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Summit zeroes in on intelligent building movement

There is currently much debate going on about what constitutes an intelligent building. Experts such as Oscar Thomas, Toronto-based global marketing manager for an initiative called Cisco Connected Re...

May 1, 2006  

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There is currently much debate going on about what constitutes an intelligent building. Experts such as Oscar Thomas, Toronto-based global marketing manager for an initiative called Cisco Connected Real Estate Initiative or CCRE, envisions a time when the Internet and specifically IP becomes the 4th utility after water, gas and electricity and creates new value for the construction, real estate and property service sectors.

Frank Spitzer, senior associate with the consulting engineering firm IBI Group, whose areas of specialty include voice networking and systems integration, does not agree.

“IP is not the issue,” he says. “Using a Division 17 approach in which communications becomes a utility is perfectly correct. What protocol is used should be based on a project-by-project basis.”

Both Thomas and Spitzer spoke recently at the Intelligent Building Summit 2006 in Toronto, a two-day conference organized by the Strategy Institute that examined how technology can increase the value of existing, new and soon-to-be-designed buildings.

By building intelligently, the Institute maintains, industry stakeholders can increase rents, improve productivity, reduce energy costs, attract investments and extend the life cycle of a structure.

Thomas talked about how IP will replace disparate systems and individual infrastructures and become a competitive alternative provider of voice, video and data services.

According to Cisco Systems Inc. most buildings and campuses today are constructed with multiple proprietary networks that run systems such as HVAC, security and access, energy, lighting, and fire and safety as well as separate voice and data telecommunications networks.

“As a result, they are complex to operate with high installation and maintenance costs and limited automatic functionality,” the company says. “CCRE solves this problem by creating multi-service IP platform. The result: networked, intelligent buildings that bring value through the convergence of IT networks and building automation systems, opening new opportunities for the key stakeholders in the building value chain.

“The open standards based building infrastructure encourages a centralized and/or remote approach to monitoring, maintenance and control of the building environment.”

Benefits include optimized remote control, monitoring and reporting of building automation systems, reduced cost through intelligent heating, lighting and cooling and improved asset management and tracking.

Converging real estate and information technology, says Thomas, not only adds value, but changes the way real estate is designed, built, managed and used.

“What we are suggesting is that the integrated building, workplace and IT designs come in at the very beginning when you begin formulating a strategy for a new building plan. Everyone has the vision right now to make it happen. It’s just a question of getting everybody to the table and figuring how we build this.”

Spitzer counters that the move to intelligent buildings will be evolutionary and not revolutionary.

It has to be done gradually, he says, because there are competing forces. As an example, while it may take five years to design, build and open a high-rise office building, there potentially could be enormous technology advances and changes during that same time period.

“The reality is that you need to have a process. There is absolutely no reason with the right players at the table you cannot say, ‘we will no longer have dedicated communications for the HVAC and elevators and so on and down the road’ and build a communications infrastructure that gives you an opportunity to run your voice network, data network, building automation and building security on it.”

The good news, he adds, is that through the efforts of organizations such as the Intelligent and Integrated Buildings Council (IIBC) and Continental Automated Building Association (CABA) and others, the awareness level has risen.

Still, there remain some misconceptions.

“Many people regard intelligent buildings as synonymous with an energy efficient building,” says Spitzer. “They are different. An intelligent building means that the temperature control in a room can be used for many different things.”

There is also no doubt that their time has come.

“You go onto an aircraft carrier, a submarine or into a car you assume that the systems in each will operate in an integrated manner,” says Spitzer. “Yet you go into the fanciest building and you have to struggle with the fact the heating is one system and the lighting is another and the two don’t talk to each other.”