How Facility Managers Can Integrate Systems In Existing Buildings

How Facility Managers Can Integrate Systems In Existing Buildings by: Jim Sinopoli

When it comes to the idea of integrating systems in existing buildings, facility managers may find themselves torn. On the one hand, there are solid, bottom-line reasons to integrate systems in existing buildings. On the other, there is a range of problems that don’t exist in new construction, from legacy systems to missing information. But those problems don’t mean that facility managers should forget about integration in existing buildings. Good planning can go a long way to getting around those challenges.

It’s important to keep in mind that systems integration can deliver tangible benefits in existing buildings. For example, by functionally linking two systems, facility managers can obtain system capabilities that neither system could do by itself. The best example of this process is the integration that takes place with the fire alarm system. The fire alarm triggers the HVAC system to control smoke and ventilation, the access control system to provide egress for occupant evacuation, the elevator system to either bring the cabs to the bottom floor or, depending on the height of the building, provide elevators for evacuation in a high-rise. Without the automated systems’ integration, each of these components would have to be separately and manually adjusted. The integration provides functionality that no one system can, does so automatically, and the facility and its occupants benefit. The theory is, essentially, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Another reason to integrate systems is to combine the system data. The facility manager isn’t limited to simply looking at data from one building system; rather, a database with multiple systems is created so holistic data can be analyzed and correlated, and useful building metrics can be developed that will lead to enhanced operations. This type of unified database is generally used in a truly integrated building management system. Bringing all the facility data into a unified database architecture and putting into practice standard methodologies and processes to manage the data has multiple benefits. Building data are more widely available, sharable, and accessible. There’s also improvements in archiving, preservation, and retention of data, as well as improved integrity of the data. From a cost basis, a single database considerably reduces the cost and support for synchronizing separate databases. It provides a common platform for data mining, data exchange, and enterprise data access.

Today’s systems integration includes all of the control systems in a building, but also encompasses facility management systems and business systems, and eventually will extend to utility grids.

Integration in Existing Buildings

For new construction systems, integration is addressed in MasterFormat Division 25, created in 2004, with the resulting product being construction documents for integrated automation similar to specifications and drawings from other design disciplines.

While new construction may have higher visibility, the fact is that there are many more existing buildings than new construction projects, and there is no reason why existing properties can’t benefit from systems integration. The financial impact of improving the performance of an existing building and adding appropriate technology amenities can be compelling. The investment in an existing building is returned in reduced operating and energy costs, lower cost for tenant improvements, higher rents, higher asset valuation, and a positive impact on capital planning.

Existing buildings come with baggage, however. They already have building systems installed. It’s likely that older buildings may have automation systems using proprietary or legacy network protocols which will need to be migrated to open protocols. Typically this means the use of gateways or some middleware to translate protocols.

There are other challenges. Sometimes the documentation on the building systems — such as the original as-built drawings — may be unavailable. Cable pathways, if needed, may be difficult to find. And there may be organizational issues involved with coordinating facility management and IT.

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