Opening up to Building Systems

As building environmental systems become more complex, there is a growing need for these systems to be integrated. Currently, owners of commercial, industrial and institutional (CII) facilities are struggling with the need to integrate these systems to achieve greater system functionality, interoperability and efficiency. This need for building system integration and interoperability is creating a new market. This article will explore the need for an integrated building systems’ (IBS) contractor and how the electrical contracting firm can fulfill this role.

What is an IBS contractor?

An IBS contractor is responsible for ensuring that building systems effectively communicate and work together as a system to provide a safe, healthy and productive environment. Under this definition, there is a wide range of services that could be provided by an IBS contractor depending on the needs of the owner and the technical and managerial capabilities of the IBS contractor.

On one hand, the IBS contractor could be a “systems’ contractor” that provides the technical expertise needed to bring diverse building systems together via a hardware and software solution. On the other hand, the IBS contractor may have some of the needed system integration expertise to self-perform some of the work but would subcontract most of the work to other specialty contractors.

In this case, the IBS contractor would operate as a general contractor and its managerial expertise would be as or more important than its technical expertise. In either case, the IBS contractor is providing single-point responsibility for building environmental system operation to the extent defined in the contract documents.

IBS market drivers

In many ways, IBS is the “intelligent” or “smart” building concept that has been around for decades under a different name. The intelligent building concept never really took hold because the needed technology was not available or economical until recently. As a result, the intelligent building concept has been “pushed” by manufacturers but never embraced by building owners. Today, however, the needed technology is becoming commercially available and increasingly economical.

With energy and other building operating expenses rising along with public interest in “green” buildings, owners are beginning to see the economic and operational advantages of building system integration. Open-architecture control systems are becoming increasingly easier to implement.

There is a greater emphasis on building security and life safety systems that require interaction with all building systems in order to maximize their effectiveness. Distributed generation in commercial buildings is becoming more common. As a result, it is no longer a market “push” by the building industry but instead a market “pull” by building owners for effective building system integration and operation.

Ironically, one of the major IBS market drivers may be the breakup of the traditional Division 15/Mechanical and Division 16/Electrical specification sections in the 2004 edition of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) MasterFormat.

The new MasterFormat includes the Facility Services Subgroup that includes seven separate stand-alone divisions that address fire suppression (Division 21), plumbing (Division 22), HVAC (Division 23), integrated automation (Division 25), electrical (Division 26), communications (Division 27), and electronic safety and security (Division 28). Potentially, the owner could have seven or more different specialty contractors on a project that are responsible for the installation of the systems and subsystems that comprise these seven divisions.

Owners will be looking for a firm to take responsibility not only for the installation and operation of the individual building systems that comprise these specification divisions but also the operation of the overall building, which requires system interoperability.

Contractors’ unique position

Since all building environmental systems rely on the power, communications and control (PC2) systems, the electrical contractor is in a unique position to assume the role of IBS contractor for the building owner.

Electrical contractors should assess their market to determine the need for an IBS contractor and the IBS services needed by its customers both today and tomorrow. With this information, the electrical contractor can plan its entry into the IBS market and develop the technical and managerial expertise it needs to effectively serve its customers in the future. EC

GLAVINICH is an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at The University of Kansas and is a frequent instructor for NECA’s Management Education Institute. He can be reached at 785.864.3435 or



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