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By Jan 15, 2010




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In order to get started in systems integration, you must make a number of basic decisions; these decisions are similar, whether you are dealing with new construction or an existing building. Are you going to link one or two systems, perhaps fire and security, or do you want to interconnect all of the electrical and mechanical systems in your building? The starting point is to develop a plan; for that, you need to seek expert advice.

There are several types of experts you should consult. If, for example, you’re integrating fire and security, you need to have people who are knowledgeable in those two systems—most likely two different people. If you intend to expand the network of connected systems, whether in the near or distant future, you must have an expert on systems integration involved in the planning.


According to various experts in integrated systems, the key to installing building systems that will retain their value for a decent amount of time is to use Internet protocol-controlled devices as much as possible. IP allows you to view an entire building as a unit.

“In the 1980s, a number of forward-thinking people developed the idea of intelligent buildings,” said Terry Hoffmann, director of building automation systems marketing, Johnson Controls. “The owner would install shared services that tenants could use for such things as telephones and computers, and this would add value for both owner and tenants.”

Hoffman added that intelligent buildings didn’t progress at that time because a revolution occurred that allowed tenants to install their own technology (e.g., telephone and computer networks). The dominant idea at that time was decentralized individual control instead of relying on services being provided by a single dominant provider. Nowadays, so much reliance is being placed on dedicated networks for electronic controls, communications and computing, the capacity of building network infrastructure to handle it all is becoming seriously burdened, which is reinvigorating the trend of using large outside service providers. However, the services provided have changed from what was offered in the past. Now external entities can provide tools—e.g., cloud computing—that can take much of the load away from individual buildings or campuses but, at the same time, allow the functions to be chosen and controlled locally.


It makes long-term economic sense to invest in IP compatibility. IP-enabled devices and the networks built around them can take advantage of outside resources that allow them to multiply their functionality. Each IP device has a unique address; therefore, control commands sent to it and information communicated from it can be used in an almost infinite variety of ways. You are not tied to any particular script or any one means for using the information from that device. Information can be sent out to a data storage center located anywhere there is Internet access. This information can be used in ways determined at your local site.

Another major advantage is that IP enables you to integrate with the least cost for connectivity because any IP-enabled device can be attached to the network at any place and at any time. Once an IP device is installed, it can join a copper, fiber optic or wireless network with only modest modification. Copper has the added benefit of being able to provide power over Ethernet (POE) to operate a device, such as a camera. All that is needed to integrate IP devices is a single pair of wires running from device to device. The wiring system can be structured to be the most flexible and adaptable to the needs of the physical environment. The network itself will be virtual, established by a software, rather than by a physical architecture.


The smart way to implement the best integration system for your application is to have a long-term plan. For new construction, the plan for the building systems infrastructure should be part of the initial design and not an add-on. It is very important that the plan be developed in consultation with an expert in systems integration. There are consultants who specialize in integration and large companies, such as Panduit, that also offer these services. The person or firm that you use must have knowledge and experience in dealing with electrical, information technology and mechanical system designs as well as networking.

As Hoffmann said: “It is not enough to consult with experts in individual systems—such as [heating, ventilating and air conditioning]; plumbing; electrical systems; energy monitoring; lighting; transport (elevators and escalators)—you need an expert in how they all talk to each other and eventually to the Web.”

BROWN is an electrical engineer, technical writer and editor. For many years, he designed high-power electronics systems for industry, research laboratories and government. Reach him at [email protected] or at, an independent professional writing service.

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