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SkySplat – 10-Reasons why SkySpark and other HVAC analytics platforms are failing to advance the Smart Building market

Find out why the future of HVAC is not in HVAC analytic platform and a few solutions you can use instead

By: Zach Denning

 

Big Data. Analytics. Insights. Machine-learning. IoT… The list of buzzwords touted by HVAC analytic providers goes on-and-on. The HVAC and Smart Building markets are now inundated with buzzwords, but where’s the value? What do these analytics platforms offer that current building automation systems can’t provide?

Let’s explore some of these questions and put the analytics debate to rest –

 

    • Analytics platforms are 100% proprietary – You own nothing!

      If you’re a service provider that currently resells mainstream analytics platforms like SkySpark, you don’t own any of the Intellectual Property (IP) you’ve developed – Same goes for customers!

      Those thousands-upon-thousands of lines of code you’ve written are all contained within a proprietary platform owned by another entity – You’re not an OEM! Meaning if you fail to meet their partner requirements, or even worse they go into default, you’re left with nothing – So much for that six-figure investment!

    • HVAC analytics platforms cost companies an average of $175,000 in life-cycle costs to design algorithms or ‘sparks’

      Yes, these are just platforms. Are they capable of ‘tagging’ or ‘analytics?’ Maybe. But there is no difference between these coding languages/platforms than, say, JAVA. (Expect JAVA is free, implemented by millions of developers, has multiple environments to develop within, 10x more capabilities… To name a few)

      If you’re a customer this cost looks astronomical – “I only spent $40,000 on my platform.” Correct? Well, maybe.

      The installing provider spent at least $100-200,000 in backend Research-and-Development (R&D) costs to implement his algorithms on your site; Everything from Partner Channel fees, research, development, etc. If they spent less you’re probably not getting proper return on your investment – But who looks at those anyways?

    • There is no verifiable payback, or really any payback for that matter

      Each implementation of SkySpark is based on the providers interpretation of HVAC problems and how the system is supposed to operate efficiently. Unfortunately, most HVAC providers aren’t experts in energy efficiency and often misinterpret efficient operating in lieu of overemphasizing comfort.

      When payback of these implementations is solely based on discovering issues and providing actionable intelligence, the average implementation fails miserably.

    • 95% of all HVAC analytics platform implemented don’t deliver capabilities beyond existing building automation technology

      Yes, you read that right. There’s no advanced software technology in your SkySpark implementation or your existing building automation system. How can that be possible?

      SkySpark has yet to release any machine-learning – The most commonly associated buzzword associated with cloud-analytic platforms. So what does it do?

      Real-time alarms: HVAC alerts based on real-time deviations in equipment operation. For example, your space temperature deviating from its setpoint by more than two-degrees. Not machine-learning. Not AI. Just a simple alarm.

      This was the same software-technology present in the building automation market since 1980 – Which was more than 30-years ago – Which was before I was born…Barely.

      SkySpark makes it easier to write these alarms for providers – That’s it. Customers are sold on buzzwords and ‘unicorn benefits’ that are up to the provider to not only provide, but design in their entirety.

      One of the main reasons these platforms fail to deliver value is that real-time alerts don’t adapt as the design conditions of the building change – Which happens on average at least once every 12-months!

      Hopefully your subscription was only 6-months!

    • Customers can spend $20,000-40,000 in setup fees just to get started

      Setup costs are astronomical as customers paying for point licensing, hosting, custom logic, etc. Their overall deliverable is extremely customized with ongoing management considered a ‘grey area’ in HVAC analytics.

      Customers forced to manage their own systems can expect to pay another $10,000 -$15,000 annually in software-based adjustments just to keep the system functioning properly – But only after they pay another $5,000-$10,000 to send an employee to training.

      Don’t worry your investment will pay off… One day. Maybe.

    • There is virtually no standardization on analytical evaluation of HVAC systems

      Let’s be honest, it’s still the Wild Wild West in cloud-based computing for commercial HVAC which should be a giant red-flag for customers who are concerned with payback.

      Yes, you have SkySpark on all your buildings – Congratulations. The downside is you were sold on the fact you could bid out future developments to multiple providers. This would be like developing an Android App in JAVA and sharing future builds between JAVA developers – There all the same, right?

      Without any standardization, most implementations lack true actionable intelligence or any other major selling points provided by platform developers. Why?

      SkySpark relies on HVAC and building automation contractors to deploy their software. The HVAC industry has struggled mightily with software-standards for the last 15-20 years which organically carried over to cloud-platform development.

      Unless you’re getting all your development done by one contractor, chances are those actionable-insights you’re looking for are being lost in all the ‘big data’ you’ve been collecting – Even worse they probably never existed in the first place!

    • Most customers are expected to maintain their own installations

      The biggest fallacy in HVAC is that building automation systems adapt with design conditions – You add a tenant and magically the building automation system changes the HVAC unit’s design conditions to maintain perfect comfort and efficiency.

      This story was invented building automation manufacturers and has been regurgitated hundreds-of-thousands of times across the smart building market to push product – And now it’s progressed into analytic platforms.

      Managing these analytics platforms is nearly impossible for somebody not skilled in object-oriented programming and in-depth HVAC troubleshooting; A combination that even in the HVAC world encompasses less than 5% of all programmers and technicians.

      What does that mean for customers? Within 6-8 months the majority of these cloud-based analytic systems begin to falter and results dwindle to nothing but ‘ghost alarms.’ (i.e. – Real-time alerts that aren’t related to actual failures)

      It’s like paying $1,000 to see Ghostbusters without Bill Murray – Seems a little underwhelming!

    • All the code is written in a proprietary coding language like Axon

      When Googling JAVA I found 135,000,000 results related to software development – Axon (SkySpark’s programming language and engine) returned a whopping 7,000,000 – Mostly pertaining to tasers – Devices that electrocute people in the name of self-defense.

      Although existing HVAC analytic-platforms may be capable of features like ‘tagging’ or ‘analytics’, most pale in comparison to true object-oriented languages like JAVA or C.

      Why choose JAVA over SkySpark?

      1. You’re going to invest the same capital to develop ‘sparks’ than you would to develop your own algorithms in JAVA
      2. JAVA is more widely supported and optimized
      3. Axon functionality is extremely limited in data analysis compared to JAVA
      4. You can host JAVA from any cloud-server
      5. You don’t have to pay any licensing fees
      6. You can use the same User Interface (UI) as SkySpark – It’s based on an API and isn’t platform specific.
      7. You actually own your JAVA code and can port it fairly easily to different languages

 

I only have eight reasons why you should pass on existing analytic platforms, (10-reasons seemed better in the title) but here’s some alternatives to consider if you’re still keen on generating insights from your HVAC –

 

    • Subscription-based analytics

      Subscription services ensure your investment payback never stagnates over time. Providers offering these services ensure continual value either directly by optimizing equipment or indirectly by monitoring and identify cost-saving measures.

      If not, cancel your contract!

    • Packaged or Managed Services

      Cloud-HVAC platform providers may be gunslingers, but when they’re forced to provide and manage their own solution the investment is more results driven and less capital intensive.

      As an end user you may not own any Intellectual Property (IP), but you’re also not responsible for guaranteeing massive paybacks from a system you don’t understand. Why not let the experts be the experts while you sit back and reap the benefits!

      No benefits, cancel the contract!

 

The world of ‘big data’ is still too big for most of the HVAC industry. Although SkySpark might be a good tool for HVAC providers, it delivers little value when placed in the hands of a customer.

If you’re still sold on the platform, find a provider that offers a subscription service that includes guaranteed results and isn’t capital intensive – Maybe then you’ll re-coop your investment. Maybe the Browns win the Super Bowl. Anything is possible!

 

 

My name is Zach Denning and I’m the CEO and owner of EnerDapt, Inc. We’ve developed an HVAC AI software platform that strengthens relationships between service providers and property management, while reducing operating costs 18-22%.  You can reach me at [email protected] or visit our website at www.enerdapt.com

Your commercial office is the next Target for hackers – Part: 2

What happens when hackers springboard from your building automation system to your tenants’ networks

By: Zach Denning

 

I’d like to preface this article by stating that during our research we reached out to every building owner that had vulnerabilities with details of information we discovered – All without cost to them and without the expectation of future work.

At no time did we attempt to login or ‘hack’ a building automation system – We simply tested these networks for vulnerabilities easily exploited by hackers.

It’s our initiative to secure sites where our HVAC Partners implement our software platform while educating owners of vulnerabilities relating to building automation.

 

In the last article  ‘Your building is the next Target for hackers’ we discussed how easy it is to penetrate building automation systems and even new ways to drop a virus payload to the network through open protocols like Bacnet IP.

We even found over +300 different buildings with the Bacnet IP port open to the Internet, screaming to get hacked.

Didn’t read it? No worries, this article is the one for you, as we explore what happens when your building becomes the target of a hacker!

Here are a few fun facts to peruse through if your building happens to become a hacker’s playground:

    • All of your files are now garbage: $80,000.00 in lost time/revenue per tenant

      A virus spreads throughout a network like cancer through a body, injecting its code into every file. If somebody attempts to wipe the virus they would have to clean every file.

      Virus removal is extremely time consuming and challenging as providers have to ensure complete removal or there’s a chance it will re-emerge at a later time.

    • You hire an IT security contractor to retrieve lost files: $30,000.00/month/tenant

      Unfortunately, cleaning files typically on retrieves 30% of files on average – Meaning the remaining files must be recreated from old archives – Because you’ve been backing up files for years…

    • You get sued: +$2M

      Every lease is different, but in some leases it’s the owner’s responsibility to maintain the building automation. When it becomes the spring-board for a major hack chances are you’re going to get sued.

      To make matters worse, your Internet Security Insurance Policy won’t cover anything because your existing security didn’t meet minimum requirements – Sorry!

    • You lose tenants: $90,000/lost tenant

      Unlike common HVAC issues and comfort calls, network breaches carry much more backlash that stretch the limits of your tenant relationships – Which makes sense figuring you may have cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Half of those reading write off articles like this as a “doomsday” scare tactic – The remainder think it will never happen to them.

Our advice? Have someone on your staff or a provider search for your building automation system on the Internet and see what you find. If you happen to come across your IP-address you need to hire an IT provider to put your building automation system behind a secure firewall.

  • Total costs to secure your system: $4,000.00 – 5,000.00
  • Total costs if you get hacked: $500,000 – $3,000,000.00
May the odds ever be in your favor!

My name is Zach Denning and I’m the CEO and owner of EnerDapt, Inc. We’ve developed an HVAC AI software platform that strengthens relationships between service providers and property management, while reducing operating costs 18-22%.  You can reach me at [email protected] or visit our website at www.enerdapt.com

Your commercial office is the next Target for hackers – Part: I

We researched how hackable building automation systems are in Sacramento and the results are surprising!

By: Zach Denning

 

I’d like to preface this article by stating that during our research we reached out to every building owner that had vulnerabilities with details of information we discovered – All without cost to them and without the expectation of future work.

At no time did we attempt to login or ‘hack’ a building automation system – We simply tested these networks for vulnerabilities easily exploited by hackers.

It’s our initiative to secure sites where our HVAC Partners implement our software platform while educating owners of vulnerabilities relating to building automation.

 

“My HVAC contractor told me that if he has remote access to our building service calls are half-priced. All we have to do is connect our building automation system to the Internet and we can save hundreds every month!”

And just like that your office building is now part of the ‘low-hanging fruit’ every hacker dreams of getting access to. But it’s just your HVAC system. All they can do is turn the temperature up and down, right? Wrong.

At least 65% of all building automation systems are connected into existing building infrastructures via hardwired, Ethernet connection. Unfortunately, most offices don’t properly segregate the building automation from the same network as their tenants (Typically done through a VLAN or virtual separation of physically connected networks) as it’s costly to setup and maintain.

Meaning a virus enters your network via the building automation and can jump or ‘springboard’ from tenant-to-tenant at will – Return vital information back to its host (Account numbers, logins, credit card numbers, etc.) like the Target hack. But you’ve been told your building automation is secure – You’re behind a firewall – It’s only Bacnet – This will never happen to you – Wrong!

We researched how secure building automation systems were in Sacramento and found –

 

  • There are +300-different building automation systems openly exposed to the Internet without a firewall.

    Of the 82 systems tested, we found 18 had default admin user credentials where there was an ability to login to the automation system and get full access to override the system, change setpoints, schedules, etc. More importantly, admin permissions included unrestricted access to the file transfer protocol features which is pivotal for – You guessed it – Uploading a virus!

  • 114-different building automation systems behind a secure firewall with the Bacnet IP port (UDP:47808) exposed.

    Despite being open to the Internet, the building automation systems at these sites were nested behind extremely capable firewalls. Unbeknownst to the building owner though, the HVAC contractor had accidently enabled the Bacnet IP traffic on their front-end hardware – Enabling full access to all control setpoints and the ability to springboard viruses onto their network.

Wait, I thought Bacnet IP could only be used for HVAC-related data? Wrong again.

Bacnet IP is a communication protocol built on the foundation of HVAC communications with one slight caveat – It allows for open file transfer! In developing our Bacnet driver, we discovered that most Bacnet IP-enabled devices will accept a file transferred from our IP-device if it matches a certain criterion of name, type, size, etc.

All a hacker has to do to upload a virus to your building is –

 

  • Scan the building automation system for file types
  • Create a new file with one of the discovered types and infect it with a virus payload
  • Send the file to the building automation device

 

Even when the device rejects the new file, the originator can keep changing file types until one is accepted (i.e. – configuration files, history files, etc.). From there the virus springboards to every connected device on its network – Infecting as many files as possible, collecting information and reporting everything back to the host.

So how do you prevent hackers from getting into your network?

Check out Part: II of this post next week to learn more and see how much it costs to not secure yourself!

 

 

My name is Zach Denning and I’m the CEO and owner of EnerDapt, Inc. We’ve developed an HVAC AI software platform that strengthens relationships between service providers and property management, while reducing operating costs 18-22%.  You can reach me at [email protected] or visit our website at www.enerdapt.com

Your building is smart – And so are squirrels!

3-reasons why your building is dumber than you think and what you can do to fix it

 

By: Zach Denning

The biggest technological fallacy for the last 3-years in commercial buildings is how HVAC systems fit into the “Smart Buildings” bubble. HVAC and building automation manufacturers have plagued the market with overhyped marketing and underdelivered results on the foundation of buzzwords like “analytics,” “machine-learning” and “smart.”

So what is actually installed in your building and is it really “smart?”

Smart HVAC controllers/sensors: IQ Score – 5

The latest addition to the Smart Buildings market has been the insurgence of smart sensors and HVAC controllers – “IP-enabled” being the core-feature at the forefront of the movement. Because which IP-based devices aren’t smart, right?

Here’s a list of IP-enabled devices that are smarter “out-of-the-box” than their HVAC counterparts –

  • Smart diapers
  • Smart couch
  • Smart fridge

… I think you get the picture, but how is a smart diaper more intelligent than your IP-sensors?

Although IP-enabled devices aren’t exactly cutting-edge, the commercial HVAC market typically lags 8-10 years behind most technology-based industries. There are numerous documented issues surrounding IP in HVAC including security, installation, maintenance, etc. – All leading to it’s snail-paced entrance into the built environment.

Not to mention, there’s typically little monetary gain by adding IP-based technology in HVAC as any added value is underutilized by the corresponding software – Which is heavily customized by the installing contractor and relatively unusable/unserviceable post-install without serious re-development.

Equipment manufacturers have also leveraged into Smart Buildings by pre-packaging equipment with new onboard sensors and controllers – Each offering new insight into equipment operation and servicing. Unfortunately, analyzing one element in a complex, multi-tiered system lacks the value generation necessary to overcome the added investment.

Imagine paying an extra for $500.00 for a smart steering wheel versus a fully autonomous car – I’d rather have one comprehensive solution than an alarm when I’m not at ‘ten-and-two.’

Building automation systems: IQ Score – 25

In recent years, many articles have cited onsite engineers noting the only difference between pneumatic, air-controlled HVAC systems and electronic systems is, well, air – Despite the fact that pneumatic technology is +50 years old.

Even worse, the same staff didn’t see a difference between building automation and a time clock – So where’s the intelligence?

Digging deeper, engineers have exposed the ability to remotely access their HVAC as justification to upgrade from older pneumatic systems. Not a bad start, although it’s the equivalent of using IBM’s new Q quantum computers to surf the web – I don’t see anyone paying $1,000/sec to stream NetFlix anytime soon!

Most building automation installations utilize less than 8% of the total system capacity necessary to maximize operational efficiency. Even worse, capacity is often eroded by nearly 40% annually through third-party interaction and modification.

Ultimately, your brand new $5.00/sq. ft. “smart” building automation system has less intelligence than the RainBird irrigation system you installed in your backyard – Three years from now it’ll be comparable to a simple light-switch!

Analytic software platforms: IQ Score – 35

“Analytics” and “machine-learning” have gained the most notoriety as buzzwords in the HVAC Smart Building space. New platforms emerge monthly that promise to solve all your HVAC problems and alleviate tenant complaints – Of course they’re smart, right?

We’ve collectively seen five-different analytics platforms installed in three-different market verticals with zero end user engagement or measurable outcomes – Equating to an extra 25-30% in upfront building automation capital requirements and no monetary gains – How could this happen?

Analytics platform developers constantly market the ability to implement cutting-edge, machine-learning algorithms capable of driving massive savings. I have the ability to become an astronaut. It may require 10-years of strenuous physical and mental development, coupled with a 1% chance of success – But who’s to say I don’t have the ability!

Furthermore, most platform developers rely on partner channels to develop and implement algorithms designed to drive actionable intelligence to end users. Unfortunately, 75% of all partners don’t employ software developers and rarely have the knowledge to implement anything beyond real-time alarms – Equivalent to the tire pressure alarms in your car.

Even in the most advanced implementations, HVAC analytics software deliver little actionable intelligence designed for financial decision-makers. It’s one thing to find a broken part- It’s quite another to validate that incident to a non-technical decision maker.

When’s the last time you rushed to a mechanic when your check engine light went off? Now imagine your check engine light –

  • Told you the problem was your air filter
  • Was costing you $25.00/month in gas
  • Was only $50.00 to replace

Oh, and here’s a local certified mechanic that specializes in Hondas less than 2-miles away – That’s true actionable, financial intelligence your system lacks!

Maybe you choose to ignore the check engine light, but not without significant guilt. Moral of the story, all intelligence isn’t created equal and your platform probably lacks any.

How to avoid the pitfalls of “smart” building technology!

If you consider your building “smart” and it falls under any of these categories, there’s still hope to increase its IQ. Next time you invest in building technology answer these simple questions –

  • How does this technology drive my bottom line and does the installer have proven results in a similar application?
  • How do you plan on maintaining the technology post-installation? In house? Outsourced?
  • Can the technology communicate actionable intelligence across my entire corporate hierarchy? Can the CFO glean valuable HVAC investment insights? Will your engineers know when and where components are failing?

The high-tech landscape of the HVAC market is evolving – Unfortunately marketing has a big head-start on actual technology!

 

My name is Zach Denning and I’m the CEO and owner of EnerDapt, Inc. We’ve developed an HVAC AI software platform that strengthens relationships between service providers and property management, while reducing operating costs 18-22%.  You can reach me at [email protected] or visit our website at www.enerdapt.com

Energy Savings – Your Next Blind Investment!

 

Blind investments into energy

Would you make an investment without a guarantee? Why are building energy projects any different?

Minimize investment losses with OCMS

By: Zach Denning

 

You build your team of industry experts – All-star contractor, the best energy firm and your aggressive utility rep. Everybody working together to get the highest Return on Investment (ROI) coupled with the latest utility rebates for your latest energy investment. The project looks like a winner – 1 1/2 year payback and your utility covering 50% of the total project costs courtesy of your team’s ingenuity. What could possibly go wrong?

Six months post-project and you get an energy report that doesn’t make sense – You’re $15k off from the projected energy savings! What could it be? You invested hundreds into advanced energy dashboarding and cutting edge monitoring, so how did this happen? You put your team into motion and after several meetings and thousands in consultations they find the culprit is a few failed parts on retrofitted units. Crisis averted! Or was it?

Lost energy, emergency repairs, and consulting fees have cost you tens of thousands of dollars for what could have been an easy fix. Introducing Operating Cost Management Systems (OCMS) – Your insurance policy for energy investments! These systems are capable of finding and quantifying issues before they impact your savings – Turning emergency maintenance costs into planned, strategic investments.

By predicting and quantifying potential failures in your building your able to proactively reconcile these issues and understand how your savings are affected; Giving you complete financial visibility into your operating costs and the tools to properly manage your energy investment. Utilize these systems in your next energy project to reduce your risks and gain valuable financial insight in how your building operates!

 

My name is Zach Denning and I’m the CEO and owner of EnerDapt, Inc. We’re an HVAC engineering firm that utilizes cloud-baesd technology to bridge the technical and financial gaps commonly found in HVAC management strategies. Our OCMS EnerVise platform keeps customers knowledgeable about their building from life-cycle costs to forecasted maintenance, upgrades, andequipment replacements.   You can reach me at [email protected] or visit our website at www.enerdapt.com

OCMS; Building Operating Cost Management