Investing in building intelligence — time to make the case for intelligence in buildings

Allan Kell
The value of intelligence in buildings — Allan Kell.
The concept of intelligent buildings has been around nearly twice as long as green buildings. ALAN KELL asks how intelligent buildings can be made as popular as green buildings.The idea of ‘the intelligent building’ has been with us for a quarter of a century. First coined in the USA in the early 1980s as a combined real estate/telecommunications business proposition, it must be time for us to step back and ask ourselves the challenging question, ‘How are we doing on delivery?’ The answer just has to be, ‘So far, not too well.’ While we can point to a number of high-profile buildings around the world that proudly carry the label intelligent building, and indeed while there are a few markets in the world where the term ‘intelligent’ appears to be a marketing pre-requisite for every new building, in the mainstream markets of Europe and the USA there is still considerable scepticism and confusion as to what the intelligent-building proposition really has to offer. Compare progress When we compare progress made over the last 25 years by intelligent buildings with that made by ‘green buildings’, an idea that only emerged some 10 years later, we can see the challenge clearly. While everyone wants a green building, even though they may not know what this means, most people remain indifferent or even hostile to intelligent buildings. Yet in an age when IT and communications are directly affecting every aspect of life, it is just impossible to believe that buildings are an exception. What we have to do is review the fundamental proposition, identify its value to the stakeholders, and get the message across. These were the main conclusions emerging from last year’s intelligent buildings conference, ib2004, which was jointly organised by i&i Ltd and BRE. To face up to these challenges, the sponsors of this year’s ib2005 event, which will takes place at BRE on 19 and 20 October, have structured the event to address four key questions. • Why should we invest in building intelligence? • What are the key technologies? • How can we successfully design and deliver intelligence into buildings? • What are the operational benefits of intelligence in buildings? Shift in emphasis Underpinning all these questions is an important shift in emphasis — away from the absolute idea of the intelligent building, and towards the proposition of intelligence in buildings. Experience has shown that the intelligent building is an unattractive idea for many people, with its veiled overtones of domination and control. On the other hand, intelligence in buildings is as acceptable and understandable as intelligence in the cars we drive today, with their intelligent navigation systems, intelligent braking systems and intelligent engine-management systems. Intelligent systems in buildings — be they security, access control, energy management, asset management, or whatever — are now easily understood propositions. Communicating this message is a crucial step in achieving widespread market understanding and acceptance. Equally important is the need to structure and simplify the technological proposition. Investing in buildings is a long-term investment business, and the apparent volatility and transience of IT solutions is an understandable worry to building investors. If I put a system in today, will it be out of date within months? In practice, this is certainly not the case with intelligent building systems. Progressive evolution Over the past 25 years we have seen a progressive evolution of three generations of systems, each leading the development of operation systems for around a decade and providing the foundation for the next generation. From the mid-1980s, centralised building-management systems provided the opportunity to improve the control and interaction between individual building systems such as lighting, access control, and energy management. From the mid-1990s, this first generation of intelligent building systems was augmented by distributed or bus technologies, which supported the improved management and control of building systems and individual pieces of plant and equipment. Now we are living through the third generation, of networked systems, which allow us to connect different buildings together on a global basis as well as linking them into business IT systems. This demonstrates a progressive and robust development of intelligence in buildings, providing an understandable model for building investors, users and designers. Value But most important of all is the need to demonstrate the value of intelligence in buildings. This has traditionally tended to focus on opportunities for cost efficiency, which are, of course, important — but not greatly to key decision makers such as investors, developers and senior management. To engage with these people, an expanded focus upon productivity, opportunity and operational resilience is critical. To make this connection, we need to go beyond the building itself to address its functional performance — be that as an office, airport, hospital, hotel, school or whatever. This is a challenge which the founders of ib2005 are taking on directly by launching The Centre of Excellence for Intelligence in Buildings (ibexcellence), an open network committed to developing and delivering the benefits of intelligent building solutions around the world. In addition to supporting the ib2005 conference, ibexcellence is producing case studies, directories and handbooks demonstrating the value of intelligence in buildings, as well as organising research, seminars and workshops focusing upon different building types. Membership of ibexcellence is free and open to any company or organisation willing to actively contribute to the achievement of its aims. Relaunch The emerging third generation of networked intelligence in buildings offers a wonderful platform from which to relaunch the concept and develop the value proposition of intelligence in buildings. Participants in ib2005, and supporters of The Centre of Excellence for Building Intelligence, will be ideally positioned to capitalise upon the opportunities so created. Alan Kell is managing director of iandi Ltd, Building 9, Bucknalls Lane, Garston, Watford WD25 9XX.

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