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Increasing BMS IQ via Edge Computing

By December 16, 2019July 21st, 2020Postcards from the Edge


By Art King, Director of Enterprise Services
Courtesy of Connected Real Estate Magazine (Rich Berliner, Publisher)

We are on the cusp of an automation wave that has the potential to increase building management systems “BMS” IQ by adding awareness of tenant mobile devices across a facility or even a campus. The time is now to plan for this future because the technical foundation needs to be laid in order to be present when it arrives. (Multi-Access Edge Computing, MEC, or URLLC will be referred to as simply “edge computing” throughout the balance of this post.) Edge computing pilots started in 2011 and it is architected into the cellular network with 5G. With this ratification, industry and vertical market players are making significant investments in edge computing to put it to work. We’ll frame the business impact of this trend and then diagram the technology.

What Is Propelling This Automation Wave?

The assumption of 100% mobile device ownership has transformed our design thinking. In the drive to increase tenant satisfaction by reducing friction in accessing amenities in workspaces, there is an opportunity to shape a strategy around mobile devices. We see this emerging now in co-working spaces and enterprise remodels that drive for the same vibe as co-working. In these environments, an app can check you in, unlock doors, book conference rooms, and request resources. In the near future, this capability can be a service offered by the facility to all tenants or across an enterprise.

Additionally, our mobile devices now enable context-aware computing.

The Gartner IT Glossary defines context-aware computing as “a style of computing in which situational and environmental information about people, places and things is used to anticipate immediate needs and proactively offer enriched, situation-aware and usable content, functions and experiences.”

If you assume that every mobile device acts as a digital proxy for the owner, this is a driver for implementing edge computing to enhance the tenant experience in the building and potentially offer APIs to enterprise business applications so they can add a layer of context awareness.

Context-aware decisions primarily revolve around:

  • Are you a tenant or a public subscriber passing through building?
    Are you present in the building?

Many potential context-aware applications will use simple “presence;” – meaning the mobile is present on the local network. BMS applications will be able to consume information about whether a device is within the facility, where it is located, and then act accordingly. We foresee that BMS directories will use AI with automated provisioning to ease the task of identifying tenant mobiles. For instance, if the edge system sees the arrival and departure of the same device every day, it can be assumed that it’s a tenant.

How Will We Use This Capability?

Energy management is one example where location information can be leveraged by the BMS to optimize resource consumption by reducing dependency on simple timers or thermostats controlling lighting, HVAC, and other services. By the BMS taking actions as devices appear within the building and their associated density, utility consumption can be managed along with increasing comfort. Device density information can be used to optimize heating and cooling based on amount of people per square foot in a zone. Imagine not having to adjust a conference room thermostat, because it automatically adjusts to maintain optimal room temperature based on detected occupancy. This simple function provides ROI by managing both comfort and utility use.

For public safety protocol in large commercial and government buildings, location information can enhance process capabilities in emergencies. There are a number of useful capabilities that would be valuable to tenants and first responders.

Some brief examples:

  • In an emergency, it would be possible to text every device that is present and, by knowing their location, give them an ideal route out of the facility.
  • For emergency calls, knowing the location of caller can get first responders to them faster and, as health wearables improve, if a person had an event that resulted in unconsciousness their mobile device could contact emergency personnel on their behalf.
  • In a fire or other emergencies, the presence and location of devices could enhance rescue efforts. Additionally, incident commanders could reach out to contact people in the building to increase their situational awareness and advise them.

Finally, there are a vast amount of IoT services on the horizon that will also leverage context and presence to improve their ability to serve us.

What Does Edge Computing Look Like in the Future?

The above diagram shows how edge computing will provide the local breakout necessary to both route data locally and provide a presence event stream for BMS and enterprise tenant systems to subscribe to. This illustrates one possible future for system architects and developers to think about.

Many of the functions will end up as cloud services and be shared across many buildings so that the services can be easily affordable and potentially monetized.

What Can We Do Today to Prepare?

Build-Out Cellular Infrastructure

It’s an uneven world with some buildings having service improvements and many with nothing. Pressure continues to mount for robust indoor LTE coverage in poorly covered buildings by both current and prospective tenants.

But, not to worry, indoor cellular improvements for LTE are an investment in the future because they will carry over to 5G. Why? Well, 5G in the United States will be rolled out in a mode called 5G-NSA where NSA means “non-standalone.” In other words, 5G-NSA under the hood is LTE combined with 5G radio technology. An investment in LTE today is protected as it will be upgraded to 5G via the addition of 5G radios and edge computing in the future.

BMS Infrastructure

Major property owners in commercial real estate (CRE), enterprise, government, and higher education spaces should start the exploration process with their major providers of control systems, access management, elevators, utilities, security, etc. to understand their future plans. Developing a multi-year roadmap and contingency plans is necessary to reach the desired destination. Large property owners of all types may have access to strategic planners at the mobile operators and key infrastructure software providers to help develop their roadmaps and clarify the business cases. This will be a journey for the industry, but we are seeing the emergence of property technology (proptech) firms that are targeting this market and could act as the “glue” amongst the disparate systems and edge compute platforms that all have to act in concert to realize the vision.