Integrating Automation Into Your Portfolio

Interconnecting security systems with other building and facility controls is being enabled by interoperable platforms as well as various other market drivers. The entry to market can be steep, yet integrators of all sizes with the right stuff can carve out a niche of their own in this emerging discipline.

Imagine: A major corporate executive arriving at her office building to catch up on work early one Saturday morning. She drives to the underground parking garage at her company’s high-rise corporate headquarters, swipes her access card and is allowed in to park. The elevator bank serving the garage and her 26th-story office activates and the lights in her office and the hallway from the elevator are turned on.

As she arrives in her office on this cold early spring morning, the room is already filling with warm air as the heating system in her floor quadrant was activated when she swiped her card in the garage. As she leaves four hours later, motion sensors in her office detect her absence and the lights and heat are turned off. In the meantime, video surveillance cameras follow her until she is safely back in her car and driving out of the garage.

This scenario makes for a very compelling work environment and an excellent example of how security is rapidly converging with building systems. The importance of security and safety systems is well understood by the security systems integrator, but the overall value of the building environment shouldn’t be overlooked. Both employees and building visitors expect and enjoy a controlled environment, where temperature, humidity and lighting levels are all carefully regulated.

Let’s take a look at some of the factors driving the convergence of mechanical and electrical systems into one building control system, as well as the market opportunities and barriers to entry.

Security, Building Controls Merge

Today’s facility managers are under tremendous pressure to not only protect the people and assets in their buildings, but also to create a comfortable and conducive working environment — all while maintaining or reducing energy costs.  Implementing a single point of control to manage all building systems is fast becoming an essential requirement for these managers.

One factor facilitating the convergence of all building systems is the impressive range of monitoring and control capabilities a modern building automation system (BAS) can provide (see sidebar). A BAS can warn of an access control breach or energy system failure, allowing facility operators to provide rapid response and corrective action. Integrated building systems can also combine and control multiple systems to handle specific problems.

For example, a BAS system may be set to automatically close fresh air dampers and power exhaust fans in a portion of the building where a fire alarm has been received. BASs can also help pinpoint operational problems by capturing and logging data from the various systems, and producing reports and graphs to indicate performance history and trends.

The ability to successfully converge these two major building functions — security and building automation — represents both a challenge and an opportunity for the visionary security integrator. 

Unfortunately for the majority of security systems integrators, this holistic approach to building management is still much more of a theory, rather than a practice. To date, only a small handful of service providers have the required knowledge, staff and experience to successfully integrate these security and building control functions. 

Market Entry Barriers to Consider

Many of the required building systems have their own proprietary hardware making it difficult to unite and gain visibility into equipment from a variety of vendors. Uniting the various mechanical and electrical systems into one building control system requires a broad knowledge base covering a number of disciplines.

Some security suppliers have attempted to work around this hurdle by partnering with heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) specialists, mechanical engineers and other building systems experts to create a virtual integrator for larger, more complex jobs. That may be a temporary fix for some projects, but most end users want a permanent solution: a single contact for all questions and problems that arise during an installation.

The security integrator wanting to “go it alone” will need to make significant investments in personnel and training budgets. And with that initial investment comes the need for additional office and warehouse space, equipment, tools and vehicles, and many other expenses. It is not an investment to be made lightly.  Nor is it to be made by an integrator unwilling to go “all in.” All things considered, subcontracting may be a viable option for smaller integrators with less resources.

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