The swift pace of integration is nowhere more profound than in the communications and information technology (IT) sectors. Access-control systems talk to closed-circuit television surveillance and door hardware for instant egress. Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) are closely tied to occupancy sensors, energy and lighting management systems. Security sensors and detectors mesh well with elevators, entrances and public areas in a turnkey solution. Information technology and data communications interact and react so the facility comes alive.

It's a digital world, and it's having a powerful effect on the systems and services deployed at commercial sites. A perfect example of the power of integration can be found in surveillance systems. Soon security systems will be equipped with voice capability to alert personnel when they see something unusual. During a fire, voice audible evacuation is quite common.

Manufacturers continue to do their part. They have moved away from a proprietary world where other suppliers' parts and pieces couldn't communicate with each other. Open protocols, interfaces and other hardware and software integrate legacy systems with new technologies. The existing Ethernet has stepped up to provide additional security, information and general managerial functions-thanks to new innovation from manufacturing.

But integration also presents challenges in the preplanning stages that must be addressed in order for the installation to be a success for the customer. Truth is, planning communications systems is a gray area some don't want to deal with.

Putting communications technologies on the written plans for a facility is critical, but often planning of an integrated system is an afterthought. Even in larger commercial endeavors, communications planning might simply be a precursory indication with standard hardware symbols without a full examination of the application or the end-use for the customer.

As we move closer to computer-based integrated building solutions, it's critical that everyone work together to make certain these systems make it to the first, initial specifications of the project.

That's just what Lou Rife, vice president of marketing and sales for TCS Technologies, Nashville, Tenn., continues to work toward. He's educating his customers about the critical importance of putting detailed schematics, symbols and equipment specifications on the communications plan in the preplanning stages, along with the mechanical, power and other parts of the job.

Integration: ink it

Rife said he often finds even larger projects don't include communications systems in design-stage drawings. He's shocked that despite the fact communications technologies such as voice, data and cabling are such an integral part of a total, integrated building, their deployment is often an afterthought and brought up when most other systems have already been installed.

“These systems need to be integrated early on for the best results. When that happens, the job can be designed properly for the application,” Rife said. In addition, Rife said many times these systems are not required to be indicated on the approved “stamped” plans for the building, which might be another reason they a not a primary consideration.

“Unfortunately, these systems are put in after the fact,” Rife said. “The whole concept of planning for IT and security is so important, but in reality, the entire communications and voice-data infrastructure is not on the blueprints and no one wants to be responsible for it.”

Charlie Hall is a registered electrical engineer and information transport system designer for Performance Design Technologies (PDT) in Knoxville, Tenn. PDT is a design-specification company that provides consulting engineering services for the entire infrastructure during the design stage. Hall concurs with Rife and follows a similar approach to try to work it into the plans from start to finish.

“The communications planning of a building, the information systems, is often neglected,” said Hall. “A skilled engineer should be involved in the onset and work with the client on the information design, selection and installation.”

“Unfortunately, reality is energy systems are required to be 'stamped' by a professional engineer, but not the information systems,” Hall said. “Therefore, they are ignored by the professionals who are familiar with the built environment and should be actively designing them during the planning stages of a project.”

Some companies, like PDT and TCS, work with the end-user to educate the owner, architect and others. These companies are able to pull together the necessary team to facilitate a turnkey engineered information solution for the client.

Integration continues to move ahead at light speed. Communications, voice-data and other systems are crucial to a successful installation. It's a critical part of the building design and needs to be skillfully executed on the original drawings and blueprints for the best outcome. EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.