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Methods of Accomplishing System Integration: Old to New


Today's briefing comes from Jim Sinopoli, managing principal of Smart Buildings LLC. Historically there have been many methods used to obtain system integration. The most basic and oldest form of system integration is "hard-wired integration." A typical example is two standalone building systems physically connected via an electrical “dry contact,” RS-232 or RS-422 connection. These systems do not share any data but are simply connected to signal "off" and "on" conditions. This is your father's integration.

There is also proprietary integration, where all the system and components are provided by one manufacturer. All the components have been designed to work with each other. There are several downsides to this approach. The facility manager is locked in to one manufacturer for a complete system lifecycle. There's no or little competition in procuring additional equipment and services. And the facility manager could be missing out on advances by other manufacturers. Today, these "packaged" systems are primarily targeted to smaller buildings and the residential marketplace.

A step up from proprietary integration is the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). In this approach, two manufacturers of different building systems agree to open their products to each other, and they jointly develop an API. This may work if only two systems are involved; however, it can be difficult to manage all the APIs needed to get multiple proprietary building systems to talk to each other.

The best current approach to system integration is based on standard communications protocols for the network layer of the building systems, IT programming languages such as Java and XML, and IT hardware such as servers and network equipment.

Building systems integration continues to demonstrate a significant impact on building life cycle cost, primarily impacting operations and energy consumption. As the process for implementing integration projects continues to develop and improve, and as buildings become more complex, owners and facility managers will more readily adopt the integrated approach.

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