BAS Industry Collaborates On Semantics

BACnet_AnnounceA big challenge inherent in driving the huge and diverse industry of building design, construction and operations towards open standards involves finding consensus among the various official standards organizations, sub-committee groups and open-source communities working on the same problem from different angles. If you can get the players to the table, there is great value and strength in finding a way forward that combines the best of all approaches. When competing open-standards are allowed to proliferate, you get market confusion. So it is great news that those working on semantic interoperability are now actively collaborating under the umbrella of the new proposed ASHRAE Standard 223P for semantic tagging of building data. This collaboration includes the ASHRAE BACnet committee, Project Haystack and Brick Schema.

While Project Haystack, explained by Executive Director John Petze in this New Deal post, was early on the scene in organizing to tackle the challenge of semantic data modeling for buildings, awareness of the issue is now mainstream. Claire Rowland, Interaction Design Director, at the well-known global design firm Method, wrote this post about designing a UX for connected embedded hardware, including the following paragraph concerning semantic naming:

“ …At the most basic level, it’s important to give the same features the same name across all interfaces. But even this can be a challenge when the same app needs to support multiple versions of legacy hardware. Perhaps device designers had different ideas about whether ‘auto’ or ‘timer’ was the ‘best’ name for the heating schedule function.”

Rowland, like UX designers everywhere want what John Petze describes here:

“The reason that you can point a web browser at someone else’s website to see what they have to say is that we have all agreed upon how website data should be marked-up, or tagged. You and I don’t have to have any pre-negotiations to make that happen. We need the same thing for data coming out of systems and devices. We should be able to get all the data, and it should be easy to interpret when we receive it. It should be marked up with tags that describe what it is. Project-Haystack has been working on that challenge since its founding in 2011.”

Many in the industry want to understand more about the how. So a Project Haystack Working Group has published a primer called Implementing Project Haystack Tagging for a Sample Building.


This document takes the reader through the application of Haystack tagging for a sample project as an introduction, and includes a link to a highly developed tagging example for comprehensive application of Haystack covering typical building systems.

By integrating Haystack tagging and Brick data modeling concepts with the upcoming ASHRAE Standard 223P, the result will enable interoperability on semantic information across the building industry, particularly in building automation. You will be able to use it to move data over established communication protocols like the Haystack web services or BACnet. Standard 223P tagging can also be applied to data stored in databases and cloud applications. The first public review of the initial draft of 223P is envisioned for late 2018. Ultimately, ASHRAE Standard 223P is intended to be adopted as an ISO standard.

Why is a unified data semantic modeling solution that has the contributions and endorsements of all these groups so important? Once you have the power of machine-readable semantic descriptions of data for adding context to any type of data collected by building systems and associated business systems and devices, your costs to integrate plummet.APIapproach_blank.jpg

When you add a new BACnet-compatible device into an IP protocol network, you will be able to get all the operational trend data out, as well as contextual data like the make and serial number of the device, as well as its relationships to other equipment in the building, campus and global portfolio.The work of specifying engineers, building commissioning agents, building operations engineers, facilities staff, equipment and device makers, and even new-to-the-buildings-industry IoT product interaction designers, like Claire Rowland, will become much easier.

Aside from these engineering and automation efficiency benefits, a single and widely used global standard will enable broader interoperability among applications — creating a competitive marketplace to the benefit of building owners.

Addressing the challenge of semantic interoperability goes a long way toward creating the IoT design environment Rowland recommends where you can 1) design a UX with the whole ecosystem considered and 2) you can think in terms of service design. Here are two quotes from her article that capture why such consensus on open standards is vital for progress in Smart Buildings:

“Connected products are systems, which require a holistic approach to design. It’s possible to do a good job of industrial and UI design as individual parts, yet still to end up with a poor overall experience. If the parts are designed in isolation, they often won’t hang together as a coherent whole.”

“Service design, with its focus on orchestrating interactions around an ecosystem of parts, offers some of the best techniques for IoT concept design.”

In fact, Claire Rowland’s ‘5 Questions for Connected Product UX’ are many of the same questions more of the buildings industry should ask when they talk about open standards, digital twins and service transparency. Her descriptions of what is holding back successful IoT product design comes down to being able to conceive and prototype embedded systems from a holistic perspective and to think of products as services. This ASHRAE announcement about semantic modeling collaboration should help us accelerate innovation in smart buildings.

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