Selling the boardroom on systems integration means looking at the value the integration provides the organization. For example, using control systems and integration of Web services to participate in utility demand-response programs can translate into dollars paid to the owner for the installation, McGowan says.
Consulting engineers and systems integrators have engineering applications that calculate the value a certain sequence of operations provides. If the chillers and building automation system are working well together, they can be made to work even more efficiently by matching their performance to the building’s actual load requirements.
“You can leverage daylighting into demand-response programs as well,” says McGowan. If the integration systems operate through Web services and facility executives are managing multiple building locations, then a 50- or 300-mile road trip to run diagnostics can be avoided by using an Internet interface.
In a San Diego project, the parking ticket stamping system is tied into the building automation system so that when tenants use the parking facilities, they can be automatically billed for its use. “The systems integration really needs to complement your specific organization’s mission,” McGowan says.
With energy costs skyrocketing, energy-saving elements also play well in the boardroom. Another hot button that Reynolds says he has observed is the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED green building rating system, which not only saves energy, but also recognizes the impact of sustainable building choices. “Showing how systems integration will reduce the corporation’s carbon footprint carries some weight in many boardrooms now,” he says.
As initial integration needs and opportunities are being identified, the potential solutions have to be translated into technical details. It’s important to view the technical solution in your business scenario, says Reynolds. Integration can have unknown side effects that show up only when two disparate systems are put together. This is the point at which you may wish to involve a systems integrator to help in the preplanning.
“Systems integration is not a silver bullet,” says Reynolds. He says he believes using independent systems integrators or consulting engineers at the preplanning stage often can help you get perspective before you spend the money.
While the experts like to be involved early, they want the facility executive by their side every step of the way. As Reynolds puts it, “the more technically complex the integration, the more crucial the operation and maintenance of that integration becomes.” By staying involved throughout the process, you can ensure that integration stays oriented to the initial concept.
Practicality is critically important. Otherwise a facility might install an integrated lighting system with sophisticated light-sensing technology in a room with no windows. The light-sensing technology saves energy where daylight is available, because it adds interior lighting when the ambient light level drops below a certain level. But a room with no windows would be better served by a simple occupancy sensor.
“The system integrator needs to understand the pain level, which means we have to get to know the building very intimately,” says Pitcher. “There has to be a reason for the systems integration and everybody’s story is different.” The facility executive’s goal is to develop a systems integration solution that corrects the pain without breaking the bank.
A great way of finding that right expert is by word of mouth. That means networking. For example, association meetings offer good opportunities to network with others who have worked with independent systems integrators to resolve similar problems.
Whether the systems integration plan is spanning the globe or making one building operate more efficiently and comfortably, the concept should be “a joint plan,” says Pitcher. “The plan cannot come only from the systems integrator, even though he or she may have lots of qualifications. A good systems integration plan is never just one person’s opinion of what is needed.”
Before it reaches the boardroom or goes out for vendor bidding, the plan must have a shared vision. “To have a shared vision, the systems integrator and facility executive need to have a full understanding of the systems integration,” says Pitcher.
That means the facility executive has to answer the tough question of whether a given element is actually essential. And sometimes the right answer is, “Well, I could do without that, because this other element is more crucial.” Then, Pitcher says, “the vision can be adamant, because both the systems integrator and the facility executive know what the benefits will be and can lock into those elements that are most valuable for the organization.”
Some facility executives have considerable expertise in systems integration. Even so, McGowan warns against writing ironclad specifications. “Integration is not as simple as saying we need five inputs here and five outputs there,” he says.
When the systems integration is going out for bids, tap the expertise of the systems integrator at this stage as well, says Pitcher. Using the systems integrator or consulting engineer to help prequalify bidders and evaluate their submissions ensures that the intent of the systems integration is accomplished in the final solution selected.
Rita Tatum, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, has more than 25 years of experience covering facility design and technology.
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