Smart to Brilliant

Larry Birnbaum
Internet of Things

Do We Make Smart Things? Do Things Make Us Smarter? … and Which Came First?

The Internet of Things [IoT] – What are these things and why do I care?
Smart devices, connected devices, smart sensors, Internet enabled devices, voice enabled devices – these things are everywhere and making our lives ____________ [you fill in the blank].  Some believe they make our lives easier; some say they introduce complexity where none is needed, others feel they can’t resolve for a return on investment and justify the expense.

IoT is shorthand for the Internet of things, or machine-to-machine communications. Like human communications, some are more valuable than others. As with human communications, some conversations are short, others are longer. Some occur within close proximity; others take place around the world. Some are urgent, of the “Help, I‘ve fallen and I can’t get up” variety. Others may have been left unsaid.

We use differing methods to communicate depending on the type of information, sense of urgency, frequency of communication, distance, size of audience and privacy concerns. We expect the message to be heard and understood, with a direct or implied request for action or response. We also remember conversations or better yet, take notes. We might even record important conversations so we all know who said what, and when.

How Do “Things” Communicate?
Humans are generally smart at interpreting conversations, which is why IoT devices are considered “smart.” They’re programmed to communicate with each other over a variety of mostly wireless protocols. Here’s a short list, with examples and high-level views, of where they are used and why.

We’ve had various sensors in hotels for a long time. At first, these gauges and meters all required manual monitoring. Some may have had an alarm to attract attention. Newer systems turned the alarm into an email or text to notify staff about a condition that needs attention. Some systems even create a log entry that time stamps the event and the message sent.

Once notified, staff responds, sees what needs to be done and notifies others, who may update logs or maintenance records. Each IoT application has its own control system, log and instructions. Room automation controls can communicate with the door lock vendor or PMS to create a desired state upon check-in and checkout. These PMS status change notifications might best be described as the low hanging fruit of smart device capabilities.

What Are the Goals and Who Benefits
The purpose of any building automation system is to reduce operating costs, improve operational efficiencies and enhance staff safety. When you set out to adopt one, you’ll have to consider a variety of metrics, like utility bills, parts and labor and repair costs, to determine if your system is helping you meet goals like cost reductions, improved operations and staff safety.

Using capital costs for building automation systems [BAS] and some fifth-grade math, you can determine the ROI for the BAS investment. The same calculations apply for access control systems, staff alert and CCTV systems. Each may use a different IoT communications protocol which increases capital costs, adversely impacting ROI. Since each application operates as mostly a standalone system, there’s little effective communications between vendors, beyond status change. The real challenge is essentially one of business math: Find savings in capital costs and improved operations which shrinks the ROI timeframe, speeding approvals and adoption.

Where to Find the Answers
The answer to lowering capital costs can be found in something called the CSI Master Format Division 27 & 28 specifications. While the systems may not use the same wireless protocols, they all require wired infrastructure. The CSI MasterFormat® is a series of standards in a coding system, broken down and categorized by sections referred to as divisions for use by all contractors.  Division 27 addresses communications systems, and Division 28 covers electronic safety and security systems. For more detailed information go to

You can generate significant cost savings through thoughtful design encompassing all required systems. Proper vendor selection allows for the same cabling plant and network to support each of the required protocols. Wi-Fi, Zigbee, BLE and CBRS radios can all plug into the same switch and network infrastructure. A few forward-looking manufacturers have combined Wi-Fi, BLE and Zigbee radios into the same access points and developed software to configure them.

The reduction in cabling and networking equipment lowers capital costs as well as environmental and space costs. It also lessens the operational burden on IT management and network security. You’ll need to take a “whole building” approach, with IT, operations and risk management working alongside experienced to incorporate these low voltage designers and realize the savings.

Don’t underestimate the role of network security as part of any design. As you add applications and devices to the network, securing entry points is a must. Best practices from HTNG  have recently been published.

How to Be a Smart Hotelier
What did we do before smart devices? For years, smart hoteliers and operators would identify an issue and tell the responsible department to fix it. That department would solve the issue and afterward all involved would provide corrective action to insure it didn’t recur.

If we’re to unlock the value of IoT efficiencies, we need smart devices to interact just like smart hoteliers.  Tech folks have an acronym for this: IFTTT: If this, then that. You can implement IFTTT through a rules engine using simple, nontechnical programming.

All IoT and the next logical steps in analytics and machine learning can be simplified into the same five simple tasks humans use: sense, infer, communicate, act, learn.  

If your system can do these things, you can solve most problems.  If you can SENSE a state (or a change), you can INFER what has taken place or what action is then needed. You can then COMMUNICATE appropriately and trigger an event to occur, ACT. Then reflect on what you’ve done, determine if it was done properly and LEARN from your actions. The complexity compounds when you want these subsystems to communicate to solve larger problems.

From Smart to Brilliant
Distilling the complexity into its base elements will create real operational efficiencies. A well designed, well deployed network with standards-based software can act as a universal translator and controller. It aggregates all IoT data for visibility. A rules engine speaking fluent IFTTT to the various subsystems allows those subsystems to interact. This changes the fundamentals.

To date hotels haven’t taken the long term, whole building, operational requirements approach to network design and application integration. Meanwhile, schools, hospitals, government buildings, manufacturing facilities and other commercial real estate developments are using this same approach to automate required tasks.

A smart door lock can sense repeated attempts at unauthorized access in a short period of time and send an alert. A rules engine with coordinated communications makes it a brilliant door lock by immediately notifying operations, turning the closest CCTV camera to the door and surrounding areas, notifying loss prevention, and logging the coordinated event, all across the same physical network. Smart devices working together create brilliant solutions.

Larry Birnbaum has spent his entire career in the hospitality and technology arena. When he isn’t traveling or with his family, you can usually find him on a golf course or tennis court. This is great topic and one that generates a lot of ideas and comments. Keep the conversation going at

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