Energy Manager

COLUMN – Are we “Open” for Business?

September 6, 2011 - ‘Are we “Open” for Business?’ refers to how important being open has become to our industry and how it has helped us grow and become part of something much larger. What are open systems? The Free Dictionary provides this definition: 1) A system in which the components and protocols conform to standards independent of a particular supplier.

September 6, 2011  By  Ken Sinclair

My rant last month “A call to the industry” to speed their evolution to open protocols for control languages created a lot of interest and was the most read article, and generated these great responses.

I provide a quick summary in this review Open Control Language Discussions of the over 40 comments received on Linkedin groups plus emails across my desk.

These five articles provide great insight and are in response to my original rant.
1. Open Programming Language for Building Automation
David Fisher, president of PolarSoft
“If you buy-in to systems that are proprietary, you also buy-in to a restricted source of humans with the expertise to provide those services. This means that owners and consultants are locked-out of making on-going changes and improvements, not to mention future vendors.”

The time has come to enable explosive growth in Building Automation by standardizing the way that BAS control programming is done.

People fought against decentralized automation for decades and yet today, nearly every BAS is mostly decentralized. People fought against direct digital control (DDC) claiming it couldn’t work and would cost too much, and yet today virtually every BAS control system is DDC-based. People fought against the idea of using a standardized and open communication between BAS devices and the concept of inter-vendor and inter-discipline interoperability, and yet today most systems have abandoned proprietary communications in favor of a very small number of standardized technologies, such as BACnet. Why not make a concerted effort to standardize the way that BAS is programmed and controlled?

2. Roadmap to Open Programming Language Continued
Nirosha Munasinghe
, product development manager of Open General
“This article continues to develop a road map to an open control programming language standard by examining the difference between IEC 61131-3 standard and the proposed open instruction set architecture.”

Embracing change in control programming languages created a plethora of discussions among the who’s who of the BAS industry last month. The discussions indicated the resistance against change in the BAS industry and the past attempts to open up the control programming paradigm by the IEC 61131-3 standard. 

3. Open access to vendor control languages
Nino Kurtalj, president of Elma Kurtalj Ltd
“Or more control, less vendors.”

IEC 61131-3, specifies five standard programming languages, and there are no variations or dialects. That is the most important point! Once you have learned them, you can use them on a wide variety of controllers based on this standard. Simply, transition from one vendor to another is a very simple process. I will not go deeply into the standard, but it is at this moment the best possibility at the controller level. Therefore, everyone who is responsible for the creation of tendering documentation should include that particular request as part of must have requirements.

After the pre-programmable and free programmable world of controllers we are at the BMS protocol level. What choices do we have here? We can use any of the three most common ones; Modbus, LonWorks, BACnet. If we are in Europe, KNX is starting to be very important, but has small global penetration. Germany is a strong supporter of this protocol. KNX is very consistent and surely this protocol will change a control paradigm from three kings to the four kings of BMS.
When we are at the IP level, we can talk about network controllers.

4. An Open, Standardized Control Language
Brian Frank, founder of SkyFoundry
“In this article we will look at the Sedona Framework and how it tackles each of these requirements making it an ideal solution to fulfill the vision of an open, standardized control language.”

In the August issue Ken Sinclair wrote about the need for an open, standardized control language. Here some of the key requirements to fulfill this vision of a software platform which might be widely adopted:

• Support the creation of new, customized function blocks or software components;
• Allow vendors and integrators to build up their own libraries of reusable blocks/components;
• Portability to use those libraries across any vendor’s devices;
• Leverage the graphical programming paradigm which has become accepted practice in the industry;
• Standardized protocols to build and manage the control applications; and
• Platform must be unencumbered from both a royalty and intellectual property perspective.

5. The Challenge to Legacy Building Management Systems
Jim Sinopoli
, managing principal of Smart Buildings LLC

“Improved or advanced BMS systems will need to have “middleware” software tools and be able to standardized data from a variety of sources and systems into an open database structure.”

The marketplace and client needs for BMS systems are changing significantly as buildings and building management are becoming more complex. The pressures are coming from the need for greater visibility and transparency in energy consumption, the introduction of new technologies, and the evolving skill sets and knowledge required of facility personnel. For example, many other parties in an organization, aside from the facility engineers and technicians, now want access to the energy data which in part is generated in the BMS. Building managers are looking for more sophisticated applications to help in analyzing and managing systems and demand platforms that can handle broader integration of other building systems. BMS manufacturers are also facing the retooling of their platforms to communicate and interact with the smart grid.

The response to these emerging marketplace needs has so far come from medium sized and start-up companies with enterprise Integrated Building Management Systems (IBMS) and not from the traditional BMS manufacturers.

As you can see from the above input, there are a lot of opinions and good advice on how we should move forward. Please join in our discussion on one of the groups or via email directly to me. Your input on how we can remain Open for Business is important.

Ken Sinclair is the publisher of and can be reached at

Print this page


Stories continue below