the future role of IT in smart buildings

As information technology (IT) develops further, it is important to distinguish how it differs from operations technology (OT). Both types of technology can be used to improve a smart building. IT is the spectrum of technologies for processing information. IT usually includes the setup and maintenance of a network. OT is hardware and software that senses or causes a change in the monitoring or control of physical devices, processes and events. OT for a smart building typically includes HVAC, lighting and security. OT also ensures that the air quality in a building is good and the building does not have high CO2 emissions. Traditionally, OT is not networked. A connected, “aware” building that has both IT and OT can be transformed into a sustainable, green building. It is possible to bridge OT and IT infrastructure.

Separate Networks Boosts Security, Efficiency and Communication

Even though IT and OT networks can accomplish amazing things for a smart building, at this point, they should be kept separate. Giving an IT department the task of linking up and managing hundreds of OT devices remains problematic. Many OT devices lack traditional IT security methods. They also have different management, internet access and update frequency characteristics than IT devices. When an OT device is connected to the IT network but remains unsecured, a hacker can use HVAC, lighting and other systems in a building to reach IT devices and data in them.

Since OT devices have predictable, limited and specific needs for internet access, a separate OT network is easy to isolate and firewall. A more protected OT network is less likely to be attacked and hacked. Building managers can protect an OT network with locked and disabled ports, intrusion detection monitoring and auditing. Separate IT and OT networks also lead to greater efficiency and faster communication. The IT department does not have to hook up many OT devices, which would burden the building’s network. In addition, devices on each network can communicate quickly with one another.

What IT Security and Integration Can Accomplish

IT security and integration seem like very distant topics from greentech and facility management. Yet how IT devices and their network work together reveal how building managers can keep the building and IT devices within it safe. When IT is secure, the facility cannot be hacked so outsiders can access company data. One of the main concerns for a smart building is hackers unlocking doors or windows. When IT is integrated, a building manager can determine whether IT devices throughout the building are secure and operating according to plan.

Looking at the trends for green building also indicates how an OT network can serve a building manager in the years ahead. Solar panels, home energy storage and energy management systems, the last of which automate lighting, power and HVAC systems, are all gaining in popularity. When an OT network collects, analyzes and automates a building’s actions, the building manager is better equipped to engage in predictive maintenance and make the building more aware of its actions.

A building manager who is able to understand whether the building is energy-efficient and equipment is performing at an optimum level, yet is still able to protect the building’s IT network and devices, is in an excellent position to deliver good performance and security outcomes for the building’s tenants. Understanding how a building manager can use IT and OT to benefit companies and residents within is a developing science with a lot of potential for success.

Want to learn more about how OT protects your smart building from obsolescence? Download our latest e-book, “How to Combat Building Automation Obsolescence.”

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