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The Development of Smart Building Operating Systems

16 Sep 2019

‘Smart Buildings’/’Digital Buildings’ are being developed today to benefit all stakeholders. The growth of smart cities will depend on technology innovated for ‘smarter’ buildings. The definition of a Smart Building can differ from person to person – ranging from buildings that offer many amenities, those with ‘cool gadgets’ installed and those that are of science fiction, which is why it’s important to better understand the concept driving the rise of the Smart Buildings era. From the technological aspect of digitising a building for the future, software architecture would need to be built to have connectivity to the Internet and other devices, seamless UX and UI design, compatibility with third-party applications and ultimately sustainability.

Building Operating Systems (BOSs)

In our modern world, innovators are digitising processes and leveraging data. Smart Buildings have yet to become mainstream due to:

  • the lack of available suppliers, technician support and specialists
  • underdeveloped software architecture for multiple different building management systems
  • infant concept of what hardware/software and business applications make up a Smart Building
  • a chasm between landlord and tenants/occupiers’ expectations of services that will provide value to them

While these are issues to overcome, the ‘Building Operating System’ (BOS) is a solution taking shape in the pursuit of a digitalisation approach to developing software platforms for Smart Building enablement. A universal platform that can enable any building to become ‘smart’ is an outcome that will accelerate the growth of smart cities and mainstreaming Smart Buildings.

What is a BOS?

A BOS is fundamental to an efficient Smart Building enablement process. There are 5 key subsystems a BOS platform needs:

  • Application Enablement Platform (AEP) – SDK (Software Development Kit) and documented APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to enable app integration with third-party systems, app developments and data model enrichment.
  • Real-time distributed graph database – i.e. a digital twin of the building mirroring an accurate depiction of the building’s semantics and providing real-time management with a field of data (from IoT, BMS etc.), in other words: providing the capability to manage a reliable BIM model in real-time.
  • Distributed orchestration system – Automatic synchronisation of modified data and event management for orchestrating processes i.e. applications, piloting, analytics, which are distributed within various building systems.
  • Rights management system – Data/info access control over users for the digital twin and its different applications.
  • On-site/local deployment – To manage critical real-time aspects on a secure server for data privacy, data flow constraints and system resilience.
Illustration showing that a smart building is differentiated by a BOS

Illustration showing that a smart building is differentiated by a BOS (i.e. Smart Spaces)

Purposes of a BOS

A building will be transformed into a digital service platform with a BOS. The BOS should be able to organise, facilitate and accelerate the deployment, development and use of digital applications in the building for:

  • users seeking more personalised services and comfort;
  • tenants/occupiers seeking reduced operational costs and leveraging the building to improve their work productivity, attract new talent hires or investors for their business;
  • facility managers seeking to optimise their performance in maintenance actions, researching/collecting relevant information, and to prove the usefulness of specific investments (discover How IoT drives Efficiencies in Facility Management);
  • investors seeking to increase and sustain the asset value, as well as, to simplify transactions and gain competitive advantage.

There are many other potential purposes of the BOS, such as the capability to adapt the building’s space per each user’s needs. The ability to deploy all of these many services on one platform and to simplify the development of such complex systems at a scalable level is what will make the BOS a universal software for any building size.

Connectivity for Smart BOSs

The sense of ‘smart’ embodies goal-driven intelligence and knowledge. There is no larger database than Google Search Engine which connects input from millions of human minds via the Internet. Connecting a BOS to the Internet opens the gateway to boundless intelligence. Adoption of IoT (Internet of Things) devices and 5G broadband is what is advancing BOSs.

Seamless UX and UI

Illustration of a BOS' components

Illustration of a BOS’ components.

What’s most exciting about digitising buildings is enabling physical spaces to become adaptable to fully optimise per any given situation – from automated room climate, adaptive lighting systems, to virtual concierge services, robot assistants and just about anything else that can be programmed with an operating system.

Whilst the BOS is a platform that has specific positioning in a Smart Building environment, not just any platform can be positioned as a BOS. Hence, there are 3 different architectural layers that can be identified in a Smart Building operating digital platforms:

  • the field/equipment layer – generally ‘automated systems’ such as BMSs and security video surveillance;
  • the building layer – such as BMS supervision, BIM (Building Information Modelling), space management;
  • the property/real estate layer – such as (land)owner/tenant management systems, a mobile app portal, CMMS (Computerised maintenance management system), online services, hypervisor for multiple buildings.

Each layer can be associated with the following (as depicted in the illustrated diagram below):

  • field layer ⇒ field computing
  • building layer ⇒ edge and fog computing
  • property layer ⇒ cloud computing

In the Smart Building, BOS is the software platform effectively streamlining and orchestrating the building layer.

Illustration showing where a BOS acts and the architectural layers


Smart BOSs compatibility

A BOS should consist of and be compatible with a wide range of third-party apps including SDKs and APIs. Its technical competences depend on:

  • an AEP – enabling enrichment of app developments and data models with open and documented SDKs, as well as, APIs integration;
  • a real-time graph database management system – an accurate and reliable digital twin of the building that can consume BMS and IoT data dynamically;
  • a distributed cloud-based orchestration system – to manage such a complex system, the BOS is flexible in orchestrating and analysing processes in separate server rooms, by building floor and can support efficient user interfaces.
  • a secure rights management system – each user should be categorised by profiles e.g. admin, manager, maintenance, employee, occupier, visitor, and allocate specific rights to use parts of the platform.
  • edge and/or fog computing capacity – as an industrial asset, the building will have great volumes of sensitive data that require confidentiality and reliable access to for real-time deployments, hence the BOS should be deployed locally in the building.

Smart Building sustainability

As aforementioned, a BOS’ sustainability will heavily depend on AEP capability in order to continually develop and deploy new apps. Machine Learning / Self-learning AI integration will be critical for advancing a BOS naturally due to human error and the inability to closely monitor every variable 24/7. AEP capability also means, flexibility to extend the BOS onto other smart devices like humanoid robots. Leverage such technologies to automate simple repetitive tasks will free up time for everyone to be productive in other areas like creative and social activities.

Utility usage in a building is affected by individuals’ behaviour, thus, a user-centric BOS is expected to encourage a reduction in waste i.e. energy waste. The digital twin will raise awareness of the effects of different activities and with prescriptive analytics, it will gamify decision-making. Transparency will enable users to hold each other responsible and positively raise standards whilst maintaining satisfactory comfort.

Sustaining an environmentally friendly Smart Building environment will help maintain a healthy environment for future generations.

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