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Technology Contracting Is Key to Smart, Efficient Buildings

By Jim Nannini 

Over the last decade, technology contracting has emerged as a best practice for managing the design-assist, installation and integration of complex building, business and specialty systems. It involves assigning a single point of responsibility upfront to bring an enterprise-wide perspective to managing the planning, design, installation, integration, commissioning, and service of technology systems, business applications, and supporting infrastructure. Technology contracting can save time, reduce risk, and decrease construction and operating costs while ensuring that technology is deployed and integrated in an orderly manner to achieve desired outcomes across industries - from education or transportation to industrial manufacturing.

Defining the Need

Often, before the construction process begins, the owner selects a construction manager or owner's representative, as well as the design team. The building goes out for bid and a general contractor wins the project. A separate subcontractor strategy is employed to align budget to design and desired outcomes, and the subcontractors bid on the plumbing, electrical, lighting, HVAC, fire alarms, physical security, communication and specialty systems, and each takes care of installing their own systems. 

This process can be sufficient when the systems being installed are well defined; however, today with the Building Internet of Things driving and smart building outcomes across the enterprise, systems are better able to connect, share, and optimize data across technology silos using a common communications language. Consequently, creating this smart, efficient, connected environment can be difficult to accomplish using a traditional construction approach: 

• Who is responsible for bringing a holistic, secured approach to technology within budget?

• Who can be counted on to bring the right solutions forward from market-leading partners, maximizing the efficiency, integration, and interoperability of the technology systems across the enterprise? 

• Who remains committed after installation to provide ongoing technical support, training and insight for the lifecycle of the building? 

The traditional design approach is often challenged with leveraging the collective brainpower of different systems types to enable smart building outcomes. Without a coordinated, enterprise-wide approach, systems and infrastructure duplications are common, and systems and data are left unsecured across the enterprise. Also, opportunities for integration and installation efficiencies are likely to be missed. It is difficult and costly to take full advantage of these opportunities after the building goes up.

Constructing a smart building that meets energy, technology, and operational objectives depends on early collaboration between the owner and design and construction teams, sharing informed, data-driven decisions about connectivity and interoperability. With deliberate expert attention applied early during the planning phase, pitfalls can be avoided. This is why, increasingly, building owners and their team are selecting a single point of responsibility for technologies early in the process.

Updated Contracting Model Achieves Defined Outcomes

Technology contracting is a proven strategy to support the owner's and construction manager's objectives. It adds a single point of responsibility for the on-time and under-budget delivery of connected technology with an enterprise-wide perspective. The technology contractor has the authority and technical expertise to make decisions and influence how the information technology network - as well as HVAC, communications, life safety, asset tracking, and business applications - will be chosen, procured, installed, and operated, all under budget and on time.

With technology contracting, the building is created not as a collection of systems, but as a functional whole, conceived, designed, and delivered with the end in mind. Technologies and other key systems are connected to deliver in full the smart outcomes the owner desires for the building and its occupants. Therefore, the time to consider a technology contractor is at the schematic stage of the project, following the definition of the desired building and business outcomes. 

While details of the process itself can differ with each project, the approach allows the technology contractor to manage planning, design-assist, installation, integration, commissioning, and service of all technology systems in a building.

Why Is Technology Integration So Critical Now?

Smart connectivity is critical for connecting technologies within and across buildings, creating systems that optimize building operations, reduce resource use, produce meaningful insights, and increase productivity. The development of networked sensors, machine-to-machine communications, data analytics, and real-time decision making means previously fragmented technology systems within buildings are now converging on standards-based, secured platforms, applications, and intelligent infrastructures. The process of translating raw data into useful insight and action is key to delivering smarter capabilities for buildings. 

Consequently, building-wide system integration is more achievable than ever before; however, navigating this territory can be complex and costly, and many are left wondering what it means for their facility, how to start the process, and where to spend their money. A technology contractor can help the building owner, architect, and general contractor plan the best systems, applications and infrastructure for building occupants. The technology contractor is responsible for delivering, installing and supporting the right solution in every area.

While technology convergence is now possible, it doesn't happen without deliberate effort. If integration is attempted after the systems have been installed and construction is complete, the process is more costly, more difficult, and more time consuming than if it had been planned in the early stages. A technology contractor will consider the various technology systems and integrations upfront, coordinating so that the systems live up to their full potential and support any future innovations while protecting the existing investment.

(For more on the steps involved in technology contracting, and the benefits of the approach, see "Technology Contracting: Optimizing Building Systems Integration.")

Jim Nannini is vice president, building wide systems integration North America for Johnson Controls.


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posted on 2/9/2018