IoT Disruption of Building Management Systems Business Model

Traditionally, Building Management Systems* (BMS – see definition below), which are built to manage high capex ‘fixed cost’ systems such as commercial HVACs, power systems, fire monitoring systems, etc., are considered to be expensive with no clear line of sight to return on investment. In addition to the capital outlays, which can run up to $7.50 USD per sq ft, the legacy nature of the system drives up opex costs [REF1].

Enter the nimble Internet of Things (IoT) driven advancements in the last decade that rely on standard, future proofed protocols, inexpensive yet secure sensor systems which are sufficiently miniaturized to drive positive cost disruption. Studies have shown that the connected solution can reduce cost by up to 30% [REF1]. For instance, MoMA SF, which has 125,000 square feet of gallery space, can save $281,250! You can connect directly with Zentri to have a deeper conversation on this here.

BMS vendors and commercial building owners/operators have two distinct options to reduce capex and opex while increasing the visibility and velocity of return on investment.

The Gateway Option : An overlay model, where a set of sensors, highly secure embedded software that can sit on top of the existing BMS infrastructure, can deliver critical data such as temperature, humidity, occupancy data, surge protection trends, and the status of critical endpoints such as exit signs (which need to stay charged to remain functional during power outages) wirelessly to strategically placed gateways . The cost of Wi-Fi enabled sensors has decreased to a point where, for a fraction of the capex of the original installation, this sensor driven overlay network can start producing value in less than 4 months.

The Endpoint Option : In distinct contrast to the Gateway Option, a slew of possibilities now exist that allow the endpoints , such as thermostats, humidity monitors, exit signs, surge protectors, etc., to send data directly to a cloud service for monitoring, trend analysis and analytical visibility. Advances in hardware and embedded software allow BAS vendors to ‘add on’ endpoint monitoring systems to start with and later add secure connectivity to the endpoints themselves. This obviates the need for specialized gateways and can reuse or install inexpensive Wi-Fi Access Points (AP) in the building. The endpoint-only option has the potential to drive down the cost even further than the aforementioned 30%.

The key elements that a BMS vendor and customer should look for in both of these models are

  • Security and Privacy: A solution that adds wireless internet capability instantly increases the threat surface. As a vendor and customer, look for endpoints and gateways that are capable of encrypting not just that data but also the software binary that is running on it. The second key piece is protecting data that is transmitted from and to the endpoints/gateways from the cloud, which is accomplished by having encryption & decryption setup on both sides. Lastly, look for vendors who can offer a managed private cloud model out of the box for the data that is collected, stored and analyzed. The last piece is often overlooked and can become a pain point when customer data privacy needs to be guaranteed.
  • Ease of Setup, Manageability and Serviceability: A surprising learning from helping customers deploy these solutions is, as soon as we add software and wireless connectivity, the manageability (provisioning, adding new features, inventory management) of BMS is the first high value return on investment. A solid Device Management Service is critical to this value realization. Coupled with this, a mobile app that can simplify setup of the endpoints and gateway contributes to the overall cost savings. Finally, look for solutions that are built with field service technicians in mind — a mobile app for servicing the equipment should typically be part of the package — not an afterthought.
  • Future Proofing: A solution, even if inexpensive compared to the original installation cost, should be ready to accommodate advances in hardware architectures as well as cloud services. The right solution, in fact the only solution, should contain a portable, secure, small footprint operating system for wireless connectivity that can run on both low resource environments as well as high resource environments. This needs to be coupled with solutions than can connect to existing cloud services for data normalization, analytics, workflow automation using standard open protocols such as HTTPS, WebSockets, MQTT, etc.

This post touches the salient elements of building a nimble, secure, inexpensive BMS overlay to help commercial building management take advantage of advances in IoT. AT Zentri, we believe the devil is truly in the details, and the Zentri platform has been built to service the need for near instant RoI, high security without massive customization or burden on the BMS customers.

Connect with us today to learn more.


* For the purposes of this post, I am using the Wikipedia definition of Building Management System : “A building management system (BMS), otherwise known as a building automation system (BAS), is a computer-based control system installed in buildings that controls and monitors the building’s mechanical and electrical equipment such as ventilation, lighting, power systems, fire systems, and security systems. A BMS consists of software and hardware; the software program, usually configured in a hierarchical manner, can be proprietary, using such protocols as C-Bus, Profibus, and so on. Vendors are also producing BMSs that integrate using Internet protocols and open standards such as DeviceNet, SOAP, XML, BACnet, LonWorks and Modbus.”

REF1 :


By: Sanjay Kalyanasundaram

VP Product

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