What is the Internet of Things? (IoT)

There is a tremendous amount of interest and hype around the Internet of Things (IoT) which for the broader world of physical objects is similar to the momentum experienced by BIM for AEC in the early 2000’s. According to Wikipedia a British entrepreneur first used the phrase, “Internet of Things” in 1999 to a global network of RFID connected devices. The definition of IoT has expanded somewhat since then beyond RFID enabled devices that can be located in any number of places such as vehicles, buildings and in the wider environment even on the ocean floor. The definition now also includes any number of different data transmission protocols and methods including pretty much anything with a built in sensor that communicates data externally in a network of devices. The usefulness of these interconnected devices is tremendous and ranges from enhancing life safety and security to Building Automation System (BAS) control and reporting. A direct result of these potentially massive number of disconnected devices is the tremendous amount of data that they can transmit collectively which typically needs to be gathered, collated and analyzed to truly realize their usefulness. So the question I am posing for this article, since buildings are a physical location where many of these devices are being installed, does BIM play a role in the IoT?

BIM and IoT possibilities

Because buildings house many of these devices on the surface it’s quite easy to say yes, BIM does play a role but I believe it deserves a bit more attention as we drill down to see exactly how it does or can fit. One of the issues that needs to be considered is how do we define BIM? I’ve heard it defined in many ways including BIM is simply a model created in a 3D modeling tool such as Revit all the way to BIM being a collaborative process for designing, engineering and constructing facilities. In actuality the 3D geometry itself is less important to IoT than the data that comes from the model which is very similar to the data that is important to building lifecycle operations including spatial data and asset data. Both of these two types of data provide a framework for the organization and analysis of IoT data in a way that is meaningful to building operations and therefore does provide a basis for considering BIM as a potential component of IoT and how it relates to buildings. I created figure 1 to show how broadly these ideas can be considered and how the concept of IoT not only applies to areas a buildings operations that are just starting to be considered, but also demonstrates that the breadth of the devices and data that can be transmitted. Without some type of organizing element from a data analytics and a workflow standpoint, the information coming from these disparate systems can be at best silos of information which don’t provide value for the overall operational picture.

Figure 1 – Buildings and the IoT

Figure 1 – Buildings and the IoT

Collaborative systems as an IoT Organizer

A collaborative data system approach to a building centric IoT is really the key to success for building owners and operators who want to be able to get meaningful data out of their building systems in a way that can be analyzed and is actionable. I’ve seen several examples of vertically specific cloud applications developed for integrating sensor data with dashboards relating to building automation and control and in particular energy and sustainability management. I think these approaches are good but are they missing an opportunity to take on the bigger picture? I believe the best solution is to take a comprehensive BIM based building lifecycle approach to managing IoT for the building industry which connects models to a Cloud‐based Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS) to help them manage space, plan for maintenance and more. True building lifecycle integration maintains a live integration between the building models and the sensors and systems throughout the lifecycle not only of individual buildings but of a building portfolio. This approach can begin with construction when sensors and equipment are installed, moves into operations, and ultimately ends in building decommissioning when a facility has come to the end of its useful life.