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“Today, most have embraced the fact that technology is the game changer and is the cornerstone of operating buildings as an economic model,” says Marc Petock, who is joining us for a Webinar next week. “As the technology surrounding engineering design and energy management systems have evolved, so has the dialogue around smart buildings. Driven by digital transformation and a change in value propositions; changes in the role of facilities are shifting to create healthy, safe and productive environments,” he continued in an article titled The New Dialogue in Smart Buildings.

Creating “healthy, safe and productive environments” is not as straightforward as it sounds, however. One person’s productive environment is another’s distracting space, one person’s sleep is affected more by bright light than the next, some people feel secure in a locked room while others feel safer out in the open. Each person is different, even when it comes to these basic aspects of the urban environment, so as smart technology emerges it must give control, directly or indirectly to the user. And that requires these smart systems to move intelligence to the Edge.

The evolution of a human-centric Internet of Things (IoT) has introduced a new paradigm for smart buildings that supports a decentralized architecture where a great deal of analytics processing can be done at the edge (the sensor unit) instead of the cloud or a central server. This computing approach, often called “edge computing” or “fog computing,” provides real-time intelligence and greater control agility while at the same time off-loading the heavy communications traffic. The edge is also user-facing and by giving edge devices greater intelligence the IoT can be more responsive to user preferences.

“This ‘Edge’ or ‘fog’ computing provides real-time intelligence and simultaneously reduces the communications traffic load. As technology evolves, we expect the gateways near to the edge of the network to form an increasingly important bridge between edge devices and higher level networks, making behavioral decisions, ensuring network security and helping to streamline data flows,” predicts our research report: The Internet of Things in Smart Commercial Buildings 2018 to 2022.

Edge devices, with their own intelligence have less need to send information back to a central server because they can interpret the desires of the user and respond themselves. Just as the traditional user controlled a thermostat to set the ideal temperature, the smart HVAC system will learn the behaviors of its users and sense their comfort level in order to set the ideal temperature – for productivity, comfort or whatever the objective of the space may be.

“It will be crucial that the user experience of the occupants is paramount when it comes to designing these solutions. While there may be lots of complicated stuff going on in the background, 99% of that should be invisible to the users,” says Ken Sinclair, Editor of AutomatedBuildings.com. “If occupants have to think too much about why they’re uncomfortable, then you already have a problem on your hands. Systems should be able to deduce occupants’ issues largely and respond appropriately, with the complexity being handled behind the scenes, invisible to the occupant – “Alexa, make me happy” – he added.

The edge is not just where legitimate users can interface with the smart building but also where malevolent parties can gain access to the system as a whole, with potentially disastrous consequences. The largest cyber attacks in history brought down several of the internet’s biggest sites in October 2016. The hackers used Internet of Things (IoT) enabled devices such as video surveillance cameras and printers, to overwhelm the popular DNS service Dyn, used by all the affected sites.

“In a relatively short time we’ve taken a system built to resist destruction by nuclear weapons and made it vulnerable to toasters,” tweeted Jeff Jarmoc, head of security for global business service Salesforce.

In a world increasingly full of connected lights, thermostats and toasters, it is near impossible to ensure that all your edge devices are not vulnerable to cyber attack. Unfortunately, many building owners and facility managers are not grasping why they need to invest in sophisticated security software to protect the office espresso machine or even their HVAC systems.

“What people need to understand is that nobody wants their HVAC data, they want an entry point into your building and into your enterprise. Hackers are using these types of OT systems to get into the building and gain access to more valuable systems,” states Ron Victor, CEO of IoTium, during a Memoori Webinar. “What you can futureproof against is the ability to patch those hacks, that’s the virtualization of the edge,” he clarified.

Two of the most important factors in the development of the IoT in smart buildings are; how systems can better respond and interact with the user, and how we can ensure that connected devices do not make systems more vulnerable. By moving more intelligence to the edge, those access points can better defend themselves from cyber attack while also better serving the user’s needs. For these reasons, the edge-ification of the IoT seems just as inevitable as the rocky road of cyber attacks we will experience trying to secure it.