There should be an app for that

What apps do you use to help you do your job better?


Do you use mobile apps? I’m not talking about apps to help you find your way to a client’s office (such as Google Maps), or an app that plays music (like one of my favorites, Pandora). I’m talking about apps that help you do your job better, or help you offer an interactive building management tool to your client.

Smartphones, such as the iPhone and Android, continue to push the app market. It’s not all about the phone anymore, but what you can do with it. For example, Techcrunch in April reported that 13 billion apps have been downloaded between the two platforms. At the end of September, Android pulled in twice as many smartphone buyers as the iPhone. And though competitors continue to introduce tablets, the iPad still reigns supreme. 

Engineers, consultants, and building managers should keep an eye on how several manufacturers are jumping into this market. In the residential home market, many companies offer a management tool app  that can be used on the iPhone or Android platform. The companies that already offer these tools should offer them to the commercial building market soon, while other firms are diving directly into the market and skipping the residential side.

For example, Schneider Electric has apps that allow homeowners to remotely control their homes. Users can control their heating and cooling, lighting, and in some cases, their home irrigation system. Remote Technologies Inc. has systems that consist of both residential and commercial applications, including home theaters, media rooms, whole-house control, classrooms, conference rooms, restaurants, and hotels. Siemens Industry is in the process of developing apps for smart devices as well. To help move them forward, the company recently enhanced its BAS lines to include BACnet Web-based remote system monitoring, commanding, alarm management, scheduling, and trending functions.

While there are not nearly as many products for our industry as there are for homeowners, the promise is there. Right now, the engineer or building manager is informed of an event via a smartphone, and has to access a PC to update or change a setting in the Web interface. I think that’s all about to change.

Many of these products are built around or connected to the BAS (read the article: Commercial wireless BAS). The vast majority of BAS are based on wireless technologies, and on accepted protocols such as LonMark, BACnet, DALI, and Modbus. In order to keep up with the smartphone market, and to meet engineers’ needs, manufacturers should work toward integrating apps into their solutions. I challenge the building systems manufacturers out there to create an app for their product that enhances and simplifies the end user’s job.

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