With the "Navigator" software solution, the Siemens Building Technologies Division has been offering customers all over the world an integrated platform for energy and sustainability management for their buildings and properties since 2002. With a new design that focusses even more on its users, the move to Amazon's AWS cloud and connectivity with Siemens MindSphere - the cloud-based, open IoT operating system - make this globally deployed solution primed for the future. At the same time, the experts at eggs unimedia, who have supported the project with their know-how right from the beginning, rely on agile development methods with the SAFe framework and a DevOps concept, where programming and system maintenance are part of eggs unimedias range of comprehensive services.
Worldwide, buildings consume about 41 percent of global primary energy through heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) and lighting, as well as heating water for domestic uses. Therefore, they produce around one third of all man-made CO2 emissions. Real estate is often the second largest expense when you look at a corporation’s profit and loss statement, where approximately 80 percent of total life cycle costs of existing buildings are the result of ongoing operational expenses.
In order to increase its energy efficiency, while saving on electricity, heating, cooling and water costs and minimising the emission of greenhouse gases, the Siemens Building Technologies (SBT) Division made it easy in 2002, by developing its web-based "Energy Monitoring & Controlling" software, which is an easy to use tool for energy accounting.
"This toolset provides all the functions required for energy management via the Internet and is the backbone for all processes and tasks in all phases of a building’s life cycle," explains Winfried Wirth, Release Train Engineer (RTE) at Siemens Building Technologies, who is responsible for the smooth running of the development machinery. The platform was initially hosted on servers in two data centres, one in Europe and the other in the US, customers can access and use the service via the internet.
Tailored dashboards provide specific target groups such as building managers, caretakers or facility management with aggregated information about current energy consumption and costs, associated CO2 emissions and other relevant parameters - for example, in a yearly comparison, as well as, for all properties worldwide. A traffic light function indicates whether everything is in the green zone or whether there is an urgent need for action at certain locations.
Moreover, the solution package also allows an analysis far beyond the pure amounts of energy. In this way, physical building data, such as square metre area or number of employees, can be put into relation and comparisons are made on a neutral basis. More than 250 predefined reports allow a wide variety of evaluations and if required tailored to customers’ needs.
Since its inception, more than 30 digital services that help customers to continually improve the performance of their buildings and real estate portfolios have become part of the toolset. Such as the "Fault Detection and Diagnostics" (FDD) function, which has now been rolled out worldwide. This automated fault detection and diagnostics solution analyses dynamic building data enabling customers to identify operational issues, pinpoint causes and take corrective action. This can reduce the cost of reactive maintenance, extend the life cycle of assets, and minimise downtime due to equipment failure.
Currently, more than 3,000 customers with around 80,000 buildings in 35 countries now use the platform in 20 languages, which is now offered under the name "Navigator". Meanwhile more than 630,000 nodes and almost 850,000 data points are currently connected. In total, more than 34 billion readings are collected and analysed regularly and the throughput on the platform is approximately 450 million transactions daily. Networking with intelligent building technology via the Internet of Things (IoT) and more than 220 pre-defined analysis rules can turn any normal building into a smart building. Through the open interface (REST API) a simple connection to SAP systems, asset management solutions or intelligent meter infrastructures is established. It also enables the development of third party applications based on the Navigator system.
For customers, Navigator provides more transparency in building management and leads to a better decision making process through data analytics and apps that can easily track energy and sustainability metrics. The software also helps maximise the operational efficiency of buildings by discovering hidden potential and prioritizing actions. This allows customers to noticeably lower their costs and increase their return on investment.
Additionally, it also supports better regulatory compliance and makes a positive contribution to the environment. Siemens customers around the world have already reduced the amount of the greenhouse gas CO2 produced by more than 525 million tonnes and the balance sheet improves by a further 10.5 million tonnes every year. The platform has already received eleven international awards in the field of energy efficiency.
Shopping centre Sello
Also in the Sello shopping centre in the Leppävaara district of Espoo, Finland, which is one of the largest shopping malls in Scandinavia and contains more than 170 shops, a multiplex cinema, a concert hall, a library and several gastronomic providers, benefits from Navigator. The software is used to monitor and analyse the ventilation systems, room sensors and lighting systems in the multitude of premises and shops. According to Olli Paunola, the Sello building manager, Navigator has significantly expanded the possibilities of monitoring the operation of the shopping centre and adapting the system to respective conditions. In 2017, the centre was able to save 680 MWh of electricity and 800 MWh in centre heating, which is about half of the previous year’s consumption and cut energy costs by around 110,000 euros. All of this without sacrificing any comfort for their 24 million annual visitors.
International financial services provider
An international financial services provider and real estate investor monitors around 1,000 properties globally with Navigator, which has led to these building consuming two to three times less energy annually. CO2 emissions have been reduced by 15 percent. All of the data on energy and resource consumption, the condition of the building services and the status of the optimisation measures for each building are centrally available in the cloud. With the help of algorithms, it is possible to systematically evaluate which initiatives have taken effect and where there is room for further improvement. The smart evaluations allow the major bank to use its investments with maximum effect and to check the effectiveness of the measures at any time.
Realisation and further development
Since the project began 15 years ago, Siemens has worked closely with eggs unimedia and outsourced programming and interface design to the marketing and technology experts in Munich. "For us, eggs unimedia is a strategic partner, which has accompanied the development of our platform from the very beginning," Winfried Wirth emphasised.
In addition to the high quality of work and service, the eggs unimedia project management and software development is characterised by high degrees of flexibility and customer orientation. Fast implementation cycles have made it possible to fully meet Siemens’ respectively agreed upon time and target specifications. This also applies to the last big major Navigator release, which took place in autumn 2017 and brought with it numerous modifications and changes.
For example, the latest version has created a better user experience so users can quickly and efficiently find the data and analytics they need for their work. Using their own personalised dashboards and advanced search options, they can now selectively display the information that is relevant for them.
Moving to Amazon Web Services
Additionally, the platform’s cloud infrastructure has received a major upgrade by moving to Amazon Web Services (AWS). This offers users a number of advantages:
- Increased server performance at lower costs
- On-demand availability of computing power, relating to working and saving capacity
- Greater elasticity due to automatic instance start up and shut down
- Significant performance increase and faster reaction times
- Optimal infrastructure adaptation to software and easier scalability
- Higher availability and reliability through system redundancy
- Automatic error detection and alert function
All infrastructure and application deployment is now fully scripted and automated. For example, when a server instance crashes or fails, a new instance is automatically started and the application is scripted and installed. In addition to this provider independent "Infrastructure as Code" and Public Cloud “Infrastructure as a Service” (IaaS) services, AWS provides a broad set of application development tools, called "Platform as a Service", for testing and deployment preparation. These include DevOp tools and services to develop mobile applications and functionally.
Moreover, security, which is particularly important in the Siemens "Security by Design" approach, has been increased as a result of the move. The penetration tests carried out by the Siemens Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) check all interfaces for vulnerabilities regularly. Workshops on threat and risk analysis also ensure an extremely high level of security in its design. The entire system is hosted within Europe and is subject to European data protection law. "Within half a year, we were able to handle the complete change with a lift & shift method without any problems," recalls Winfried Wirth.
With the new release and the other changes, the Navigator, as a "native cloud application", has become an even more powerful and user-friendly analysis and reporting tool that will be a key factor in the continued growth of Siemens Building Technologies and the limitations of the preceding versions have been successfully overcome. This was thoroughly confirmed by the first employee and customer reactions. The time to set up new data points has dropped by 23 to 50 percent, depending on the specific situation. Previously, loading times of 30 seconds had been required for some reports, this now happens in three seconds. In addition, the stability of the software could be significantly improved compared with the on premise solution
Agile Development Framework and DevOps concept
eggs unimedia now has a 17 member programming team, which is located across two sites, one in Munich and the other in Lviv, Ukraine. They have both been successfully using agile development methods, such as Scrum, for many years. However, for larger projects this method of working has limitations, which is why scaling is needed. This transforms the agile principles of smaller teams from a manageable framework into a holistic, enterprise-wide approach. In addition, agile framework concepts such as the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) have emerged in recent years.
Also, Siemens wanted to unite different Scrum teams through a common co-operation model. Everyone involved in the project should understand the overall context and not just look at "their island" of responsibility. "The management and specialist departments within our company should also be actively involved in project planning and design and not just simply demand new features for the users from us," says Winfried Wirth. Moreover, the aim was for our individual development teams to be able to communicate better with each other.
Of central importance in the SAFe methodology is the so-called Agile Release Train (ART), which can be thought of as a train with a permanent crew of self-organising teams. These provide virtual organisation within the train and produce the required software almost in step with each other while progressing forward and without losing momentum. As with a train, the code packages are created by all teams according to the timetable at the same rate and delivered to the "station". In six biweekly Sprints, new program modules are synchronised and then after three months they are assembled into a single release for customers.
"We have established a SAFe Navigator & Friends Collaboration workflow in which the various teams at Siemens and eggs unimedia work together," reports Release Train Engineer Winfried Wirth. Today, as part of Continuous Delivery, we can launch one deployment each month with minor enhancements and a fuller release to Navigator users each quarter.
Furthermore, eggs unimedia now implements a DevOps concept, in which the developers are also responsible for system maintenance. It overcomes the dividing lines between two formerly highly isolated business units, Development and Operations, and represents the mindset, practices and tools that organisations can use to make applications and services faster, as well as, being easier to deploy. Developing and improving products is faster than other companies that are still using traditional software development and infrastructure management processes. Plus, necessary infrastructure adjustments are much easier because their possibility can already be taken into account during development.
"Thanks to this speed advantage, we can serve customers better and have shorter and quicker reaction times," says Winfried Wirth smiling. In addition, we can now react much more flexibly to requirements and avoid the blame game, which pushes responsibility back and forth, making it a thing of the past. At the same time, resources are more efficiently used during development and the combination of knowledge from development and infrastructure results in a better product.
The long-standing partnership with eggs unimedia - according to Winfried Wirth - has developed positively in line with their new requirements and the entire project continues to run very satisfactorily. "We successfully work hand in hand and have an excellent relationship based on trust," he emphasises. The increased transparency for all involved parties through the introduction of SAFe and DevOps is also having a positive effect: "Now everyone knows exactly what is being worked on and what priorities there are in the further development." In addition, the future improvements and capabilities for Navigator are endless.
Connection to Siemens MindSphere
In the future, for example, their automated analysis capabilities, which are currently based on rules, could be expanded through the use of artificial intelligence. Moreover, with the connection to Siemens MindSphere, the value of the platform and other applications and services in the field of building services can also be increased. Because the open operating system for the Internet of Things, which is at the core of the cloud strategy for the entire Siemens Group, can for the first time fully map the life cycle of buildings and it enables the capture and analysis of huge amounts of data.
In addition to the consumption of electricity, gas or water, parameters that influence the well-being of people in the building e.g. room temperature, humidity or air quality, can also be taken into account. Collecting such information as well as factoring in the real-time weather data for each building varies in size and complexity.
Because when and how much energy is used depends very much on its consumption. For example, a hospital, which operates around the clock and always, needs light, water and heat. Unlike an office tower, where people work on average twelve hours a day and only five days per week. With Siemens MindSphere, which is now also available in the AWS cloud, such relationships in the future can be better taken into account.
Navigator’s customisable suite of applications helps monitor building system performance, energy demand and supply more effectively and efficiently. It provides transparency, for customers, users, facility management and investors as well as for Siemens experts, who provide additional support and services. It is a central platform, to maintain total control over a single building, a campus or your entire portfolio.