Buildings IoT

What I Learned and Didn’t Learn at Realcomm IBCon 2018

By Clint Bradford | June 12, 2018

Our team is back to our respective offices after Realcomm/IBCon brought more than a handful of us out to Las Vegas. This show always offers an interesting mix of perspectives from service providers like OTI to manufacturers like SkyFoundry, Optigo, Dell and Intel to end users including Berkshire Hathaway, CBRE, JLL, GGP, Cushman & Wakefield, you get the picture. It’s a unique mix of people representing various aspects of real estate investment and innovation.

The Realcomm organization was celebrating its 20th conference this year and for one of my colleagues, last week marked his 13th consecutive Realcomm\IBCon. While it was only my third foray and OTI’s first as an exhibitor, I noticed both familiar refrains and new ideas permeating the show from the exhibit hall to the session rooms. Here are a few takeaways:

Back to Basics

New people are entering the industry all the time and IT folks are getting involved in more levels of controls and operations so it’s good that we continue having conversations around the basics of systems, networks and security. The construction process is still not finely tuned when it comes to integrating building systems. The more conversation around the basics and the process of involving Owners, General Contractors, IT personnel, and Master System Integrators the better the process will become and the more efficient our projects and buildings will become. I’m definitely optimistic.

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Agree to Disagree

Speaking of OT, IT, systems, networks and security, the question of convergence once again reigned supreme. No one seems to agree on the best approach for networking IT and OT devices. Same network? Different network? The jury is out indefinitely, but there was plenty of ping-ponging on the subject. Some integrators firmly said yes to converged networks, whereby OT devices live on IT networks through one or two extremely locked-down access points. Other integrators insisted that separate networks are the only way to insure the highest levels of security and network uptime.

Here’s my take: First, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to system integrations. Second, there are a lot of new products hitting the market and it makes sense that IT teams are hesitant to allow a converged network in their buildings. Their questions are good ones – how secure are these new devices? Have they really been put through the same rigorous testing to which we subject our IT devices?

During a couple sessions on the topic of convergence, end users were on hand to discuss how they’re expanding teams of white-hat-hackers to test all devices that come into their networks, no matter what kind of network it is. This increasingly includes OT devices, driving OT teams and IT teams closer together. This, in my view, is a very good thing.

From the end user perspective, it’s also encouraging to hear agreement around the value that can be added when systems and devices talk with one another, no matter what we decide to call the network.

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Debate on Digital Twins

Though the concept of digital twins has been around since 2002, it started reaching mainstream audiences in earnest a couple years ago. Realcomm focused on the idea of digital twins in a variety of ways at the conference. From the sessions I sat in on the topic, I can see the advantages of having something of a development environment for experimentation with new controls, analytics and operations processes. But I think we’re at the very early stages of this and we need to see it pencil out before we’re confident we can take advantage of the benefits without compromising project delivery.

A few people posited that this digital twin approach wouldn’t have any impact on project completion time or budget, but can we be sure of that?

Aaahhh Analytics

The Realcomm IBCon show this year, and others so far in 2018, have made it clear there is no longer a debate about analytics. Most vendors regardless of vertical have some sort of analytics package, and most end users perk up when the word is mentioned.

This is great to see. It means it will be easier for analytics to be included in integration projects and that the future of building controls and operations will be more efficient and long-lasting. But it was also clear that everyone is “doing analytics” and it’s getting harder to tell who is really offering a valuable system. With loose standards, it can be hard for property owners, investors and managers to evaluate competing analytics systems. There are a lot of people saying they have deployed analytics. Experience has confirmed Analytics are hard and require professional engineers and dedicated teams of data analysts to really have an impact.

Now that we agree that analytics are crucial, we need to dig deeper into what makes them successful in buildings. Are we really taking full advantage of all the data we’re collecting?

Final Thoughts

If the mark of a good show is leaving with more questions than answers, I’d say this year’s Realcomm | IBCon was a success. Although we as an industry are still running in circles around some big topics, there is enough progress and innovation to keep me excited about the future.

If you’d like to read more about what went down at the show, revisit this post about the Digie Awards and our case studies page for peek at what we presented at the Showcase. Also check out our Twitter feed where we were live-tweeting some key sessions.

*Photo 1 by Dom Crossley on Flickr ; Photo 2 by Nelo Hatsuma on FlickrPhoto 3 by Schnitzel_bank on Flickr

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