As energy costs continue to increase in this challenging economic environment, so does the responsibility of building owners and managers to address energy efficiency within their organizations. At the same time, companies face growing external pressures to set high environmental and social-performance standards.

Three responsibilities — fiscal, environmental and social — often make up what is called the “triple bottom line” of sustainability. While many organizations struggle to define what this “sustainability mandate” means to them, the journey often begins with coordinated, energy-efficient facility strategies.

Fortunately, in recent years, the technology, standards, and expertise required to maximize facility efficiency have matured. Previously distinct systems within buildings are converging on standard platforms, applications, and infrastructures. The resulting synergy translates into lower construction costs and increased operational and energy efficiency.

This is a rare, compelling set of circumstances. Advances in technology, standardization, and expertise are combining to unleash new opportunities that can help facility and information-technology (IT) managers improve building and business performance.

A HISTORY OF DISCONNECTION

The mandate of energy efficiency is now mainstream. Yet the successful implementation of energy-efficiency strategies hinges on the removal of long-standing barriers between facility and IT groups, which is not easy.

The facility-management and IT disciplines have evolved in silos. The skills of facility managers and technical staff are an accumulation of lessons learned and the limited set of solutions that have been available to them. IT managers grew up with technology, routinely are trained on new developments, and have established methods of documenting and implementing technology best practices.

Facility and IT managers traditionally have installed and managed separate networks for building and business systems, with each measuring success against a distinct set of criteria. While there has been a convergence of those systems over a common IT-network infrastructure in recent years, the promise of efficiency has not been fully realized, as confusion and skepticism remain.

Facility managers might ask: “Will I have to abdicate responsibility for the reliability and quality of my systems to an organization that has other priorities? Can I depend on IT for critical applications, such as fire alarms? Will all the special IT rules constrain how I remotely access my system? Can I train members of my staff on all of the new things they need to understand?”

IT managers might ask, “Is the building-automation-system (BAS) application consistent with the IT networks, including firewalls and virtual private networks? Does it comply with our policies for user authentication and authorization? Does it introduce vulnerabilities?”

Both facility and IT managers might question their roles in an integrated environment. Who manages the procurement process? Who holds ultimate responsibility for the network? Who controls head count when efficiencies are gained?

COMBINATION OF CIRCUMSTANCES

The tide is turning. By desire or necessity, facility and IT managers are partnering more closely to approach building and business improvements holistically. At the core of that partnership is the acceptance of Internet-protocol- (IP-) based control as the foundation of an integrated BAS/IT environment.

In 2009, global sales of IP-based integrated building-control systems will outweigh those of non-IP-based systems.1

THE STANDARDIZATION OF TECHNOLOGY

Over the past decade, technology standardization has evolved in two phases: first, within the BAS industry and, more recently, as IT protocols have been applied.

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, most BAS vendors reinvented their systems to use standard protocols developed for the controls industry, such as BACnet and LonWorks. This allowed multiple-vendor HVAC, lighting, electrical-distribution, and life-safety building-control systems to be integrated into a common system architecture.

While total interoperability of the systems was not always ensured, their direction and promise were well-established. Owners could install building networks and field-bus solutions that would support standards-based expansion. But it did not always enable an IT application to read real-time or historical control-system values.

Internet-compatible protocols have evolved and now are open and standardized, making the transfer and sharing of information from one data point to another not only possible, but seamless — even beyond building systems.

Building-related data — including energy, security, and life safety — is accessible through a Web browser instead of being trapped in a building-management system's workstation. What's more, real-time energy-consumption data now is available to management outside of facility departments. As a result, an organization can use its energy-consumption database to estimate next month's energy bill, merge this information into enterprise databases for budget forecasts, and print a report that identifies resultant enterprise expenditures. Environmental alarm data can be merged with production data to find correlations between employee comfort and productivity.

IP-based control and monitoring, whether in a wired or wireless environment, is the new expressway to expanded enterprise applications. Specifically, these applications can help relieve the pressure associated with documenting and reporting progress on environmental and energy issues.

DEVELOPING EXPERTISE

The proliferation of technology and the increasing convergence of building, IT, and business systems means recruits to the industry are more technically savvy than their predecessors. For facility professionals, keeping pace with new, diverse technologies and methods to operate and maintain building systems requires a broader knowledge base. This involves full understanding of IT infrastructure and cooperation with those who implement a network for an enterprise. Recognition of what motivates an IT department when teaming with a facility staff also is important.

In what is seen as an emerging best practice, a single point of responsibility for the building of network infrastructures, both wired and wireless, is assigned. In this approach, a technology contractor brings an enterprise-wide perspective to managing the planning, design, installation, integration, commissioning, and servicing of building systems. Technology contracting can save time, reduce risks, and decrease construction and operating costs.

THE SUSTAINABILITY MANDATE

For facility and IT managers, energy efficiency is at the heart of the challenge to design, build, and operate buildings in the most economical and environmentally responsible way possible. According to a recent survey of corporate executives, nearly 40 percent said they expect legislation mandating energy efficiency to be passed by 2010.2

An organization's success in recruiting the next generation of employees likely will be affected by its sustainability efforts. The survey of corporate executives noted that nearly one-third of organizations say “green buildings” will be important in attracting and retaining future employees.2

FACILITY AND IT BENEFITS

Benefits of blending an organization's building systems and IT architecture into a seamless entity, sharing resources and benefits, include:

  • Less duplication, greater efficiency. In an integrated environment, a BAS is less expensive to install because it can use the existing IT infrastructure. Better performance can be achieved more economically because a single high-speed network avoids the redundancy required with a separate BAS infrastructure. In addition, fewer wires, bridges, routers, and repeaters reduce the likelihood of component failure and downtime.

  • Reduced operating expenses. More than 75 percent of a building's total life-cycle costs are consumed in the “maintain and operate” phase. Therefore, IP-based control and monitoring is a prudent bottom-line decision because it can accommodate current and future technologies. Already accustomed to the concept that network technologies evolve constantly, IT managers regularly budget for upgrades. In a shared network, the facility system benefits from ongoing IT-network improvements.

  • Increased energy efficiency. It is unfair to claim that an IP-based system saves more energy simply because BAS and IT information is flowing over a common data highway. However, it is possible to claim credit for making facility-improvement measures easier to undertake. One study suggested that retrocommissioning HVAC equipment and controls can reduce applicable energy costs by 10 to 30 percent.3

  • Seamless accommodation of system additions and modifications. In a converged-network environment, facility and IT managers can leverage the existing wired or wireless building network to extend building-control capabilities across the entire network infrastructure without increasing installation costs and with the assurance that future technologies can be incorporated seamlessly. For example, companies with converged networks can use real-time pricing schedules provided by energy utilities over IT data networks to refine energy-cost-saving strategies.

  • Improved enterprise-wide planning, coordination, and budgeting. As described previously, a technology contractor brings a coordinated, enterprisewide perspective on leveraging technology and the authority and technical expertise to make decisions and influence how an IT network will be chosen, installed, and operated. A building is seen not as a collection of systems, but as a functioning whole, integrated to maintain a competitive edge, improve productivity, and facilitate organizational collaboration.

THE CASE FOR CONVERGENCE

Ave Maria University, near Naples, Fla., is among the world's most technologically advanced universities. By employing industry best practices, the university successfully converged 23 systems on a single IP network, combining the university's IT-infrastructure, fire, security, HVAC, and building-control systems on a common platform.

Convergence has installation- and maintenance-cost advantages. A single cabling infrastructure is easier and cheaper to install and service than multiple proprietary networks. In fact, when the university opened its doors in August 2007, Bryan Mehaffey, vice president of technology systems and engineering for the university, estimated that the university already had saved $1.5 million in construction costs. The university estimates it will save $600,000 in utility costs and $350,000 in staffing expenses each year.

For other organizations, the path to increased efficiency and building performance is not always as clear. That is where the emerging discipline of technology contracting comes in.

Once a small town on the plains, Aurora, Colo., is the third largest city in the state and a business leader in key growth industries, such as biotechnology, aerospace, and high technology. Although the city has enjoyed significant growth, its infrastructure has not grown proportionally. The city sought to increase operational efficiency across its 100 facilities by replacing outdated systems, maximizing energy efficiency, and improving occupancy comfort.

The Aurora Municipal Center (AMC), designed in 2002, consolidates 28 municipal departments scattered throughout the city. Because it needed to move into the new facility quickly, the city commissioned a technology contractor to work closely with mechanical, electrical, and security engineers and a general contractor to develop specifications for the project, customized to fulfill the city's desire for fully integrated systems.

All major building systems and equipment at AMC are integrated, and a common Web-based user interface will accommodate the addition of existing and new buildings. The technology contractor established baselines against which the performance of key systems can be measured. As a result, AMC has achieved annual operational savings of $15,000 since opening.

CONCLUSION

The challenge for building managers and owners is to design, build, and operate buildings in the most efficient, economical, and environmentally responsible way possible. Fortunately, the technology, standards, and expertise required to meet this challenge have evolved.

Networks that converge via IP-based control and monitoring are gaining acceptance. A holistic approach to building technology, embodied by the technology contractor, provides a greater ability to increase efficiency.

Advances in technology, standardization, and expertise are giving facility and IT managers new opportunities to improve building and business performance.

REFERENCES

  • Colebrook, P. (2006, September). IT convergence & building systems. Paper presented at ibexcellence, Berlin.

  • Johnson Controls. (2008, April). Final report: IFMA North America. Retrieved from www.ifma.org/tools/research/surveys/2008_energyeffindex.pdf

  • IFMA. (2008). Benchmarks V: Annual facility costs. Houston: International Facility Management Association.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terry Hoffmann is director of marketing, building-automation systems, for Johnson Controls Inc. and an adjunct professor for the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). He has a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Marquette University and a master's degree in engineering management from the MSOE.