Vendors push IP-enabled building controls

Combining everyday building functions with Internet Protocol could spell big savings for property owners, according to a Cisco Systems Inc. consultant.

But one system integrator cautions that landlords should consider what types of services, beyond floor space, they would like to offer their tenants before they jump on the IP bandwagon.

During his presentation at this year’s Global System Integrators Congress in Cancun, Mexico, Kaz Ochi, a consultant with Cisco’s Santa Clara, Calif.-based real estate market development group, noted that the whole business of connectivity in buildings is changing to the point where full deployment no longer means just offering broadband connectivity or even wireless access.

“The Internet is core to real estate. It’s connecting physical locations,” he said.

Besides offering broadband throughout an edifice, Ochi said, enterprises should think about the next step: convergence of traditional data and voice over IP with functions like heating, ventilating and air conditioning, lighting, elevators, as well as visitor and employee access systems.

“One of the problems is that some buildings have a lot of different (control) systems that don’t talk to each other,” Ochi said. “Security has one protocol, HVAC has another,” and monitoring all these different controls can be a hassle, he said.

Roberta Fox, senior partner with Fox Group Consulting in Markham, Ont., said building control systems have been around for a long time. They are based on the X11 standard, and while they are smart enough to control everything plugged into them, the problem is they require proprietary equipment and can only control the building in which they are installed.

But with IP-based systems, “the people monitoring the systems could be anywhere,” Fox said. If a property management company owns 100 buildings, “you could have one energy management control centre managing those buildings.”

Ochi said that if physical security — today monitored by analogue cameras, access points or badge readers — were all controlled over IP, this would facilitate intelligent surveillance. Adding things geographic information systems and object, facial or license plate recognition would be easier because it would take advantage of the existing IP infrastructure, he said.

Fox said the biggest challenge behind IP-based security and HVAC systems is figuring out the management rules and service levels that go with it.

In the case of security, “companies would have to decide whether they want to validate each incident first, or send every incident to the police. If they do that too many times, there may be a charge for managing the incidents,” Fox explained.

Prior investment in building automation systems could pose another adoption barrier, said Jeff Baba, national networking and site services practice leader with IBM Canada Ltd. in Markham, Ont. Although the systems may not be IP-enabled, they still automatically turn down the lights and the air conditioning.

“The question [landlords] should ask themselves is [whether] there [are] enough savings or additional functionality,” to justify spending the money to switch to IP-based building automation, Baba said.

Iain Grant, managing director of research firm Seaboard Group in Montreal, said the fact IP makes it easier to integrate the systems onto one platform would help drive cost savings.

“Anything that makes it easier means you need less training. There’s more simplicity, fewer screwups and fewer things fall through,” Grant said.

While larger landlords may show some interest, it’s the smaller market where the technology could potentially take off, he said. “Larger landlords are not going to rip out the systems they have in place because it works. But for new construction or smaller landlords that don’t already have automation systems in their buildings, why not put in something that has more functionality?”

However, Fox said she doesn’t see a huge move to IP-based building automation unless energy prices get so high that tenants start demanding that landlords cut costs in other areas.

Fox added that IT managers and vendors will have to figure out an efficient and cost-effective way to roll out such systems.


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