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Building management automation: IoT meets facilities management for sustainable buildings

Building management automation: IoT meets facilities management for sustainable buildings

There are growing advantages in deploying integrated building automation systems and bringing the Internet of Things into the world of facilities management.

Smart building infographic

Systems that control building functions such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC); security; refrigeration; and lighting have historically operated as standalone entities. They have also, for the most part, occupied a select niche, separated from mainstream IT systems and standards. This isolation, however, is beginning to give way to a more cohesive environment. Those focusing on building automation now look to bridge the gaps among their customers’ systems.

New-building construction as well as retrofit projects provide opportunities for companies to fit building automation technologies. Building managers could find motivation in a number of factors. For one, they could see a more integrated approach to automation as way to save energy costs. Integration also saves administrative dollars, since it is more efficient to manage systems with one console as opposed to several.

Concerns over obsolescence also play a role in encouraging building owners to take a fresh look at automation. Ageing, proprietary controllers – computers that receive data on the building’s environment and issue commands to devices – will eventually outlive seller support.

Facilities managers are now more open to exploring parts of their infrastructure where they can make more cost savings.

There is a growing confluence of IT and building-systems firms. Google Inc.’s agreement last year to acquire Nest Labs Inc. for $3.2 billion is a case in point. Nest, based in Palo Alto, Calif., makes thermostats and smoke detectors accessible through mobile devices.

Financial push

Cost pressure is encouraging building owners and facilities managers to look into integrated building automation systems for facilities management.

I think a lot of managers have a lot more pressure today to look for a way to try to reduce energy, something that really moves the needle on cost savings.

In addition, managers seek the ability to manage multiple systems through one website portal. Companies can now run three different security systems and a like number of HVAC systems across different locations, resulting in convenience and reduced costs.

So the complexity of managing disparate systems – and the potential to realize operational efficiency through consolidation – is a good business case for integration.

Personnel issues offer another incentive. A company is left in the lurch if the person trained to operate a half dozen building systems leaves the organisation.

Building automation can involve retrofit work, where the company upgrades legacy proprietary systems or pursues integration projects.

Or, in the case of new construction, building managers can plan for integration from the start. The inception and planning stages are as critical as the installation phase for optimisation of the facility.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that every facilities management company is scrambling to integrate building systems.

Incentives for many commercial applications to adopt smart systems may not yet be sufficient to compel adoption, and even if they are, the business population needs to understand the value proposition.

The question may be whether the initial price tag of putting up a building can stand up against ongoing, operating costs. Building owners have historically managed capital and operating budgets as separate entities. But an attempt to reconcile the two could encourage an owner to spend more on first costs to reduce operating expenses over the long haul.

For example, a case could be made that incorporating integrated building automation into a structure’s design will reduce energy consumption and cut operating cost over the long haul.

More and more projects are executed on an automated network – a converged IP network. You can see some of the challenges this can raise here, with the work done on one of the greenest buildings in the world: Inside the Crystal.