System integrators used to be installers who used one system to trigger another. Today, thanks to in

I recently attended a dinner party and noticed a half-dozen-strong pile of remote control units stacked on the coffee table. I quickly scanned the room: one each for the TV, VCR, and cable box, while each component of the three-part stereo had its own as well. On an end table next to the sofa sat a barely used universal remote, purchased with the hope of banishing the six other units. Turns out the universal remote wasn’t so universal. It performed little more than channel changing, volume control (for TV and stereo) and the most basic controls of the VCR.

Today’s commercial building integrators face a similar hurdle. There exists a myriad of systems dealers can install in a commercial facility. Fire and security panels only begin to cover what is an increasingly broad range of options that include CCTV, access control, energy management, environmental controls, lighting controls, communications and systems monitoring.

In the past, every new system installed in a building required running its own cable. Security systems didn’t talk to fire systems and vice versa. Today, manufacturers tout the advantages and ease of integration, but the reality isn’t so simple. When it comes to integrating multiple systems into a single head unit, there are still interface problems that prevent a plug and play design;  besides, only now is a software platform being agreed upon. While some of these units are UL Listed, almost none of the head units on the market are up to fire code specifications.

Many integrators and manufacturers delineate between those systems intended to work together and those that allow some degree of communication. Systems built with an architecture that clearly anticipates combinations of systems are said to be integrated.

Those systems that communicate by more rudimentary means, such as simple input/output triggers, are said to be interfaced. For some combinations of technology, true integration is still a long way off. J. Matthew Ladd, president and COO of Protection Bureau in Exton, Pa., draws the distinction thusly: “Integration is done with software; interconnection is done with relays.”

Defining the 3 Camps of Integration

There are really three forms of integration going on in commercial facilities, and while they didn’t have much overlap in the past, that is changing. In one camp are the systems that deal with building management. These systems incorporate environmental controls, a security system and lighting controls into a single head end unit. They may also incorporate access control and CCTV. In the second camp are systems based around access control, incorporating ID badging and elevator control, plus digital CCTV, biometrics and security.

Automation Offers Increased Functionality, Savings

Most often, building management systems are designed around primary goals of energy management and security. The environmental controls will be preprogrammed to turn on and off lights, heat or air conditioning at determined times. Additionally, the security system can be used to input information to the control unit.

Treat Access Control as the Starting Point

Dealers that design and install integrated systems can have some trouble defining just what they are integrating. Is it an access system that incorporates security and CCTV, or is it a CCTV system that oversees access and intrusion?

Life Safety Requires Creative Solutions

Fire systems are the least likely to be integrated with other systems, but when they are, most often those systems are combined with digital paging or intercoms in order to send out detailed instructions about how to respond to an alarm.

Use Integration as a Management Strategy

When used as a management system, system integration enhances not only a building’s value, but the occupying company’s value. The combination of energy and facility management, access control, security incorporating digital CCTV and life safety/fire is creating opportunities for companies with previously unimagined efficiency, increasing safety to both employees and the company, while saving the company many thousands of dollars.

Integrated Technology Converges on the Future

Richard Chace, executive director for the Security Industry Association (SIA) in Alexandria, Va., envisions a world of almost limitless interconnectivity. He says, “The true future of these buildings’ integrated systems matrices is to have buildings that ‘talk’ to other buildings.”

Working to Fit the Pieces Together

According to most dealers, the great difficulty in integration today has little to do with the technology itself. According to Jim Wenck, senior security advisor for Gage-Babcock and Associates in Fairfax, Va., getting the different contractors involved to coordinate their efforts can be very difficult.

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