The need for these advanced automated building systems—which are also known as integrated building systems (IBS)—is partially being driven by increased enterprise integration as companies across all vertical markets begin to understand the value of integrating automated building systems to improve information management and optimize strategic decision-making processes.
“The continued growth of the integrated building systems market can be attributed to technological advances and changes, the price and availability of energy, the reliability of traditional utility sources, and the need to decrease the vulnerability of security systems though more sophisticated alarm, monitoring, and evacuation protocols,” said Dr. Thomas Glavinich, associate chair and associate professor of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas, and frequent contributor to Electrical Contractor magazine.
Market growth is also being driven by building owners’ increased demands for single, integrated systems that allow one computer to monitor and control the entire building’s operation.
“This trend in the demand for IBS is just developing and we expect the concept to gain more widespread market acceptance in a few short years,” said Don Tennyson, A&E business development manager for Pelco, Clovis, Calif.
What is IBS?
IBS can be defined as narrowly or as broadly as desired. Broadly speaking, IBS encompasses all building systems—including mechanical, traditional electrical power, communications and automation—and control systems—such as building management, lighting control, communications backbone and structured cabling systems.
“This approach focuses on the building as a self-contained system,” Glavinich said.
The narrow definition of an IBS focuses on individual systems, allowing the building owner to integrate HVAC systems with lighting and building management systems, for example.
“IBS integrates all of the building systems, or components of systems, to make a single operational system that fulfills the owner’s particular needs,” said Bob Segner, professor of Construction Science at the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University.
Although systems such as HVAC, lighting and controls, telecommunications, data networks, process controls, energy management and elevator controls are being integrated in building automation systems, it has only been recently that security, access control and life safety systems have been included.
“This new trend is being driven by building owners’ desire to have a sole source deliver their systems and to deal with fewer vendors and installers,” Tennyson said.
Technological and market trends
One of the more recent technological advances helping to drive the growing acceptance of IBS is the availability of open architecture control system protocols that are not proprietary and can be designed and installed in accordance with the particular needs of the building owner or occupant.
“Open architecture communication protocols provide the owner with the ability to pick and choose the hardware and software that will interoperate in the most efficient manner and allow the building’s systems to communicate easily,” Glavinich said.
In particular, open connectivity through open standards (OPC) ensures interoperability through the creation and maintenance of open standards specifications. There are currently seven standards specifications completed or in development.
“In the past, each system had its own specific controls. OPC allows system interoperability and fluid communication. This means it costs less for the initial installation and programming,” Tennyson said.
There is a downside to open connectivity architecture, however. Not many engineering firms or electrical contractors are currently able to provide these systems because industry expertise has not yet caught up with the technology.
“Plus, building owners are somewhat hesitant concerning the level of customization involved in open architecture systems and their ability to deliver what is required,” Glavinich said.
New network communication protocols also provide the ability for integrated security systems to be remotely monitored and controlled. In addition, speeds are faster, bandwidths are wider, costs are coming down and storage capabilities are increasing.
IBS provides building owners with a fully integrated building with systems that operate more efficiently in terms of energy consumption and more effectively for occupants in terms of productivity.
“Traditionally, the industry has focused on optimizing individual system operations, leading to a collection of systems that did not communicate,” Glavinich said.
Now the trend is to look at a building as a single system with components that work together for optimal operation. With an electrical contractor that can install and maintain an IBS, the building owner gets someone who understands the technology, the right products to meet the building’s needs, the expertise to choose and install the systems, and a sole source for the building’s entire operational system.
“The electrical contractor is in a position to provide building owners with the necessary expertise to determine which technologies and products will meet their needs,” Segner said.
When IBS is well designed, the electrical contractor has the ability to share wiring between the security system and others, such as the communications backbones, the structured cabling wiring and the computer networks.
“This can seriously reduce the labor and installation costs and make the electrical contractor more competitive in its bid,” said Howard Levinson, president of Howard Services, Franklin, Mass.
However, since IBS is technologically more advanced, there is currently a smaller percentage of people in the industry that are qualified to design, install or serve the systems.
Stand and deliver
Design-build is generally the best delivery method for IBS projects. According to Glavinich, design-build provides the customer with more value because it integrates the design and construction processes for a more efficiently delivered project that better meets the owner’s needs and expectations.
“Design-build provides owners with a sole source to design, install, service, and maintain the building’s entire operational system,” Segner said.
In addition, design-build provides the owner with a single point of responsibility, that is, a single source to deal with, reducing delays and conflicts.
There are risks to keep in mind, however, including the material, equipment and labor inherent in an IBS installation; the operation, servicing and proper functioning of the systems following their installation; and in providing warranty services for installed systems.
Design-build also provides the electrical contractor with the opportunity to specify whatever manufacturer’s products and equipment will best fulfill the owner’s requirements.
“When offering design-build, the electrical contractor will be more successful if it focuses on delivering value when specifying products and equipment, rather than focusing solely on cost,” Tennyson said.
Customers today, he believes, are increasingly concerned with value and long-term reliability rather than initial price and are realizing that “cheapest is not always best.”
However, design-build is not necessarily the delivery method of choice for security systems, according to Levinson. He believes that there is a conflict if a company that designs a system also provides the equipment.
“The most appropriate company to design a security system is one that is trained, knowledgeable, and that is impartial, with no investment in what products will be specified,” he said.
A new generation of technology is born every 18 months to two years, making it impossible to foresee today the direction the market will take or how it will change. But according to Segner, the IBS market represents an incredible opportunity for the electrical contracting firm that is positioned to take advantage of it.
“To position itself, the electrical contractor needs to study the market and be prepared to invest in training personnel to work effectively in it,” he said.
It is currently the lack of personnel who are knowledgeable about managing IBS projects that is a key limiting factor in firms’ entering and being successful in the IBS market. But because IBS work is often done on a design-build basis, the firm’s ability to use creativity and imagination, as well as acquired knowledge, are the keys to success.
The best way for an electrical contractor to separate from the competition is to become the sole source provider of IBS for the customer.
“If the electrical contractor is on the cutting-edge of technology and has the expertise to provide both building automation and security systems, it will have the advantage over its competition,” Tennyson said.
Once the contractor has the expertise, it must market its ability to provide completely integrated systems first to its existing customer base.
“Be prepared to demonstrate what savings and efficiencies are gained from building integration. The necessary knowledge can be obtained from the manufacturers and service providers that are on the forefront of the technology,” Glavinich said.
The successful contractor will take a partnering approach to IBS projects, he added, by working closely with owners to achieve their operational objectives and by establishing relationships now with the manufacturers that will provide the training and certification as the technology is developed. Success is achieved by providing value to the customer and always demonstrating that the final system is the one that will fulfill its needs, said Levinson.
IBS represents a tremendous growth opportunity and is a market that has been predicted to, in time, dwarf the traditional power distribution market.
“IBS is a relatively new market, with all of the inherent growth opportunities, in contrast to traditional electrical contracting, which is much more mature and highly competitive,” Segner said. EC
BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or email@example.com.