5 min read

Part 4: The Device Layer [Nexus Newsletter #128]

Hey friends,

Let's continue our series on Nexus Lore: the core concepts that come up again and again in this newsletter, on the Nexus podcast, in the Nexus Foundations course, in Nexus Pro gatherings, and in the community chatroom.

If you want to start at the beginning, here's the whole series of (Smart) Building Blocks, including where we're headed:

  1. The Silos
  2. The Overlays
  3. The Horizontal Architecture (last week)
  4. The Device Layer (today)
  5. The Network Layer
  6. The Independent Data Layer
  7. The Data Model
  8. The Applications
  9. Grid Interaction
  10. Digital Twins, Operating Systems, Marketplaces, Platforms

At the end, I'll turn this into a slide deck that anyone can use to explain Smart Buildings Lore. As we go, I'd love your feedback.... Lore is never written by one person.

Now for part 4...

The Device Layer

How to explain the Device Layer—the bottom layer in our Horizontal Architecture?

First, we must start with the elephant in the room. As covered in our whitepaper, 87% of commercial buildings don't have any digital systems. That means we still need to install a lot more digital devices to enable everything higher up the stack.

For the remaining 13%, which tend to be our biggest, richest, and most complex buildings, the device layer can be summarized like this...

The rolling chair integration

Siloed systems—each with their unique purpose, inputs & outputs, key stakeholders, and life safety functions. Each with their separate stacks, including networking, asset registers, data models, data storage, user interface, and devices.

When you log into these systems' software applications, you feel like you're logging into the 90's. That's because you are—these products haven't changed much since then.

And neither have the business models involved. To avoid the commoditization of their hardware and to fuel lucrative service contracts, providers of siloed systems attempt to preserve their ownership over the full stack by locking others out and making half-assed attempts at the interoperability standards the industry needs.

Matt Schwartz said it well: owners everywhere are forced into navigating complex upgrades, unlocking from proprietary systems, spending large capital for simple changes, and simply trying to make sense of this siloed world.

Finally, now that we've grounded the discussion in what you'll still find in most buildings, let's think about all the changes happening. The following are the main themes I see. They're not evenly distributed, but they're disrupting the device layer status quo building-by-building.

🔗 Trend #1: Everything will have an IP address

There's two layers to this one. First, ethernet is replacing the serial networks of yesterday, meaning the number of traditional devices on building IP networks is exploding, from thermostats to locks to elevators. Second, many more types of devices are now getting IP addresses, from Peloton bikes to coffee makers to digital signage to trash cans to refrigerators to windows to vehicles to PV inverters.  

📊 Trend #2: IoT sensors create valuable new data

We’re seeing entirely new (and yes, siloed) IoT sensor stacks. These are coming because of Moore’s Law—with sensors and gateways becoming super cheap, you’re seeing a lot of new players entering the market. Examples include people counting, IAQ, kitchen equipment monitoring, submeters strewn everywhere, leak detection systems, and seismic detection. This data enables new use cases for the layers up above.

💡 Trend #3: Traditional devices are getting smarter

What if we built traditional controllers with modern hardware and software technology? It's happening already: look at Passive Logic's HVAC controls, Span's electrical panels, and Belimo's smart valves as examples. Whereas you used to simply connect a Belimo valve to the BAS, now you have a valve that can do a ton of stuff on its own by connecting to the network and the cloud—such as analytics, control, software updates, and remote support.

📱 Trend #4: Devices to engage with the occupant  

Finally, the device layer now includes occupants' personal devices. As an example, commercial office is rapidly changing and becoming more focused on providing a great tenant experience. This is increasingly done with a mobile app, but can be delivered using other devices too. Examples include IAQ data being displayed on a kiosk, room booking devices, point of sale devices in the cafe or kitchen, connected kitchen/coffee appliances, lobby directories, etc.

To summarize: It's not just our traditional silos. We have all these new devices. All these new connections. All these batteries, power supplies, and other dependencies. It's a bit of a mess, right?

The modern device layer

As a result, building owners are left with (at least) three big questions:

  • How do we manage all of this complexity? E.g. What devices do I have? Are they working? What are they measuring? Are they all updated?
  • How do we secure our networks with all of these new connections?
  • How can we simplify how this layer is implemented across the portfolio?

In order to enable the outcomes we talked about in Part 1, owners are left with a double edged sword: they must abstract away the complexity at the edge but also fully respect it and treat it with the detail it deserves.

Do you agree? What trends did I miss?

Let us know on LinkedIn,

—James Dice, Founder of Nexus Labs

P.S. Cohort 4 of our Foundations course ended last week. Check out some lovely LinkedIn testimonials here, here, and here; then join the waitlist for Cohort 5!


✖ At the Nexus

Here’s everything worth sharing from Nexus HQ this week:

The Lens: Measurabl + Hatch Data (Pro members only)—Measurabl, a software and service provider focused on ESG data and reporting, acquired energy management & analytics software and service provider Hatch Data. In this edition of the Lens, we unpack the why and the context behind the news.

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★ PODCAST: 🎧 #101: Virtual Engineering with Hank—We talked about Hank’s founding story, how the product works and how it improves control system performance, why JLLT acquired Hank and how it fits into their broader product strategy, and how the Hank team approaches some of the challenges on the people side of implementing advanced supervisory control.

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★ MEMBERS-ONLY EVENTS THIS MONTH:

  • Subject Matter Expert Workshop: Pro member Matt White, Vice President, Building Solutions at Buildings IOT, presented on the intersection of the Master Systems Integrator (MSI) role and the Independent Data Layer (IDL). Why is it ideal to have the MSI as the provider / owner / developer of that IDL? What are the advantages of an IDL that has been influenced by the experience of an MSI? How does having an IDL change the dynamics and impact of an MSI on a project?
  • Member Gathering: James and Pro member Brian Vaughn of Cushman Wakefield will discuss the key ways technology is transforming building operations. Plus, breakout rooms for networking!

Join Nexus Pro now to get the invites and access to the recordings.

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★ ON LINKEDIN: Will I see you in Orlando?

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★ READ OF THE WEEK: What's GraphQL?

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👋 That's all for this week. See you next Tuesday!