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Mon 22 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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Making the smart choice

Mike Atkinson, managing director of Telematics, examines the pros and cons of four Building Systems Integration schemes for smart buildings.

Mike Atkinson, managing director of Telematics, examines the pros and cons of four Building Systems Integration schemes for smart buildings.

There's no doubt that Building Systems Integration has become the latest trend in Middle Eastern property development. As competition tightens and the global financial crunch encroaches on project budgets and operational targets, BSI is being sought as a practical and optimal approach to Smart Building (SB) rollouts.

Before going into BSI, a simple refresher on SBs is in order. A Smart Building basically capitalises on intelligent automation, modern communications and various other technology solutions to efficiently and economically operate, monitor and maintain a facility.

The various SB functions may range from security, surveillance and communications to temperature control and energy management. A problem with the earlier implementations of the SB concept was that subsystems were deployed independent of each other.

This led to redundant and often conflicting architectures, which ultimately increased costs and infrastructure overhead.

Enter Building Systems Integration, or BSI. Building Systems Integration was developed to harmonize all SB components into a seamless network, with integration occurring at the physical, network and application levels. Physical integration refers to the commonality of cabling, space, infrastructure support and open protocols, while application integration pertains to multiple system interoperability.

BSI champions the theory that the whole, referring to the integrated system, is greater in functionality than the sum of the parts, which are of course the individual building technology systems. Such a construct thus maximizes building connectivity both functionally and economically.

There is a major difference between integrated and interfaced building systems. Interfaced systems are individual systems that share data but continue to act as individual systems.

Integrated systems, on the other hand, share a single database, thereby avoiding the additional costs and support required in synchronizing disparate databases.There are essentially four BSI schemes that can be adopted for Smart Buildings: hard-wired integration; proprietary integration; "partnered" integration; and open standards integration. Hard-Wired Integration

The fundamental form of BSI is hard-wired integration. In this approach, building systems do not share any data but are instead simply connected to signal ‘off' and ‘on' states. A typical example is two separate building systems physically connected via an electrical dry contact.

Proprietary Integration

In this BSI scheme, subsystems designed by different manufacturers are configured to work with each other. Various stand-alone systems are connected to a front-end server with proprietary software.

Depending on the openness of the manufacturer's application, this strategy requires all systems to be networked to a single workstation. Proprietary integration is typically used for building automation and security systems.

This approach has several disadvantages, such as constraining a client to a single manufacturer for a complete system lifecycle. In this scenario, the client would have minimal to no options in terms of equipment and service procurement.

This means that a building owner or operator might miss out on technological advances by other sources since there is no single manufacturer that possesses the entire suite of intelligent building systems.

"Partnered" Integration

This integration framework is possible only if two manufacturers of different systems agree to a degree or form of openness or compatibility. Both parties develop Application Programming Interfaces so that their systems communicate.

But while this may be feasible for two systems, the management of APIs to ensure that multiple proprietary building systems connect properly with each other becomes very complicated.

Open Standards Integration

The last BSI strategy involves using an industry standard protocol for the network layer of building systems. Although this has emerged as a fundamental component of integration, there still are several precautions that need to be taken when adopting open protocols.For instance, the number of protocols used to integrate building technology systems needs to be minimized so as to maximize integration and provide an efficient operation environment.

To resolve this, two major protocols may be selected for implementation, such as IP and BACnet/IP or IP and Lonworks, which would normally fill in all the requirements of the building systems.

Another issue is that open protocols do not necessarily guarantee openness, interoperability or integration. Without certified or laboratory-tested products, protocols such as BACnet and Lonworks might be implemented in a manner that can only be supported by the original installer.

The same is true with the IP protocol; while IP can carry proprietary data, it does not assure integration.

Selection process

Choosing an effective BSI scheme requires full collaboration from facility managers, who are in a position to provide invaluable input as they know the inner workings of each system.

They can collaborate with developers / manufacturers and building owners / operators to determine which systems should be integrated, what the specific integration objectives are, and how much can and should be spent.

Although systems integration offers numerous benefits, in the end the facility executive needs to assert the actual operational value that will be equated with the integration cost.

The job of the facility manager can be further simplified and the needs of the building owner or operator effectively met by acquiring the services of reputable ICT engineering consultants.

hese firms offer tools that calculate the specific value provided by a certain sequence of operations. They are also capable of providing a fresh, outside perspective of how technical solutions affect a business.

This is important given the possibility that integration can cause several unforeseeable side effects when multiple systems are combined. Thus, the ultimate worth of independent systems integrators and consultants, especially during the preplanning phases, is their ability to offer critical views long before money is spent.

At Telematics, when we co-develop and deploy BSI projects, we make sure that we share our client's total smart building vision, from functionality and cost to maintainability and practicality.

Automation has become a competitive edge for a majority of property owners and developers in the Gulf and broader Middle East; it is thus essential to us that we create the kind of integrated systems that are beneficial rather than burdensome.

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