make a difference, create a differentiation, and bring it together in a unique way.”

But will existing players (like JCI) drive the changes, or will it come from outside, high-tech firms? “We believe the domain players inherit an advantage because they really understand the importance of data in the building environment. Among collected data, the secret is: What data is important and how is it analyzed? How is that technology deployed? Industrial companies have the right ecosystem to make it happen, based on 130 years of seeing how buildings operate.”

Moving forward

“We realize the industry is being disrupted, which begins at the top,” says Oliver.

“Smart edge” refers to the remarkable amount of expertise at the edge of the network, where tens of years of data informs the building “science.” The resource is impossible to duplicate.

Johnson Controls is working with end-customers to define and direct how JCI is moving the company forward. The accelerated roadmap is based on the experience of people in the buildings. 

“We are right at the heart of major global trends – sustainability, connectivity and data, and cyber- and physical security,” says Oliver.

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