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.
An integrator involved in building systems convergence must be ready with a trained staff on-call 24 hours a day, including weekends and holidays, to immediately respond and make repairs in minutes — not hours. Some larger corporate end users even demand that an integrator keep staff onsite for faster response in the event of a breakdown.
An end user may be able to survive for a few hours, maybe even a day, with a faulty video system. The loss of an air conditioning system can be tolerated for a short time. But a customer’s patience will quickly disappear if the BAS controlling all systems fails simultaneously.
In addition to maintenance, end-user training often becomes an issue. The integrator will need to have trainers on staff to help current and future end-user employees learn how to use the newly converged building systems.
Opportunities Begin to Blossom
Despite these costly barriers to market entry, some mid-to-large-size (and even smaller) security integrators may be considering taking the plunge into the building control business, and advances in technology are largely helping to drive that decision.
Today’s modern BASs are moving away from proprietary standards and protocols toward open architecture platforms that are both backward- and forward-compatible. This makes it easier for the integrator entering this side of the business to work with the technology. It also helps to protect the investment that end users are making in legacy systems. While the security industry has not moved as quickly toward open architecture, many manufacturers are beginning to support one of the two standards-setting organizations, ONVIF and PSIA.
And, as is the case with security systems, building controls have largely made the transition to wireless and wired computer networks. BASs using wireless technology can cost effectively provide mobility for facility staff as well as integration with different networks. For example, BACnet and LONWorks — two traditional BAS protocols — can now be transmitted over a corporate data network, allowing for real-time, remote interface with building systems and controls. That arrangement also allows any workstation with access to the network to provide authorized users with BAS monitoring and control capabilities.
Of course, the use of the corporate network automatically means the integrator needs the involvement and cooperation of the end user’s IT department. For many security systems int
egrators, this should not be a deal breaker. With the advent of IP-based cameras and other technologies, most major integrators have experience partnering with IT staff and that trend is expected to continue.
Engaging Multiple Stakeholders
There is one more important point in designing and implementing a successful total building systems integration: Multiple stakeholders, both internal and external, should be involved from concept to completion. Waiting to bring in not only IT, but also external vendors to the table too late or delaying consultation with facility administrators, employees and other user groups could lead to higher project costs and unexpected obstacles.
The significance of security and building automation is becoming increasingly clear. Employees not only enjoy, but also are more productive in an environment where they feel safe. Productivity also increases where interior environments are carefully controlled. After all, who wouldn’t enjoy the integration of all major building systems when it results in having the elevator waiting, their office lit and the heater already pumping warm air the moment they swipe their access card in the parking garage?
End users are demanding reliable systems that are convenient, easy to use and capable of delivering cost-effective solutions from a single control point. The days of separate, standalone security and building control systems are numbered. System convergence has arrived and will only gain momentum in the immediate future.
The ability to bring together both the security and building automation functions offers a tremendous opportunity for the security integrator. But going down that road is not a business decision to be made lightly. To emphasize once again, the cost of staff, training, equipment and other related issues can become overwhelming for many security integrators. The best advice is to create a detailed business plan and then move, with a calculated business model, into this emerging market.
Lisa Roy is Vice President and General Manager, North America Security & Fire, Building Efficiency, for Johnson Controls Inc. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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