Delivering the benefits of integrated buildings

Published:  03 May, 2012

BMS, controls, integration, BACnet, Dimension Data Advanced Infrastructure
Pushing ahead with integration — Kari Baden.

Kari Baden believes that attempts to integrate a building’s IT architecture into its controls framework have so far failed — but that there is no reason for this failure. He sees integrated building architecture as offering new opportunities and transforming the whole-life cost of any building.

Over the past decade, the adoption of technology and facility services standards has enabled the creation of ‘intelligent buildings,’ that are productive for users and operationally efficient for owners and developers. Further, by integrating building systems onto a converged network and using intelligent, integrated management systems, the industry has been able to embrace a raft of innovative solutions.

The cost of deploying these technologies, however, remains almost prohibitive. Indeed, only the largest, market-leading property companies are typically able to exploit these solutions to future proof buildings, offer commercialisation opportunities and transform security and energy-consumption management.

As the construction industry looks for a way forward to meet the demands of both public- and private-sector companies, integrated building architecture becomes vitally important. Such an architecture would provide an agreed, open standards blueprint to enable the rapid and cost-effective deployment of innovative technologies, which could transform the whole-life cost of any building.

It is time for radical change in the construction industry. Developers, operators and users — from shoppers to office tenants and residents — are demanding more from their buildings. Indeed, there is a demand for buildings that are more intelligent, easier to maintain, more enjoyable to use, offering innovative services that improve quality of life and, where possible, offer commercialisation opportunities. Yet at the same time there is massive pressure to minimise capital expenditure. There is a constant call to deliver buildings that cost less to operate and maintain, to reduce whole-life costs.

The old models of building design are no longer good enough. Construction companies need to demonstrate an ability to deploy new technologies into buildings, whilst also controlling costs at every phase of design, build and operation. The challenge therefore, is in delivering these two, often, contradictory demands — all at a time when technology is rapidly changing.

For instance, how can a building owner or developer future proof the building when any analogue devices being implemented today, such as analogue CCTV, will be obsolete within five years? This will make the devices expensive to maintain, difficult to repair, and perhaps even requiring a complete refit — for a technology that should be viable for 20 years. In short, not only does the building lack the intelligence required in today’s market, but the whole-life cost has increased, rather than decreased.

Today’s model is rife with duplication and complexity. How, therefore, will the industry move forward to increase automation and enable the cost-effective exploitation of solutions that will ultimately transform building value?

Arguably, attempts to integrate the IT architecture into a building’s control framework have so far failed. Such failure comes through a combination of a lack of IT understanding and the need to use multiple, expensive suppliers to deliver each component of the solution. The resulting cost model has been unsustainable, resulting in many of the critical technology solutions, which are key to building success now and in the future, falling by the wayside.

For instance, the industry is slow on its uptake of the use of a wide-area network (WAN) and IP connections, which could automatically manage buildings in real-time. This in turn would reduce energy consumption, making real-time adjustments to the way a building’s heating and lighting are deployed in response to its current usage.

BMS, controls, integration, BACnet, Dimension Data Advanced Infrastructure
Integrating buildings technologies facilitates commercialisation, creating an integrated architecture within a building that enables the provision of additional services that may generate revenue — such as an IP network within a shopping centre to support the deployment of digital screens for retail advertising.

This technology can also be used to improve security — ensuring lights, lifts and other resources are automatically and intelligently deployed when the building, or parts of it, is occupied. Combined with the improved video analytics provided by IP CCTV, it is this level of intelligence and automation that will deliver the improved sustainability and operational management that is currently being demanded by today’s market.

It also facilitates commercialisation, creating an integrated architecture within a building that enables the provision of additional services that may generate revenue — such as an IP network within a shopping centre to support the deployment of digital screens for retail advertising.

There is, however, no reason for this lack of innovation and future proofing. The continued adherence to a piecemeal model based on multiple suppliers and solutions is wasteful and unjustifiable — especially as these technologies are increasingly based on a raft of industry-accepted standards, such as BACnet, which in turn are making greater use of the IT infrastructure and the Internet protocol (IP). Such convergence is increasing the utilisation of open protocols for building systems, enabling the systems and technologies within the building to communicate with one another, to pass or share data and to initiate actions when an event occurs. Such integration is therefore key to overcoming the fragmentation that is currently holding the industry back. The traditional barriers between systems will be broken down, enabling improved performance, enhanced visibility and reduced cost.

First formulated in the 1980s, BACnet is a leading building systems ISO standard. It is managed by the BACnet organisation and is continually evolving to meet the changes in technology and usage. At a simple level, BACnet provides a layer between proprietary devices and systems of various manufacturers and the network, so that the data is represented by a standard set of objects and utilises a standard set of services. In this way, devices or systems from different manufacturers can talk to one another, thus allowing the systems integrator to implement an Integrated building architecture — providing a single cost-effective approach that brings together all the relevant intelligent technologies together into a cohesive solution.

A combined approach and a clear standards-based blueprint makes it possible to procure and deploy a holistic architecture from one organisation. Taking this approach, a sustainable, future-proof building would be created, that delivers operational and commercial benefits from day one. Further, any number of new services and applications will be launched over the next five to 10 years, offering huge potential value increase to any building. In addition, a pervasive infrastructure that can support these new applications, underpinned by cross-discipline knowledge, will not only facilitate cost-effective deployment but also remove the need to ever undertake expensive technology retrofits to buildings.

There are compelling reasons why buildings should be incorporating these technologies. School heads know that IP CCTV cameras are proven to significantly improve behaviour — with an immediate knock-on benefit on learning. Shopping centres want to offer innovative services that draw footfall and increase commercialisation opportunities. Operators want buildings that are cost effective to run and enjoyable to use.

Further, many of these technologies are not brand new. Indeed, the leading adopters have been deploying elements of these solutions for the past 10 years in shopping centres and other major developments. For these essential components to be integrated into every single new development, however, the industry needs to embrace an integrated building architecture.

If the industry wants to rapidly and cost effectively implement these technologies, it is the ability to leverage proven standards and cross-discipline expertise that will be the key to delivering usable, manageable and sustainable buildings, which are increasingly being demanded by both the private- and public-sector markets.

Kari Baden is managing director of Dimension Data Advanced Infrastructure.

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