Headlines this month alerted the building automation and controls community to two battles set to rock our world: EPA Energy Star’s ‘Battle of the Buildings’ and the IT Industry’s “Battle of the Internet of Things (IoT) Standards.” Participants in the first battle are open to leveraging any new IoT concepts that might serve to save energy. Participants in the second battle appear to be closed to any protocol standardization effort that isn’t tipped in their favor. To summarize all the July announcements about new and changing alliances in IoT protocol standardization efforts, the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) with Intel, Atmel and Samsung as anchor members was announced on July 7. This new body seems to be in direct competition with AllJoyn, an effort launched by Qualcomm and taken over by the Linux Foundation. Notably Microsoft joined AllJoyn on July 1, as well as the Industrial Internet Consortium – a collection of big names including Intel that launched its efforts in March. On July 15, Google’s Nest Labs, and Samsung among others announced the Thread Group, an alliance devoted to the development of an open standard for low-power wireless networking for the IoT.
Getting on with the work of energy efficiency while industry titans battle it out over protocols is nothing new in the world of commercial building systems integration. The CTO of DGLogik, an IoT visualization platform developer with a large customer base among building energy retrofitters and systems integrators, commented in a recent interview: “By first dealing with buildings and all of the proprietary protocols, various interconnection mechanisms, and use cases involved while visualizing sensor data and controlling equipment, we have learned lessons that are 100% applicable to the current consumer IoT market and how the industry is approaching it.”
It’s true, building automation is actually way ahead on the IoT curve. Market researcher Earl Perkins of Gartner comes to the same conclusion in a March blog post: “Before it was cool to talk about the IoT, the industrial control and automation world built fit-for-purpose systems with technology that used RFID tags, M2M communications, embedded systems, sensors, wireless communications and other IoT components — literally for decades.” Perkins takes a cautionary tone in his reaction to the Industrial Internet Consortium and voiced concern that if the vision and direction of the Internet of Things becomes too IT-centric — that is, if the viewpoint and experiences of Operations Technology (OT) experts are blocked and ignored — it will be much longer before anything substantive emerges from all the IoT noise.
Substantive issues like the mechanics and physics of actually moving air and water inside a building are not the topics of current IoT marketing or press clippings. Mention BACnet and you see the eyes of the professed IoT experts glaze over and revert to the excuse “Oh, that’s the Industrial IoT. We mean Consumer IoT — like home automation.”
The IT industry’s massive IoT marketing and awareness campaign wants to stay in familiar territory, so it has invented this Consumer IoT versus Industrial IoT framing. Certainly in the case of home automation and commercial building automation and control, only very porous boundaries exist. Does anyone think that Google doesn’t intend to sell Nest thermostats and smoke detectors into commercial offices and other buildings? And what about Apple’s new alliance with IBM whereby IBM will be taking Apple technology into the enterprise? Does anyone doubt that the Apple Home Kit, with familiar building automation names like Honeywell, Philips and Lutron as early partners, will soon morph into Apple MUSH Kit (Municipalities, Universities, Schools and Hospitals)?
As of the July launch of the Battle of the IoT Protocols, however, there is some braking action on this momentum. Let’s take this pause to put some media focus on where the IoT action is happening, in the Battle of the Buildings and Building automation and control.
Could the lesson of the Tale of Two Battles be that we are not set to witness the Consumerization of Industrial IoT, but rather the Big Building-ization of Consumer IoT?