Most commercial buildings include multiple standalone control systems. But when systems like HVAC, power distribution, security, and others operate independently, facility managers may be limited in their ability to make the building function as a whole, thus making it difficult to embrace proactive strategies that solve business issues. [For more on HVAC integration, see “Rejuvenating HVAC”.] On the other hand, today’s integrated automation systems can reduce first cost and life cycle cost, shorten project delivery times, generate new revenue streams, improve productivity, reduce risk, and limit theft.
Overall, these systems offer two primary benefits. First, they link multiple building services to facilitate advanced control and monitoring schemes. Next, they present all facility information on a single PC screen, allowing operators to evaluate and influence operations more efficiently.
For example, a building management system with integrated access control and CCTV systems can automatically trigger a video recording based on the use of an expired access badge and bundle the two events into a single alarm notification. In traditional standalone systems, the access control event generates an alarm in one database while the associated video is archived in another.
So why don’t more facilities employ integrated strategies? The answer is simple: because institutional practices often prevent this kind of solution from being designed and delivered.
Building systems are not viewed as critical management tools, and therefore aren’t discussed until after many significant construction decisions have already been made. In other cases, building services are added after general construction is complete, without their impact being considered during design. Simply put, today’s commercial construction practices are optimized to deliver separate and independent scopes of work; a convention that doesn’t encourage the interaction of building systems.
With so many potential hurdles, integrating “after the fact” can be extremely difficult and much more costly. To achieve the best results and most flexibility for the future, integrated systems must be identified and developed as a comprehensive part of the design process—not as an afterthought.
Fortunately, some institutional speed bumps are being removed. For years, the Construction Specification Institute’s (CSI) MasterFormat has largely defined the division of engineering and contracting. Several years ago, its familiar Division 15 Mechanical and Division 16 Electrical sections started being supplemented by an industry driven extension (dubbed “Division 17”) that defines the integration of control systems. This approach gives a single contractor responsibility for coordinating and commissioning an integrated system.
Recognizing advances in technology and the trend toward integration, CSI updated its MasterFormat in 2004 to include a division devoted to Integrated Automation (Division 25). MasterFormat 2004 eliminates Divisions 15 and 16 and revises sections of other divisions to create a “facility services subgroup” that includes fire suppression, plumbing, mechanical, electrical, communications, and electronic safety and security (Divisions 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, and 28). Division 25 describes the products and work required to link these subsystems into a cohesive building network. These changes to MasterFormat have paved the way for a more practical method of designing and delivering integrated building automation solutions.
Finally, the most critical element to realizing an integrated design is the will and participation of the owner. If owners don’t identify integration as a priority, there are too many hurdles for it to happen on its own.
For example, many facility managers are responsible for multiple buildings or phased construction and expansion that involve different casts of designers, contractors, and suppliers over the course of many projects and years. These applications are especially susceptible to short-term and project-specific pressures that can result in a disjointed array of building systems.
To achieve the benefits available through integration, facility managers should follow these steps:
- Become familiar with the technologies that make integrated systems possible. Learning basic information about networks and open protocol options will help managers articulate their needs, engage design professionals in meaningful discussions, and get integration on the agenda early.
- Learn from others. Benchmark other facilities and businesses that use integrated building systems as a strategic business tool.
- Look for application synergies. Which of today’s facility challenges, if addressed differently, would create an operational or financial benefit? How can the building itself become a means to a more efficient business? Evaluate the impact in both operational and financial terms.
- Develop a long-range plan. A master vision for facilities is critical for companies that will acquire, expand, or modify their facilities through on-going construction. Such a plan will identify high-level objectives and set standards for acceptable technology and installation practices that guide all projects and partners.
- Be involved and choose wisely. Facility professionals play a large role in selecting contractors and products. The bid process should include a technical proposal and review process, with decision making criteria and qualification metrics defined well in advance to assist in evaluating bidders. Unfortunately, these critical purchasing decisions are often left to mechanical and electrical contractors driven by lowest first cost objectives. Bidding controls direct to the facility manager or general contractor provides opportunity to evaluate critical systems that the owner will live with for the life of the facility.
Integrated systems can provide a real financial and operational return on investment. But the prevailing construction design and contracting practices cannot be relied upon to generate or deliver integrated building designs without an outside influence.
Facility professionals hold the key to realizing the full advantage available through today’s building management technology. By becoming familiar with technology and putting integration on the agenda early in the design and construction process, they can guide the development of facilities that help advance their business and strengthen the bottom line.