With constantly increasing capabilities of IP-based communications, integration of communications systems in building projects is a major topic of discussion today. Whether it’s as simple as controlling lights and room temperature by using occupancy sensors in a room or as extensive as collecting patient medical information throughout a medical facility into a common database or coordinating CCTV systems with access control on a college campus, Owners now have the ability to integrate more systems in their buildings than ever before. To accommodate this demand, some system manufacturing conglomerates have bought various systems companies in order to market a one-stop source for integrated solutions. Third party software companies are also offering custom programming that can link separate systems so that integrated functionality can take place.
If you are involved with a large institution, you may have already gone through, or are presently going through, this process and have established standard manufacturers and protocols. If you are just beginning to explore the opportunities for systems integration within your business, here are a few questions and points to consider when deciding how many, and which, of your building systems to integrate, or if it even makes sense to integrate at all.
- What systems in your building make sense to integrate? While vendors may be able to offer communications between all of their products, your strategic programming goals should dictate the level of integration that’s right for you. Also, vendors are typically stronger in some of their products and weaker in others.
- Investigate the service reputation of the vendors you are trusting to integrate your systems. Do they respond promptly to service calls? The more assets you have under one service contract, the more you will be reliant on that company to keep your processes up and running. Also, what are their service rates? A low initial cost on bid day may not be advantageous in the long run if service rates and replacement parts are a premium.
- How flexible is the integration software? While Owners want a streamlined system for operations, they also want the flexibility to make scheduling and simple maintenance changes to the system. In the past, this has proven to be difficult because the system programming is the most proprietary component of any building system, let alone an integration of building systems. Many owners now require that system specifications be written to give them, as the owner, authorization to access systems with via passwords and to include additional training in this area.
While this is by no means a complete list, it will hopefully be a starting point of discussion on your next building project. The integration of building communications systems is an on-going process and continues to improve, but there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Discussing these points with your operating team and design professionals will result in implementing systems that help you increase service, improve operational efficiency and lower the operating costs of your facilities.