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Technology Contracting: Optimizing Building Systems Integration
February 14, 2018 - Building Automation
By Jim Nannini
Technology contracting assigns 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. (See "Technology Contracting Is Key to Smart, Efficient Buildings" for more on technology contracting.)
A technology contracting relationship typically begins at the very early stages of building design. The objective is to respect the project's budget while making the most of the technology investment, achieving significant cost savings which can be used to meet the needs of the facility's prospective occupants. Involving the technology contractor early ensures that overall building architecture and systems are mutually supportive. The process results in mechanical and electrical systems that are efficient, optimized and future ready.
Planning: Effective planning is the first step in a successful technology contracting engagement. In partnership with the design and construction teams, the technology contractor brings together all stakeholders — owner, representatives of different business units and departments, consultant, architect, contractors — for a facilitated planning session meant to uncover defined outcomes related to system and technology infrastructure priorities, maximizing every dollar spent. Beyond facilitating the discussion, the technology contractor's role is to be familiar with the ecosystem of feasible technology options and point out common packages and integrations, then recommend options to suit the project's budget. The technology contractor works with the design/construction project team to select and implement the technologies determined as essential for delivering the planned environment that meets the needs of the building occupants.
Design Assist: During the design process, the technology contractor collaborates with the design team to optimize layout and integration of systems and technologies required to meet the owner's desired outcomes. When all of the potential systems and technologies are identified the design team and technology contractor make objective product selections to maximize the efficiency, integration, interoperability, and lifecycle service of technology systems. Moving these decisions to the earliest phase of the design process drives consensus, mitigates construction risk, and results in fewer change orders during construction and systems installation.
Installation and Integration: The technology contractor brings proven, repeatable, best-in-class technologies to the project by leveraging a partner ecosystem of manufacturers, distributors, and value-added resellers with the experience, expertise, and innovative services and solutions needed to create a connected environment. This ensures that energy, technology, and operational objectives are met while reducing cost and risk.
The technology contractor collaborates with the partner ecosystem in the design of an intelligent infrastructure on which to integrate technology and oversees the installation of technology systems, including building systems, business applications, and supporting infrastructure.
Commissioning: Commissioning is a systematic process of testing to make sure all building systems perform according to the design intent and the owner's operational needs. The technology contractor works closely with the commissioning agent, because the commissioning process begins in the design phase of the project. The process ensures that commissioning considerations are planned into the selection and integration of systems, that the owner's business processes are fully supported, and that the building, business, and specialty systems are integrated into a single secured operating model. Functional documentation, wire diagrams, and use case validation all contribute to the successful commissioning of the building prior to occupancy and make the process significantly more streamlined for the commissioning agent.
Service: Building owners may choose to manage equipment and systems maintenance or the technology contractor may have resources to provide maintenance, operational and management support after the building is occupied. Commissioning benchmarks performance, so the identification and repair of systems that have ceased to operate at acceptable performance levels is easy to manage. Effective systems design and monitoring can reduce expenditures on energy, maintenance, and upgrades.
What are the Benefits?
Technology Contracting can help improve the business outcomes for many different groups, including owners and construction and design professionals.
o A design process that aligns technologies with desired outcomes and works on Day 1.
o A holistic approach to maximize technology spend with technology lifecycle considered.
o Integration of individual systems provides a more comprehensive use of technology to support business initiatives while reducing interoperability risk.
o Provides best practices for identifying gaps between system specifications, IT, security standards, and intended use.
Construction professional benefits:
o Single source accountability for the coordination and installation of all technology systems.
o Mitigates the risks associated with delivery of the owner's desired building design, the project team's integration of selected systems, and provides alternative value solutions to maintain budget integrity.
o Fewer change orders during construction and systems installation.
Design Professional Benefits:
o Gain insight into interoperability issues with various technologies, systems, and products.
o Participate in the generation of the design-basis documents and best-in-class technology selections.
o Subject matter experts provide additional insight and expertise.
The State of the Industry
There have been many excellent examples of technology contracting in healthcare facilities. For example, hospitals use about three times as much energy as a similarly sized office building due to 24x7 operations and energy intensive processes such as operating room conditioning. A typical surgical suite is unoccupied 70 to 80 percent of the time during the week and up to 95 percent on weekends. By integrating the building management system with the surgical scheduling system and electronic patient records, excess energy used to condition, pressurize, and ventilate the operating room can be reduced when they are unoccupied, saving an average of $6,000 per year while delivering and documenting safer and more comfortable conditions.
Technology contracting has applications in virtually every sector including education, transportation, state and local government, commercial real estate, industrial manufacturing, and sports and entertainment facilities. Nevertheless, it remains an unfamiliar concept to many architects, engineers and general contractors. Although technology is available to make buildings smart, realizing the full potential of smart buildings requires integrating technology systems that communicate to fully optimize the environment and improve operations. Creating a smart, efficient, connected environment that meets the owner's business objectives can be difficult to accomplish using a traditional construction approach. To function effectively in the technology contracting role, a firm must have knowledge of smart connected equipment, building controls, fire and security, IT networks and systems, and specialty business applications. It must also be well versed in planning, design, construction, installation, and commissioning. Ideally, the technology contractor also has resources to provide maintenance, operational and management support after the building is occupied.
Today, few firms possess broad enough expertise to perform well in a technology contracting role. In time, the discipline will achieve broader recognition and specialized professionals and boutique firms may find niches within it.
Buildings are huge investments. Particularly in mission-critical environments such as hospitals, life science facilities, manufacturing plants, and large scale commercial facilities, the efficiency and integration of systems can substantially affect the occupants' business performance. Taking an enterprise-wide approach to technology enhances integration, optimizes technology usage and maximizes budgets, so that building technology can fulfill its promise and building owners realize their vision.
Jim Nannini is vice president, building wide systems integration North America for Johnson Controls.