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Building automation systems bring building commissioning success

ICS Consulting mixes IoTium's secure IoT connectivity platform with SkySpark's data analytics to serve up a new building automation systems business model around continuous building commissioning services.

Doug Johanson, a long-time engineer in the building automation space, hit what he believes will be pay dirt for competing in the new era of building commissioning services. The technical director of ICS Consulting Inc., sister company to Obermiller Nelson Engineering Inc., an engineering services firm, has teamed up with new players IoTium and SkyFoundry LLC to offer its clients an IoT-driven approach to providing building commissioning services, the processes by which subsystems -- HVAC, plumbing and so on -- are evaluated to ensure their adequacy.

ICS Consulting, formerly Commissioning Solutions, has provided traditional building commissioning services to hospitals, schools and other business entities, performing independent evaluations of HVAC and other core building systems and controls to improve energy efficiency, operations and maintenance, and overall air quality. Commissioning new construction or recommissioning building renovations have historically helped companies maximize their investments, resulting in lower operating costs and fewer change orders. For companies willing to spend the money, commissioning services can deliver substantial savings, Johanson contended -- to the tune of reducing total construction costs by up to 9%.

Unlike some building commissioning firms which perform their testing at a device level, ICS Consulting conducts its evaluation at a system level. The company uses existing building automation systems to collect and analyze data to determine, for example, if a building's heating and cooling systems are unnecessarily running at off-hours, economizing when they shouldn't or even are running simultaneously, Johanson said. For buildings that are 100,000 square feet or larger, Johanson said ICS Consulting can guarantee at least a 10% savings in energy costs through its commissioning services.

"What we're really about is going into a building and ensuring companies are getting what they pay for," Johanson explained.

The IoT opportunity

We had thousands of points of data to weed through, then we'd pull trend data into Excel charts and stare at wiggly lines to figure out what was going on with the building.
Doug Johansontechnical director, ICS Consulting

While the traditional business model has been lucrative, the advent of more sophisticated building automation systems, the internet of things and big data analytics have opened the door for big changes in building commissioning services. The ability to connect building systems remotely via the internet has given rise to continuous commissioning services, which employ cloud-based analytics to gain insights into performance and anomalies on a real-time basis instead of doing evaluations more sporadically. The growth in energy-efficient building design, coupled with construction complexity, is accelerating demand for these new continuous commissioning services. Market research firm Pike Research forecasted demand for overall building commissioning services to double from $2.2 billion in 2012 to $4.4 billion by 2020.

By using IoT and big data analytics tools, ICS Consulting is revamping its business model to product as a service, providing better quality monitoring and recommendations to a broader range of customers, Johanson said. The traditional commissioning process was highly manual and time-consuming, he explained, adding that commissioning engineering experts would collect data from building automation systems, pull the data into Excel spreadsheets and pore over the raw data to unearth patterns. Now, with the combination of the IoTium secure connectivity platform and SkyFoundry SkySpark data analytics tool, Johanson and his team can perform critical analysis in near real time while taking most of the manual labor out of the process.

"We had thousands of points of data to weed through, then we'd pull trend data into Excel charts and stare at wiggly lines to figure out what was going on with the building," he explained. Now, with IoTium and SkySpark, ICS Consulting can pull data from building automation systems in real time or, for many of his clients, just once a day and the software sifts through the data based on predefined rules to uncover insights. "It's taken so much of the labor out of the process -- it's a far better way of doing this," he said. "Now, it's the software that sifts through data, finds patterns and locates the gems in them."

IoTium provides the critical secure connectivity piece for ICS Consulting's new commissioning offering. Typically, potential customers were unwilling to open up their building automation system platforms and internal networks to a commissioning service provider due to security concerns. However, IoTium's book-ended architecture mitigates their concerns via an approach that establishes a secure end-to-end tunnel between building automation systems and legacy assets and the SkySpark analytics application running in the cloud.

With customers' security concerns off the table, ICS Consulting also benefits from being able to manage all of its commissioning sites through a single pane of glass -- the IoTium Orchestrator -- while enabling it to more easily initiate upgrades without having to physically be on site.

Today, ICS Consulting has almost a dozen clients on board with its new commissioning services, and Johanson anticipates the ease of deployment and ability to easily scale will facilitate a thriving new business model. "This is opening up a whole new service line for us that did not exist a year and half ago," he said.

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