Johnson Controls teams with Accenture on smart building sustainability, buys Tempered for security

Building technology and industrial systems firm Johnson Controls just made two different moves that have something in common: the company’s ongoing mission to enable sustainable building environments.

First, Johnson Controls and Accenture announced a collaboration focused on opening and operating two new OpenBlue Innovation Centers, OpenBlue being the name of the AI-enabled suite of connected solutions that Johnson Controls launched two years ago to integrate with the operational technology systems of building owners and operators. Those centers, in Bangalore and Hyderabad, India, will help accelerate the rollout of building control system products and services leveraging technologies such as AI, digital twins, IoT, 5G and the cloud. 

Meanwhile, Johnson Controls also acquired Tempered Networks, a company whose Xero trust network access security technology will be incorporated “within the fabric of Johnson Controls’ OpenBlue secure communications stack, advancing its vision of enabling fully autonomous buildings that are inherently resilient to cyberattack,” the company said in a statement.

OpenBlue collects and primes data from buildings and applies machine learning at the edge and in the cloud. This allows data comparisons against optimized AI performance models, and gives building operators and engineering teams the ability to “micro-manage” building performance in real time, which can save both energy and operating expenses, while enhancing the building environments more workers are returning to as pandemic-related restrictions have been lifted.

Worldwide, about 40% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are generated by the building sector, and research from Accenture found that digital twins and related technologies can be used to cut energy use and carbon emissions in half. Further Accenture research found that companies with a higher sustainability performance—across environmental, social and governance (ESG) indicators—perform better financially.

Vijay Sankaran, vice president and chief technology officer of Johnson Controls, said of the Accenture collaboration, “We have a fantastic opportunity to accelerate carbon reduction in buildings by weaving in new features built on advanced technology into OpenBlue, further enabling our customers to achieve their sustainability targets. Accenture’s expertise in platform engineering, integration and sustainability will help us to deliver these enhanced capabilities faster—accelerating how quickly we can cut emissions, energy and cost out of projects and helping our customers to reduce their operational costs sooner.”

Accenture will help implement AI-driven analytics on the OpenBlue platform to optimize space utilization, O2 vs. CO2 saturation in airflows, as well as infectious disease risks and other environmental information. Digital twins will be used to enable Johnson Controls to model, analyze, and make decisions on maintenance, upgrades, and sustainability—replacing physical prototypes to help reduce resource use, carbon emissions, cost, and time to market. 5G and IoT will also be used for faster and higher capacity data transmission, with remote management and control of connected devices, the companies said

“The better and more sustainable we can make buildings—the smarter, more attractive, healthier and efficient they will become—and the better they will be for people and our planet,” said Peter Lacy, Accenture’s global Sustainability Services lead and chief responsibility officer, in a statement. “It’s about creating environments focused on well-being and productivity of occupants, while protecting the environment of our planet. Digitizing building operations is an essential first step toward these goals.” 

Regarding the Tempered Networks acquisition, integrating that company’s Airwall security technology with the OpenBlue suite will result in the creation of an always-on and software-defined security perimeter protecting device-to-device, device-to-cloud and device-to-user interactions,” Johnson Controls said in a statement. “Airwall achieves this by using Host Identity Protocol to create a cloaked and micro-segmented network which overlays a building's existing network infrastructure, making the solution also highly cost-effective. A new level of authentication for connected building systems is created, allowing for greater system automation of functions such as heating and cooling, lighting, security and airflows.”

In a statement on the acquisition, Sankaran added, "When it comes to buildings, we must create easily implementable cybersecurity defenses as we're often dealing with critical infrastructure, including assets such as data centers and hospitals. Tempered Networks’ Airwall approach is purpose-built for our sector as it's designed around principles of zero trust, securing device communications as data moves between devices and the cloud – so enabling remote building optimization in the most trusted way possible."