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Choosing the Best Building IoT Devices for Security and Integration

Image of Natalie Patton
Natalie Patton

The best way for building owners and facilities managers to make Internet of Things (IoT) technology effective involves thinking first about what this technology can accomplish for their particular situation. When looking at creating a smart system with advanced automation, IoT devices should be chosen with careful consideration of the problems they are meant to resolve and the practicality of any possible solutions in each building. By identifying specific objectives, you can make better decisions about which technologies to introduce. 

Consider the 51-story Duke Energy Center in North Carolina, which boasts a platinum LEED certification, the highest green standard for any building. IoT devices are integrated into the HVAC, lighting, emergency preparation, metering, security, power reliability, and water management systems. The intelligent system that manages water throughout the structure uses sensors that allow it to reuse 10 million gallons yearly, which are harvested from rainwater, groundwater, and HVAC condensation. While this is undoubtedly impressive, it doesn’t serve as a blueprint for every building. 

Smart systems should serve a defined purpose. For example, smart microphones that respond to voice commands to control climate and lighting, while impressive, may not be the most necessary device for an office building. IoT devices should provide a good return on investment (ROI), work efficiently and effectively throughout their life cycles, and integrate easily into any existing building management system (BMS)—all without compromising security. 

The Smart Building: IoT Devices for Practical Purposes

Carefully evaluating and identifying which processes or systems to automate should be based primarily on meeting the needs of tenants and occupants. But this doesn’t just mean improving comfort; it also means creating opportunities for better preventative maintenance by connecting sensors to essential equipment. Of course, sensors and software that offer the best and quickest ROI are easiest to justify. 

Types and uses for building IoT devices include:

  • Wireless sensors that gather data on any number of conditions, including temperature, air quality, humidity, energy usage, and occupancy.
  • Software that analyzes data collected from these sensors and sends commands that adjusts these conditions. 
  • Computer devices that turn commands into electrical signals. 
  • Actuators that accept electrical input to act on what an analytics software recommends. 

What smart technology can do is only limited by the imagination. Whether you are seeking to reduce energy use, maintain safety, or more easily comply with regulations, IoT devices and network connectivity can be invaluable.

Device Security

A prime concern for any connected device is security. Cyberattacks are an increasing threat, and cybercriminals can take control of any piece of hardware connected to the Internet. Unsecured interfaces on any connected device can give third parties access to a system. This is especially true for those using popular operating systems like Microsoft Windows or Linux, which attackers often target to uncover a system’s vulnerabilities. 

Some IoT hardware even comes with pre-installed, web-based applications that can control devices and access data. To keep systems from becoming compromised, intelligent devices should always send messages using encrypted data and automatically log out after a certain time, while those utilizing passwords should change them regularly. 

Other ways to improve security in building IoT devices include: 

  • Collect information about device manufacturers, including models, serial numbers, firmware, hardware, and software. 
  • Determine risk profiles for each device and how it interacts with other devices within the network. 
  • Divide network into at least two subsections to limit vulnerable areas and reduce damage in the event of an attack. 
  • Keep detailed and up-to-date inventories of connected devices.
  • Maintain information on configurations and operating systems for each device. 
  • Monitor, report, and alert in real-time when managing IoT risks. 
  • Use the most up-to-date firewall protocols and virtual local area networks (VLANs) to keep IT assets separate from smart devices. 

No system is 100% secure, so it is best to plan for such situations using techniques that will limit damage. For this reason, it is a good idea to partner with companies that deal specifically with IoT devices in buildings to create a multi-layered system that can detect, prevent, and mitigate damage from cyberattacks. 

Considering IoT Device Lifecycle

Managing devices throughout their lifecycles can entail considerable expense and time. As such, building IoT devices are usually best managed and deployed by experienced service providers who can handle configuration, monitoring, and troubleshooting. Often, as-a-service providers can help alleviate cost concerns and keep security up-to-date throughout a smart device’s useful life.

A key lifecycle issue involves those building IoT devices and software applications that use open-source technology. A 2015 survey of IoT developers found that 91% use open-source software, hardware, or data, while 58% actively contribute to open-source projects. A more recent 2020 survey showed this trend is not changing, with 65% of respondents stating that they contribute to, use or experiment with open-source projects. 

Yet the problem is not open-source technology, as proprietary software’s vulnerabilities occur at the same rate. Rather, the problem is that open-source software is not updated with the same regularity. Working with open-source technology, though it offers upfront savings, requires regular security and other updates throughout the lifecycle of smart devices or apps. 

Costs vs. Benefits

Robust platforms that adapt to new technology and provide regular upgrading of software can evolve as needs change. Adaptable designs that are easily upgradable can keep smart systems from becoming obsolete. Consider, for instance, a software application that reduces the amount of energy used by 10% within a building. IoT devices supported by this app may be able to raise this by another 5% through a simple software update, allowing additional savings without adding any infrastructure and at nominal or no cost. 

When looking at a building’s smart system, the money saved—along with other benefits—should be balanced against cost. With any building IoT devices, there must be an appropriate ROI over time.

In terms of costs, IoT devices should: 

  • Decrease maintenance costs
  • Lower energy costs
  • Offer inexpensive ways for achieving regulatory compliance
  • Reduce potential legal costs by increasing building safety

But these aren’t the only factors to consider. You must also look at: 

  • Expected savings in energy, water, and other resources
  • Integration requirements to fully implement IoT building solutions
  • Need and cost of partners supporting smart systems
  • Scale and size of project

As larger projects require additional sensors and more complex architecture, deployment obviously costs more. When adding building IoT devices, however, more data can be gathered to achieve greater efficiency. In the end, large-scale IoT implementation usually offers significantly better ROI. 

Integrating Building IoT Devices into Smart Platforms

One of the most complex aspects of IoT technology within built environments involves the management of intelligent devices. Through proper integration into a building, IoT devices can allow you to reduce energy use in meaningful ways while simultaneously offering better occupant experiences.

When integrating smart devices, consider the following: 

  • Ensure hardware—especially sensors—is readily available so that they can be replaced when necessary. 
  • Source a multifunctional tool that allows versatile management of all a building’s automated systems. 
  • Use a wireless network that is widely supported by manufacturers of gateways and controllers. 
  • When considering software for processing and analyzing data from sensors, ensure it specifically addresses the structure’s needs. 

Significantly, condition-based maintenance (CBM) within smart systems can use AI to monitor physical assets in real-time. Through proper integration of this smart technology, IoT devices not only make buildings more efficient, they help predict failures before they happen. 

Buildings IOT: Devices Using onPoint Software

Buildings IOT’s signature analytics software, onPoint, prioritizes action instead of alerts and was developed through the combined experience of building control specialists, data analysts, software developers, and mechanical engineers. 

The insights provided by this innovative platform helps building owners and facilities managers identify issues rapidly and create long-term strategies for enhancing efficiency. By automating processes through the use of AI, fault detection and diagnostics become more refined, focusing on automation-driven ways to address problems before they become catastrophic. onPoint also offers customized reporting and single-pane-of-glass control to manage devices through the cloud with a secure virtual private network (VPN). 

If you are looking to create a truly smart building, Buildings IOT can offer the guidance and software you need to find the best IoT devices and the right solutions for your facilities.

Buildings IOT provides transformative software and services to integrate smart technology into built environments. Contact our team today.



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