Convergence For Intelligent Building Systems

The rapid evolution of building automation systems is having a huge impact on facilities and those responsible for IT. For a long time, IT and BAS were developed separately, each focusing on individual technology developments and moving down the path of least resistance to market. But the convergence of the two is inevitable as buildings become ?smarter,? and we need to interconnect building facilities spread over different geographical locations for remote monitoring, analysis and control.

Recently, Environmental Systems, Inc. (ESI) released the study ?Bottom-Line Sustainability for Business: What?s Possible?and Profitable?About Intelli-gent Building Systems.? More than a dozen experts cited in the report were unanimous in their conclusion that the convergence of IT and BAS is one of the most important trends in the industry. For some, it may be a daunting prospect, but others see this convergence as a natural progression.

Schneider Electric?s Chris Curtis, executive vice president, North America Operating Division, says, ?There is a belief by some that the IT industry is going to take over BAS. Our view is that IT is the basic infrastructure?cabling, networks, data gathering, database management and display?of all the systems we use. We certainly see BAS, and for that matter any building system, fully capitalizing on IT technology and trends.?

The convergence of IT and BAS is producing measurable benefits by merging business and building systems data across an enterprise. One key to success has been the adoption of open systems platforms by some BAS integrators when developing solutions for customers.

True open systems integration with a life cycle approach avoids first-cost traps that result in significantly higher costs over the life of a particular solution. It helps identify opportunities to reduce costs, improve operating efficiencies and productivity, assist with strategic decision making and manage risk.

The annual savings range from 10 percent to 30 percent on facility operating costs. Year over year, companies are seeing benefits, such as improved energy efficiency of equipment and buildings; more targeted capital spending; better utilization of resources, including money, labor and equipment; and a safer, higher-quality environment that improves productivity and lowers insurance premiums.

Safety First

Many of the industry leaders who responded to interviews say the greatest impact associated with the convergence of IT and BAS has been enabling organizations to enhance safety and security by better controlling who has access to critical data and facilities. With the convergence of BAS and IT, building operators can monitor their buildings 24 hours a day, seven days a week, control access and realize cost savings with the shutdown of unnecessary systems.

Command and Control

?I think the biggest advantage of the integration of IT and BAS is the overall control of user authentication,? says Daniel Harris, founder and principal of and an authority on IT systems and management. In these days when security is a major concern, authenticating users is a high priority.

According to Ken Sinclair, editor and owner of, ?We are seeing a smoother approach [to user authentication] develop: face recognition, biometrics. We can buy cameras for everything, from front-desk monitoring to checking the belt on a fan. ?

Real Concerns

Despite the positive trends, there are legitimate concerns about the convergence of IT and BAS.

Though BAS experts acknowledge that the industry has implemented open standards and protocols for integration with IT, a number of manufacturers of individual building components are incorporating communications options that supposedly do not fit the needs of intelligent buildings.

In addition, while it is one thing to have ongoing data collection in the most simple read/write capacity, it is far more challenging to be able to track trends, adjust schedules and incorporate change-of-value reporting.

Though it?s clear that integration of physical and digital security can deliver substantial efficiencies, many businesses have not yet realized the importance of this convergence in the workplace.

Paul Oswald is president of Environmental Systems Inc., which designs, installs and supports commercial and industrial building systems.