Social Networking Reaches the Building Sector

It was only a matter of time before someone in the smart building space took the best aspects of Facebook and the iPhone app store and weaved them into a solution that would help building owners, managers, and occupants harness big data to drive new levels of efficiency and building performance monitoring. Johnson Controls took a step in that direction recently when it announced the launch of the Panoptix platform at Greenbuild in Toronto.

At its core is an open technology platform that can pull together building data from systems that rarely, if ever, speak to each other – from the building automation system (BAS) to the meter system to weather data, security systems, and others.

A suite of cloud-hosted building efficiency applications allows users to link their own building management systems to the platform and start monitoring and managing their buildings. The initial suite consists of four applications:

– Continuous Diagnostics Advisor

– Measurement and Verification Monitor

– Carbon and Energy Reporter

– Custom Analyzer

Over time, Johnson Controls and its partners, such as IBM, will continue to develop new applications. By 2012, the app suite will be open to independent software developers, as well. Users buy the apps on a subscription basis rather than as a one-time purchase, thereby making them accessible and affordable to a broader base of potential customers. And the apps, of course, can be accessed from any Internet-connected device.

The platform also includes a live support system that provides online and telephone support as well as on-site building services to make the most of Panoptix – a must-have for a system that will be new and unfamiliar to many building owners and managers. In addition, a social networking system, the Panoptix Connected Community, will provide a forum for stakeholders to share resources.

Johnson Controls hopes to have a social network-like effect on building efficiency, which depends too heavily on systems that are constantly creating data but haven’t been synced up. In doing so, Panoptix addresses two core issues in the building efficiency world these days. The first is the disintegrated nature of many building systems, which rely on a fragmented set of technologies, communication protocols, and standards that make it difficult for anyone but the most sophisticated building manager or energy engineer to gain useful insight into building energy use patterns and efficiency opportunities.

The second is the fact that novel advances in energy efficiency in buildings are difficult to replicate because buildings operate as islands, and lessons learned in one case may never be communicated to other building managers that could benefit from the knowledge. By connecting systems as well as building professionals, Johnson Controls hopes to unearth a stockpile of efficiency opportunities.

I anticipate one of the key areas of interest in the near term will be the Continuous Diagnostics Advisor. Even efficiently-designed buildings have a tendency to drift from their initial design parameters, watering down the payback for efficiency measures and compromising occupant comfort. The Continuous Diagnostics Advisor essentially enables continuous commissioning by giving building managers real-time insight into building performance and allowing them to prevent small issues from becoming big ones. Over time, though, the Panoptix platform will be used in many different ways, connecting building equipment and data to the building professionals who can act on efficiency opportunities.

Eric Bloom is a green building and renewable energy analyst for Pike Research; appearing courtesy Matter Network

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