The Past, Present, and Future of Building Automation Systems

Posted by Connect with ODIN on Apr 1, 2019 5:00:44 PM

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Building automation systems are the way of the future. With SMART technology, modern advancements in automation, and the flexible mobility of smartphones, managing a building’s HVAC and other systems is easier than it’s ever been before.

This is good news for building owners and managers, as their job often means micromanaging multiple departments, employees, and environments in order to ensure that your building and its occupants are operating at peak efficiency and comfort.

As we look forward to the future of building automation systems (BAS) and the possibilities that the future might present us with, it’s worthwhile to first look back and see where these technologies came from. While the practical implementation of BAS’ is relatively recent, the idea of automation has been around for generations and has helped inform the present technology we use every day as well as the future devices we’re likely to use for years to come.

In order to learn more about how your BAS operates, how it can streamline your building’s day-to-day operation, and generally improve efficiency across departments, we first need to go back to the beginning of automation technologies. When we know where BAS technology started, where it is now, and where it’s going in the future, we’ll be better equipped with the tools and information needed to adapt and thrive in an ever-changing industry.

Table of Contents:

Where We Started

Where We Are

Where We’re Going

Automating the Future

Where We Started

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In the past, managing or owning a building was a very different role than it is today. In today’s modern, technologically dependent environment, managing a building means maintaining, supervising, and dictating a building’s heating, lighting, security, HVAC systems, and other tasks that can change on a day-to-day basis.

This is a fairly recent evolution though, as it wasn’t that long ago when building managers simply didn’t have access to the kind of information that automation systems can now provide. However, while automation is a relatively new field of technology in the public eye, the ideas that have given it life have been around for a very long time.

Early Beginnings and Evolutions

Depending on what you count as being an “automation system,” it’s possible to say that BAS’ as we know them today first entered the world as early as 1883 when Warren Johnson, a Milwaukee school teacher at the time, invented the thermostat.

While the thermostat of today is as much a staple of American households as outlets are, that obviously wasn’t always the case. When Johnson—who would soon become the founder of Johnson Control—introduced the thermostat into the world it ushered in a mindset that would grow, evolve, and mature into the building automation systems of today.

According to Harcourt Brown & Carey (HB&C), in the years following Johnson’s introduction of the thermostat, “the non-residential control industry evolved rapidly to create a fully automatic control system operating steam/hot water, and eventually ventilation and air conditioning.”

However, some sources say that the inception of building automation goes back even farther than Warren Johnson’s creation of the thermostat in 1883. ties the origins of modern-day automation to Cornelius Drebbel, a Dutch inventor from the 1600s who used an incubator thermostat to keep eggs warm in order to help them hatch into baby chicks.

These early examples of “automation” were a far cry from the technology we have available today, but they do prove that the idea of building automation is not a new one. For years—literally centuries, in this case—people have tried to find new and inventive ways to streamline their daily routines, improve their comfort, and ultimately, automate whatever aspects of their life they could.

First Steps Toward the Future

It wasn’t until the late 1900s that building controls began to resemble the products that we know today. While early control systems were primarily pneumatic or air-based—meaning they were restricted to only controlling specific aspects of an HVAC system—the analog electronic controllers that began to surface in the 1980s meant that change was coming.

These analog electric systems provided faster response rates, better precision, and easier manageability than the pneumatics that came before. These helped set the stage for digital controls—also known as DDC devices—which made it possible for true automation systems to come onto the scene. It was these devices that opened up the door to the building automation systems of today.

“By the late 1990s and especially into the 2000s,” KMC Controls explains, “movements were afoot to standardize on “open” communication systems. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) developed the BACnet communication protocol that eventually became the industry open standard.”

Thanks to the introduction and development of BACnet, it became possible for building automation systems to continually evolve and grow to a point where they can now save building owners “$0.20 to $0.40 in energy costs per sq. ft., reports the Metropolitan Energy Policy Coalition. For a 200,000 sq. ft. building, that means up to $80,000 yearly savings.”

Where We Are

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Despite the revolutionary advances in BAS technology, they’ve yet to be universally adopted into the framework of buildings old-and-new. In many traditional buildings, the heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and lighting systems still operate independently of each other. This makes any kind of cross-communication just about impossible.

With that said, the building automation industry is steadily growing and planting real roots in markets across the world. reports that “North America is currently having a great run in the market as it is generating the maximum revenue share.” The market is also benefiting from the construction industry, “as they have increased the number of automation system implementation in new buildings.”

Building automation systems may not be a juggernaut presence yet, but it’s only a matter of time before more and more building owners and managers begin to adopt these revolutionary devices into the framework of the buildings they work in.

Welcome to the Future

Adopting new technology can always feel risky, especially since the future of the tech industry seems to always be in flux. Ideas and tools that were once relegated to science fiction have suddenly become commonplace, and what we currently think of as the “distant future” may actually be right around the corner.

When you equip your building’s framework with a BACnet automation system, you’ll be taking your first steps toward a sustainable and long-lasting future for your building’s operation. Not only do most BAS’ have a long lifespan, but with semi-regular updates, you can effectively set up a system that’s capable of evolving alongside the technology around it. This means that, even as technology inevitably changes, your BAS won’t become outdated and irrelevant.

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The future of building management is now. BAS technology has become so intuitive that it’s now possible for building owners and managers to effectively carry their entire building with them wherever they go. Thanks to the same kind of network connections that are used by computers and mobile devices, your BAS can leverage the power of the internet and empower you to control your building’s many systems wherever and whenever you need to.

Preemptively Prevent Problems

As effective as your building’s HVAC and other ancillary systems may be, there’s going to be times when something doesn’t work how it’s supposed to. When problems arise that require your intervention, you want to be able to get to the heart of the problem so you can effectively provide the right solution at the right time.

However, when you’re working without a BAS, even the act of tracking down where a problem is originating from can be a hassle. If the heating isn’t working in a specific area of the building, for example, it could be an issue with the HVAC system itself, or it could be a problem with the vents, or maybe it’s another issue entirely and the heating is just a side-effect.

With a BAS, you don’t need to worry about dilemmas like that. explains how a good BAS is capable of monitoring itself and self-diagnosing issues “before they come to the point where a human technician would notice them. BAS systems can prompt filter changes, alert to excessive system loading, or detect unusual temperature or humidity transients.”

Your BAS is also capable of providing your contractors and technicians with a detailed rundown of any issues or problems that have arisen prior to the service visit. This means that your technicians will be able to preemptively prioritize any critical issues they need to address and come prepared with any tools or equipment they’ll need.

Even when your BAS isn’t able to solve a problem autonomously, it’s still uniquely capable to help you work towards an effective and speedy resolution.

Where We’re Going


Thanks to the advanced capabilities that BAS’ can offer, the idea of “carrying a building in your pocket” isn’t just a clever illustration but a tangible reality. With all of the information, commands, and data points of your building collected on whatever remote control device you prefer, you can manage your building better than ever before.

However, that’s just the tip of an iceberg that we’re continually discovering new angles of. Just like any other piece of technology, automation systems are still evolving and new upgrades and developments are going to keep coming as long as the industry has need of them. And since the automation market is expected to “reach $100.6 billion by 2022, representing a 10.65 percent CAGR from 2016 to 2022,” new developments are inevitable.

Here are just a couple of the developments that the building automation industry is likely to encounter in the near future.

Scalable Systems

All of the benefits you can experience by using a BAS can even be magnified by implementing a system that is BACnet certified. According to BACnet International, a BACnet certified product can “standardize communications between building automation devices from different manufacturers, allowing data to be shared and equipment to work together easily.”

This means that any BACnet product is completely scalable and adaptable to any kind of building or system set-up. For example, if you have a single building that operates off of just a few systems, then BACnet can work for you. If you’re working with a globalized network that’s linked to thousands of other devices, however, then BACnet can also work for you there.

For example, if you find out that your HVAC system is heating an unused zone within your building, you can seamlessly divert those resources to a more practical location without needing to actually be on-site. These remote-control capabilities mean that, even if the heating problem ends up being part of a larger issue, you’ll still be able to address it remotely by sending any relevant information to whatever technician you task with solving it.

SMART Energy

Buildings are smarter than they’ve ever been, and if current trends are anything to go by, then they’re going to keep getting smarter. As newer and better technology continues to come out, and the need for sustainable, eco-friendly energy options increases, SMART buildings are facing a future that is likely to be defined by automation, seamless sustainability, and more widespread implementation.

Stephen Kieran—a partner at Kieran Timberlake, an architectural firm in Philadelphia—said in an article on Electrical Contractor that “‘More potential energy-smart products have been invented in the last 15 years than in the entire prior history of architecture[and] we’re only beginning to tap the potential of those materials.’”

For example, in that same article from Electrical Contractor, it’s stated that “The ultimate goal for smart buildings includes a central control system that permits all this diversity to be integrated and managed from a command and control center like a military operation.” This central control system is exactly what a BACnet certified BAS offers.

By combining the intuitive controls of modern-day building automation systems with the cost-effective and eco-friendly energy systems that continue to gain traction in markets across the globe, we can move towards a future where building management is more sustainable, affordable, and easier than it’s ever been before.

Automating the Future

building automation

The future is bright for building automation. With new and intuitive upgrades and an emphasis on easy controllability, the horizon is rife with growth and evolution that is sure to benefit the everyday lives of building managers, owners, and technicians for a long time to come.

With a BACnet certified BAS like ODIN at your side, you’ll be able to overhaul the way your building—and everyone who lives or work within that building—operates. Automation is a revolutionary technology that can and will maximize the efficiency of your building’s many systems and lead to a healthier, happier, and more sustainable ecosystem for you and everyone you share the space with.

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