Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Buildings with Brains

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Buildings with Brains

Article excerpt

Building owners and managers are integrating their properties' operating systems so they fit the definition of smart buildings

Buildings' operating systems can say goodbye to their independence, that is if they're smart.

Systems integration is a burgeoning development bringing so-called smart buildings to life. Integration involves networking operating systems like climate controls, security, lighting and communications so they can be controlled from one or a few points in a building's operations center.

"If your systems are working independently, they're not working toward a common goal," said Jon Williamson, senior product manager of TAC Inc., a North Andover, Mass., systems integrator and producer of building automation controls. "There's only so much your systems can do with just a minimum set of data local to that piece of equipment. Integration unlocks the full potential for savings."

Systems integration is catching on as word of its cost savings and benefits spreads. The momentum stems from its efficiencies in areas like energy management, environmental controls and labor costs, as well as from the development of more technological standards enabling disparate systems to communicate with one another on the same network.

"Those who have chosen to integrate their systems have realized a greater return on their investment," Williamson said. "Once the majority of the industry realizes what the initial adopters of this strategy have, the industry as a whole will benefit greatly."


Systems integration is the result of computers, equipment and different operational systems in a building working together to share data or applications and ultimately to function as one.

When working in sync, integrated systems provide owners and facilities managers with complementary data from each system. Operational systems like climate controls, security, fire detection and lighting can communicate with one another, and they can share data more readily with departments outside the scope of traditional building operations.

For example, data from a climate control system might flow to the accounting department so staff can quickly gauge the costs of a company's energy management efforts. Or, corporate tenants using computers integrated with the building's HVAC system through software might determine the costs of their energy usage during particularly late working hours on special projects.

"Without your systems talking together, you'll never be able to realize the full potential of your building's efficiency," Williamson said. "That's what makes systems integration so attractive. It will keep more money in your pocket."

At the Seattle World Trade Center's east building, tenants can call the office to notify the system of their estimated arrival times, and lighting and climate controls will kick in accordingly. The integrated system then conditions the room based on tenants' input regarding the length of time they will be at the building, said Brian Buckland, who oversaw the integration effort for Wright Runstad & Co., the firm managing the building at the time.

Williamson said some of TAC Inc.'s financial institution and research lab customers place a high premium on safety, so their safety systems are highly integrated. When a fire alarm goes off, doors automatically unlock and video cameras begin recording to help identify what might have started the fire and to ensure everyone has been evacuated. Smoke evacuation systems as well as emergency generators and lights start up. The integrated systems can also pressurize rooms containing hazardous materials.

A card access system can generate a report to show who has safely left the building, who is still inside and in which areas of the building they are located, Williamson said. Building staff would use a card reader in a safe zone, perhaps in a parking lot, so workers would not slow the evacuation by swiping cards inside. …

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