It’s shaping up to be an exciting, and maybe challenging, year for low-voltage contractors. Hot topics this year are building occupant safety, smart buildings and cybersecurity.
According to Kurt Brinkman, CEO of Intrepid Electronic Systems, Oakland, Calif., local authorities are requesting verification that building fire alarm systems have been tested, as fire codes require. He anticipates such stringent monitoring to continue, especially in light of the number of fires and deaths that have occurred in the last few years, as well as budgetary issues that many local fire departments are experiencing.
“In some localities, the fire alarm testing results are uploaded to a third-party compliance engine,” he said.
The design and installation of emergency responder radio coverage systems (ERRCS) also pose some challenges.
“ERRCS required us to invest in our employees to gain knowledge in wireless technology and to have our employees receive their general radiotelephone operator license,” Brinkman said.
“We are seeing more cases of multiple systems being integrated in order to improve the overall function of the independent systems and the performance of buildings as a whole—commonly referred to as smart or intelligent buildings,” said Robbie Danko, marketing manager for LVC Companies, Minneapolis. “We expect these trends to continue. As smart home technology advances, people will expect the same or better in their work environments. People who live in smart homes don’t want to work in dumb buildings.”
Generally speaking, the world is moving toward data-driven buildings. Technology that allows a building to aggregate and interpret data, accessible from anywhere, will gain traction in the next year or so.
“We are working on some projects with a phased approach to smart-building technology,” she said. “Our emphasis is on using open-source protocols. There are some smart-building platforms available today that can be a viable solution, especially in a new construction project. We see the opportunity for owners and managers of existing buildings to move toward data-driven buildings in a phased approach that, in the end, allows choice of service provider as a needed niche to fill.”
LVC is also starting to see more instances in which requests are being made directly to low-voltage contractors for bids in Division 27 (communications systems) and Division 28 (electronic safety and security systems) work.
“Additionally, as cyber terrorism increases, contractors like us are responding to the importance of cyber awareness and mitigating cyber threats, which can enter client networks through our systems,” Danko said. “As for directly bidding Divisions 27 and 28, the growing concern of cybersecurity and the importance of securing networks and the devices that reside on them will be increasingly important.”
Owners and contractors will want to know those providing network-based systems are trained and knowledgeable about securing their systems. Cybersecurity and network integrity will continue to be a challenge for the industry.
“Because of the nature of our work, our systems, if not properly installed and protected, have the potential to compromise entire networks,” she said. “Training and awareness at all levels of our organization are critical to protecting our company and our clients.”
Nick Scoggins, general manager of Commercial Controls Corp., Valencia, Calif., also sees the growing importance of cybersecurity.
“A greater focus on cybersecurity is the biggest change we have seen, incorporating more multifactor authentication systems involving biometric technologies such as fingerprint, face, iris, voice and signature recognition,” he said. “We anticipate the focus on cybersecurity to continue into the foreseeable future as internet-connected devices become more ubiquitous and integrated among all aspects of businesses and individuals.”
With the system breaches of Equifax, large retail establishments, and medical facilities where valuable personal and intellectual data are at stake, he believes this challenge is not going away anytime soon. In fact, all types of security—physical security, cybersecurity and others—will continue to be at the forefront of low-voltage work.
“Demand for these has already been high, and I believe it will continue to grow as these threats continue to evolve,” he said.
Labor is another topic on the minds of contractors.
“Having a qualified labor pool to pull from is a challenge,” Scoggins said. “Much of new construction is facing the same challenge as demand continues to grow, and much of the labor force is going into other fields, and manpower is becoming thin.”