The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a phrase that is appearing more and more often. It may seem like trendy jargon, but the IoT is a way of conceptualizing the very real connectivity of virtually everything via the Internet. The IoT will most likely have real applications for building automation and security system integrators in the future. Now, in the early stages of development, is the time for the security integrator to be part of the conversation regarding adaptation of the IoT to the facility security and management industry.

What exactly is the IoT? The phrase refers to the network of devices equipped with sensors, hardware, and software connected through the Internet that are able to communicate not only with people but also with one another, machine-to-machine. We are used to thinking of the Internet as connecting computers, smartphones and people. The IoT is about using the same technology to connect things to each other, without people. The IoT is anticipated to offer advanced connectivity of devices, systems, and services encompassing a variety of protocols, domains and applications. The interconnection of these embedded devices will usher in automation in nearly all fields, and human intervention will not be required.

The catalyst for change today for both the physical security as well as the building automation industries is the use of Internet protocols (IP), not just for video but also access control, intrusion alarms, HVAC control and more. All phases of facility management are moving toward an IP-based business model because it allows for real integration and interoperability, which vastly improves and extends the value propositions for end users. At the heart of the IoT are the IP sensors that sense and communicate the data required to enable other devices to automatically make evaluations and take the necessary actions.

The IoT eliminates the serial networks that facilities staffs are used to: HVAC, security, fire, etc. Through Ethernet networks the IoT links all these systems, not merely for control, but also for data analysis and interpretation. The IoT represents a shift to more open connection and communication between all devices and systems within a building.

The result is an interconnected smart building. From anywhere in the world, the building’s utilities, including every water, electrical and gas meter, could be connected and usage monitored in real time.

IoT Possibilities With Advanced Security Tech

On the security side, live video surveillance feeds could be monitored over the Internet from anywhere and intrusion alarms could be addressed remotely and automatically, without any human participation. Network cameras and video may well become one of the most important sensors within the smart building because the data they provide is so valuable to many other sensors and devices. In addition to the obvious security applications of the data, video analytics also may be used to determine the occupancy of a room and change the HVAC and lighting settings.

In order for this interconnected vision to become reality it will require equipment with advanced scalability, connectivity and security. IP cameras are more powerful than ever, but it takes a significant amount of consistent processing to obtain HD-quality images. This scalability challenge is addressed by more powerful compression standards that are reducing bandwidth and storage consumption; the cloud is also becoming a viable option for storage and processing. As in-camera processing power increases, analytics such as facial recognition can be run efficiently using the IoT, provided the analytics are sufficiently advanced to quickly present tactical profiles and response scenarios.

Connectivity is essential for the IoT, and it has to be cost-effective, reliable and secure. The amount of traffic that is carried through all the available mobile broadband technologies is constantly increasing. Today this includes everything from laptops and tablets to smartphones. In the future more devices, such as driverless cars and technologies we haven’t thought of yet, also will be competing for that bandwidth. This exponential growth has motivated the industry to build out its networks to handle future capacity and performance demands.

IoT Security Requirements

The IoT embodies a combining of IT and operational networks, so keeping it secure requires a new approach that combines physical and cybersecurity components. The IoT will facilitate the convergence of security networks with IT networks, something both facility and IT staffs have been avoiding. Each side is protective of its network and IT people are generally alarmed at the number of devices on a building automation system (BAS) or security network, causing them to wonder: “How do we prepare against seemingly endless security vulnerabilities?” Meanwhile, building operations and facility security personnel don’t like to have to justify each device on their networks and certify its security.

One solution to the security concerns important to our industry may be the development of standards. Alliances have already formed to develop automation and communication protocols to prepare for an increase in machine-to-machine communications and the broader IoT. Standard protocols can take usability to a higher level by providing end users the freedom to pick and choose technology from different brands without sacrificing functionality. A secure IoT will, likewise, require manufacturers and developers of physical security products to cooperate in establishing baseline standards that allow their systems to work with devices beyond the confines of the security industry.

Open communication is central to the function of the IoT. As most buildings are configured today, the security systems are made up of many parts, or things. From a connectivity perspective, however, those things are usually “owned” by a bigger thing that contains them. For example, a sensor is owned by a controller. If another system wants to access that sensor, it must ask the controller, which most likely will not allow that to happen. The IoT is about freeing things, such as sensors, to communicate to every other thing out there.

Consider that currently the HVAC, lighting, and security systems in a building may all have their own, independent occupancy sensors. Under the IoT, those systems could all rely on one set of occupancy sensors. Then the fire control panel in the building could communicate with them if there’s an emergency, even targeting announcements to the affected area.

Systems integration using the IoT is not necessarily something you will be called upon to do tomorrow or even next year. But as technology changes and costs are lowered through economies of scale, the IoT will become a viable option for systems integration.

Understanding the benefits and challenges of the IoT and what it means to your business will be important knowledge going forward. The IoT can enhance the managing and monitoring of facilities, creating safer, more comfortable environments and provide facility and security staff with the knowledge to be more confident and proactive in the way they operate and secure buildings.