BIoT Canada

Q&A with Cisco Canada’s Bill MacGowan

“There is a firm belief now that buildings are going to move off of AC power to low-voltage DC power systems. And that gets very interesting.”

March 3, 2019  

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By Doug Picklyk


Bill MacGowan is the director of the digital buildings practice for Cisco Canada.

What role is Cisco playing in the Smart Buildings market?

What we did, about 10 years ago, is recognize that the IT world was starting to see this expansion of devices and data on the OT [operational technology] side of the buildings market. So, if in the IT world we were connecting to devices like phones and cameras and security access points, and along comes this world of OT, really being driven by the Internet of Things (IoT), what happens if we bring those two worlds together. And really that’s what we’ve been doing in our real estate practice.


What’s your message to the real estate community?

We recognize that if you leverage the Internet of Things there are a lot of new value statements that could be created for an end customer. And the other piece is that because our strength is IT networking, we’re saying that if everything is IoT based it’s going to ride on a platform, so the role we’re playing now is sitting down with customers, whether they’re a builder, a hospital, a military base, or a new engineering building on a university campus, and we’re saying, “You’re going to be spending a lot of time designing and planning and we think that the Cisco practice can add some additional value into your buildings.”


What value are people looking for?

If you’re a builder/operator we would ask what kind of value are you looking to get out of your investment. That value can show up in the area of building for less, from a capex perspective, or maybe they’re more interested in operational efficiencies pointed at energy sustainability and carbon reduction, or some are more interested in the physical security of the building.

It’ all predicated on the idea that when a customer is front-end loaded on the strategy phase, we get introduced early in the process and we become one of the stakeholders in design, construct and operate, but we’re just one piece of the puzzle.


Where do you bring the value to the building design?

We are an IT company, we connect things, and on the OT side we’re now connecting to thermostats, lighting fixtures, door locks, cameras and elevators, and we’re collapsing that onto a network. And as we collapse those networks it creates a capex savings. Operationally, if we connect things and you get visibility via data, then you can run your buildings more efficiently.

And then if everything that’s connected is on a network, I don’t want someone to come in from the outside and hack into the thermostat to get to my HR records, and that’s where network cybersecurity comes into play.


What can you tell me about security of networks for Smart Buildings?

Cybersecurity is top of mind across the entire real estate market and we’re there to ensure buildings and people are secure.

It’s a combination of software on the network embedded in our switches, and we have firewalls which is a combination of the device and software, and we have cloud-based management tools that allow for visibility and creation of correct policy. For example, policy saying I don’t want my lights talking to my vending machines, or asking why is my thermostat now delivering a megabit of data?


Can you explain the role Power of Ethernet (PoE) is playing in Smart Buildings?

From an IT perspective, PoE has been in the market for over 20 years, connecting phones with power and communications. The phone went first, and then security cameras followed, connecting to a Cat 5e or Cat 6a cable for example.

The OT side of the house has always had its own separate power, line-voltage power, and separate communications trunks connecting to a light or a thermostat. So they’ve been lagging. Then came the introduction of the light bulb no longer being simply a light bulb, but now it’s an IoT device that sits on the edge of a network. And the amount of power that we’re able to deliver on a computer cable has risen. So originally PoE was at 7 watts, it jumped to 15 watts and then to 30 watts, and it’s now sitting at 60 watts and IEEE has just ratified the next jump, which will be 90 watts of power. And so everything is crisscrossing and accelerating.

From lighting we now have everything from vending machines to toilets to garbage cans, any device that in the past has been dumb, is now being embedded with smarts.

And those devices want to connect onto a network, and PoE delivers that power.

There is a firm belief now that buildings are going to move off of AC power to low-voltage DC power systems. And that gets very interesting.


Can you share your experience integrating IoT functionality into your own Canadian headquarters at RBC Waterpark Place in Toronto?

About eight years ago we learned of the work that Signify (formerly Philips Lighting) was doing out of Eindhoven [Netherlands] using LED luminaires powered using PoE.

Then along comes WaterPark Place. We had a very progressive team led by developer Oxford Properties. They believed that this whole concept of a Smart building, or digital building, could drive new value for their asset.

There was team put together that included Oxford, EllisDon [contractor], WZMH Architects, HIDI Group [mechanical systems] and MMM (now WSP) [electrical design].

We worked together first on the base building [which was ultimately completed in 2014 and achieved LEED Platinum certification], and then Cisco Canada made the decision to move its headquarters into WaterPark Place, so we had the opportunity to incorporate some new technology.

We decided to install luminaires from Signify and connect them to a Cisco network, providing power and communication. It was a real turning point in the market place.

In lighting, there are two things that have happened, there’s the efficiency of LEDs and the quality of light from a colour temperature and tunability perspective, and then there is the sensing elements that are going into the luminaire.

The luminaires we have at WaterPark have a sensing module to pick up temperature, light level and occupancy data. We can also turn on an application from Signify called YellowDot, and this is a visual light communication that allows a user to turn on a cell phone with a camera on, and the camera will do a handshake to the light, and that connection of phone to luminaire allows me to triangulate where the phone is, down to less than one-foot of accuracy.

So I can take that data, and if everyone has that app I can say that room has x-number of people, and I know how they are positioned, and I can use that data to adjust ventilation control or temperature settings.


What are you measuring at Waterpark and what value is it driving?

We’ve coined a phrase the fourth utility. Buildings have three primary utilities: gas, electricity and water. If we think about what IoT is doing, where it’s creating this other network to connect for data and deliver low-voltage power, we’re calling this the fourth utility.

We’ve been turning on a number of different applications that sit on this fourth utility. The apps can be in the cloud, or on the network, and it’s the applications that have the machine learning, or the analytics.

One of them is called Comfy, it’s a mobile app that allows people to vote democratically on temperature. So maybe you’re a little too hot, and I’m too cold. That voting data goes to a cloud and then back to our network and adjusts our set point of temperature. That’s realizing energy savings for us of around 14%, and then there’s also a satisfaction indicator that says that I’m happier because I have control.

Also, if you were to come onto our floorplate and turn on WiFi, we can triangulate from indoor positioning on wireless to augment ventilation demand on the mechanical side.

Signify is also adding another sensor which is a small camera from PointGrab, and this camera looks into a room and starts getting heat map signatures to determine how many people are in the room, and we’re going to use that data for adjusting light levels and temperature levels, but we’re also going to be using that data to determine, do we have enough meeting rooms, or maybe we could use less square footage.


Where is this leading?

So there is all of this data coming, and the ultimate goal is a global platform for the employee. For example, I get up in the morning and I have an app called Connected Spaces, it allows me to reserve a room at the office. Then I get to the office and it welcomes me, provides wayfinding to direct me to the room that I booked, and the room would automatically know who I am and set up a temperature, light level, and window blind control, all to my preferences.

That type of employee control is actually creating some scoring metrics in the Well Building Standard, and also in the LEED program.


Can you share some smart building projects you’re working on now?

There are two very interesting projects we’re working on now. One is at NAIT [Northern Alberta Institute of Technology] in Edmonton, where we’re helping them build out a Smart Building curriculum. We’re also working with them around the topic of smart building construction and how IoT will impact the design speed of construction, reduce building costs and operating costs over time. It’s very grass roots.

And second is a retrofit building project in Halifax that is going to showcase a collapsing of devices onto a Cisco network. We should have a case study on that project later this year.

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