From Cyber Security to Privacy, IoT Raises Issues for FM Companies

By Sudhi Ranjan Sinha and Katrina Liddell

Managing facility operations is a challenging and complex task, especially when dealing with multiple priorities that sometimes conflict with one another. For example, occupants want comfort and safety. If something goes wrong, they expect the issues to be addressed quickly. Additionally, they do not want to experience the inconvenience of building improvement projects. The service team must address all the complaints from occupants, ensure equipment and systems in the building are working well, find capable people to maintain the systems, and do all this with limited budgets.

The executive team, on the other hand, looks at how best to extend asset life and maintain property value. They are also tasked with reducing the operating costs of a building, which includes energy costs. These expenses sometimes require improvement initiatives, which the facility service team generally does not have the bandwidth to address, and occupants do not have the patience to deal with the associated interruptions. Additionally, suppliers and contractors struggle to keep up with spare parts and maintenance activities, while suppliers try to locate qualified resources to support the building manager.

The Internet of Things (IoT) will help simplify these issues. It promises to unify dozens of different systems and suppliers, hundreds of sensors and analytics on a common platform that takes this data and provides useful, actionable information. The IoT is already helping reduce energy use and improve building operations through innovative solutions. As a result, facility management companies have started taking advantage of these possibilities to create better built environments for their customers.

The rapid growth of IoT technologies gives rise to many new considerations around societal concerns, privacy, policy and regulatory implications, and cyber security. How suppliers and operators deal with these topics will influence the adoption of IoT technologies by building owners and tenants. Robust practices and policies will also help foster a more trusting relationship between them. The intensity of these considerations depends on the building application, customer vertical market, geography, local regulatory environment and customer maturity. Several common factors will be useful for facility management companies to keep in mind when engaging with their customers on IoT matters and designing/deploying IoT solutions. Here are some of the most relevant ones:

Cybersecurity. Connecting new devices to a network creates more points of vulnerability. Most manufacturers of building devices are taking steps to address these potential threat vectors. New standards and practices are being developed every day. Facility management companies need to stay up-to-speed on potential problems and possibilities and their implications for their customers — the facility owners and tenants. Facility management companies also will need to develop some level of threat detection and first-response capability.

Data ownership and rights to use. Data is emerging as the new currency in an IoT-dominated world. Who owns the data, has rights to use it and its purposes will be key topics to resolve, especially in the absence of any overarching laws, industry standards, or commonly accepted business practices. Every participant in the IoT ecosystem will try to claim ownership and assert the perpetual right to use it. This gets more complicated, because data transforms at every stage and acquires new identities. Typically, end customers who own building assets and manufacturers of those assets that generate and process data will most likely own the data and have the right to use it. Facility management companies will need to carefully remediate this matter contract by contract, customer by customer.

Privacy rights. Often tenants and occupants in a facility do not like their personal data, actions, and behaviors being tracked by building IoT devices. However, these tracking practices might be necessary, the result of solution providers’ desires for more targeted solutions. Facility management companies will need to figure out a delicate balance between anonymity and accuracy to make solution implementation effective.

Liability. When systems become smart, they can initiate and control actions that adversely impact other individuals or assets in a building. As data, analysis and actions occur across multiple ecosystem participants, this can get a bit more complicated. Facility management companies need to proactively design specific scenarios and define how to deal with them.

Reliability and accuracy. Large-scale facility management and energy operations in buildings will be guided by the capabilities of IoT devices and solutions, which in turn impact people’s lives, comfort, and safety, along with operating costs. As a result, facility management companies will need to work with manufacturers and solution providers to ensure the right levels of reliability and accuracy in data collection, storage, processing, and analysis.

These are new, uncharted waters for facility management companies and every other player in the new IoT-based ecosystem. Much can be learned from experience. Developing standard guidelines, policy framework, and, eventually, regulations will take time. Facility management companies and their partners must work together closely to ensure that the adoption of IoT technologies improves their customers’ businesses and safety.

Please note that these comments are summaries of topics and are intended to present viewpoints from both the IoT company side and the consumer’s perspective, all in the spirit of being a thought-provoking discourse.  None of these comments are intended to reflect the current philosophy, strategy or policy of any particular company.

Sudhi Ranjan Sinha is vice president, product development, building efficiency, for Johnson Controls. He leads the global engineering and product development for the controls business of the company.  Katrina Liddell is vice president, enterprise account sales, system services North America, Johnson Controls.

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