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Building Automation: How to Remotely Manage Buildings with the Help of Secure and Easily Accessible IoT Technology

Connecting devices and equipment in buildings offers numerous benefits, including increased efficiency, energy savings, enhanced comfort, improved maintenance, and data-driven decision-making. It transforms buildings into smart and interconnected environments, improving the overall experience for occupants and reducing environmental impact.

The future is remote

As internet capabilities have grown, it has been clear for some years that more work can be achieved remotely, but the COVID crisis has accelerated this trend. This has also impacted the building management market, where businesses have an increased need to resolve issues and manage building services remotely. While the pandemic led to a short-term decline in the Smart Building markets worldwide, the industry bounced back straight after, with the need for remote work fueling changes to how buildings are managed. The longterm consequence will be significant for building automation and especially for remote connectivity. Now, more than ever, there’s an increasing requirement for remote building management that’s efficient and cybersecure. Remote building management solutions should offer users the capability to fully manage Building Automation Systems (BAS) from anywhere via mobile devices, as well as desktop browsers. If, up until this point, you haven’t been working with a framework that can deliver this sort of functionality for your customers, it won’t be long before it is regarded as essential for all projects.

Staying ahead of cyber security threats

The growing threat of cyber security is real. As building automation is getting smarter, so are those willing to damage the safety and security of the smart buildings, systems, and smart equipment. According to a study carried out by leading cybersecurity experts, Kaspersky, in the first half of 2022, malicious objects were blocked on every third OT (Operational Technology) computer. Most often, attacks against industrial companies were carried out using malicious scripts and phishing pages (JS and HTML). Building automation infrastructure turned out to be the most “restless”: nearly half of the computers (42%) faced cyber threats. Since these systems may not be fully separated from networks of the organizations located in the building, they may be an attractive initial access target for attackers. What’s often the case in these scenarios is that the hacks aren’t so much the fault of the system in place, but more so to do with how they’re being managed and operated.

This could be anything from users not acting on alerts quickly enough or, in the high-profile case of the 2013 Google Australia office hack in Sydney, the company still opted to run an out-of-date version of a legacy system. It should therefore be a priority to ensure the employment of the latest, most secure connectivity software to avoid becoming another one of those statistics. Mitigating the risk of getting hacked in such a way that damages business and reputation involves both, good operating procedures and deployment of a secure connectivity solution that not only provides end-end encryption of the data connection, but also makes managing user permissions easier and more secure. FIN’s Edge2Cloud service provides these features leveraging world-class security technology to enable easy yet highly secure remote access.

Advancing technology - Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an umbrella term that covers a raft of technologies that have enabled new business propositions. Fundamentally, IoT is about connecting devices to a software application (usually hosted at the cloud level) that delivers new business value in some way, such as by monitoring desk utilization to provide hot desk management services or tracking people’s location within a building to provide wayfinding and space management services. Typically, the new sensors required to deliver such propositions use wireless technology to enable easy retrofit deployments. As such, they are mostly separate from the already installed building automation system(s). Currently, many of these IoT solutions are designed to send their sensor data directly to the cloud application, which then web serves dashboard-type visualizations to users. The additional real-time data these systems collect would also be useful to help optimize the environmental controls in the building, so there is a requirement to integrate the IoT data with the data from the BMS. However, to respond to a customer’s request to achieve this, there is a need for software capable of supporting REST or MQTT-type integrations since that is how the new breed of IoT software expects to integrate with other systems.

While most HVAC integrations can now be achieved using the BACnet protocol and most electrical integrations via Modbus, this is not the case for IoT integrations, and much of the BMS supervisory software currently used is not well suited to this. Unless a well-featured BIoT-oriented (Building IoT) software framework is used on a project, the engineering will be a lot more complicated and is unlikely to deliver all the functionality the customer requires. If outdated technology is used that isn’t compatible with IoT, then customers won’t be able to benefit from valuable analytics, reporting, control, and data which can be delivered by a modern data management application based on semantic tagging.

It’s predicted that the global number of connected devices in operation in smart buildings is set to increase from 1.7 billion in 2020 to just under 3 billion by 2025, showing a CAGR of 10.8%. Therefore, if customers feel they’re not getting the most up-to-date, multifunctional, secure and IoT-friendly system, there is a risk they will go elsewhere.

Convergence of IT with OT & Cybersecurity

Even before the rise of IoT applications, and since BAS manufacturers began to deliver IP-based controllers, there has been a desire on the part of building specifiers to converge the information technology (IT) systems with operational technology (OT) systems. In the early stages of the migration, from BAS serial networking to IP, there were many concerns on both sides; the IT departments were concerned about the BAS somehow compromising their business-critical IT infrastructure, either due to poor cyber-security or due to bandwidth issues. On the OT side, there were concerns about the reliability of the IT infrastructure since the environmental control and other services like lighting have to be working 24/7. Now that IP networking has become so ubiquitous, the unification of the infrastructure is happening since installing separate IP networks in parallel is an unnecessary cost. Virtual LANs and a better understanding on both sides of the bandwidth management issues, have made such convergence easier.

For many users, building automation is crucial in the business decision-making process. Therefore, there is a strong need to work with a platform that fully supports the IT requirements and enables such converged network solutions to be delivered efficiently and securely.

One of the biggest preoccupations of IT is how to deliver a cyber-secure solution. Historically, BAS software has offered relatively poor cybersecurity, mostly due to the ageing architecture mentioned earlier, as well as the applications only being able to run on Windows rather than the inherently more secure Linux OS. There have been well-publicized examples of poorly configured systems being hacked. This is why selecting a modern software framework that has been designed to provide a high level of cybersecurity should be a priority. With technology like Edge2Cloud, remote connectivity proves to be secure, seamless and scalable.

Remote connectivity

Remote connectivity plays a crucial role in building automation systems for several reasons. Remote connectivity allows you to monitor and control building automation systems from any location. Systems can be accessed remotely through a secure connection, enabling to check the status of various devices, sensors, and equipment, as well as adjust settings and parameters as needed. This capability provides real-time visibility and control over building operations, regardless of physical proximity.

Building automation systems are designed to optimize energy consumption by adjusting lighting, heating, cooling, and ventilation based on occupancy patterns, weather conditions, and other variables. With remote connectivity, facility managers can remotely analyze energy usage, identify inefficiencies, and make adjustments to optimize energy performance. This helps reduce energy waste, lower operational costs, and meet your sustainability and net zero goals. In case of emergencies, equipment malfunctions, or system faults, remote connectivity allows building operators to respond quickly and effectively. They can remotely diagnose the problem, assess the situation, and take necessary actions without having to be physically present on-site. This capability minimizes downtime, prevents further damage, and ensures prompt resolution of issues, improving operational efficiency.

Additionally, building automation systems can generate vast amounts of data about the performance, health, and condition of various components and equipment. Remote connectivity enables users to remotely access this data, analyze it using advanced analytics tools, and identify patterns or anomalies that indicate potential maintenance issues. By proactively addressing maintenance needs, they can prevent unexpected failures, extend equipment lifespan, and reduce maintenance costs. 

There is no doubt that remote connectivity allows building automation systems to be easily managed and expanded. It provides the flexibility to add or modify system components, sensors, or devices remotely, without the need for physical access to the building. This capability simplifies system management and enables seamless scalability as building needs evolve over time. It reduces the need for on-site visits and manual interventions, resulting in cost savings. Remote monitoring, adjusting system settings, performing diagnostics, and troubleshooting issues without incurring travel costs or downtime associated with physical visits is extremely valuable. Additionally, the ability to remotely optimize energy usage and proactively address maintenance needs leads to long-term cost savings.

FIN Edge2Cloud - an easy, secure, open and scalable solution

Setting up remote connectivity can be difficult for system integrators, OEMs, facility managers, IT managers or end users. Their common challenges often include the complexity of configuring VPN solutions and limited IT resources. Rapid technological changes and complex user access management can also make it difficult to keep products up-to-date and cybersecure. Until now, remote connectivity has required IT support, including the use of a VPN connection, or having to go onsite, using up valuable time and resources. Thanks to the new technology from J2 Innovations, Edge2Cloud, remote connectivity becomes an easy, less resource-intensive task. It allows users of FIN Framework™ to access their building automation and IoT systems in an easy, secure, open and scalable way. 

It comprehensively manages FIN-based building automation systems once in the field and is easily connected to other cloud platforms. Edge2Cloud has a simple way to provide secure remote access to building owners. Fine-grained authorization using access groups enables you to provide access to particular sites based on Haystack tags.

Remote connectivity is key

Outdated software applications that are complicated to configure or are not possible to manage remotely will lose out to newer “next-generation software” able to offer end users and those who install and commission systems a simpler and easier way to interact and manage buildings. The adoption of data standardization will enable the various building systems to become more easily integrated than ever before. 

What to know more? Download the full White Paper here. 

Joanna Benbow

Joanna is a Chartered Marketer passionate about sustainability and well-being. She is a highly qualified professional with a double Master's Degree in Global Business Management and Marketing. She joined J2 Innovations in 2022 with extensive experience working with startups, small businesses, and corporate environments. Alongside the business focus on growth, strategy, and financial stability, her passion leads her to work with businesses that make a positive impact locally and environmentally. She is also actively involved in promoting sustainability & green initiatives.

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Topics from this blog: Project Haystack End User Integration Cybersecurity OEM Systems Integrator FIN Edge2Cloud IoT Smart Buildings Smart Equipment FIN Framework Technology sustainability Building Automation System Software Maintenance white paper

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