Common Connections

Dec. 3, 2004
Information technology meets building management
Interesting opportunities for building systems to take a logical place in the information technology (IT) infrastructure exist, says Terry Hoffmann, manager of Global Products Marketing at Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls Inc. “Convergence” is the term he uses, defining it as “the complete integration of building control systems into the much larger information technology (IT) system that exists in most buildings. Now, building systems information can be communicated easily – to the people who need that information to do their jobs better; in most cases, that means everyone in a building.” It’s about connecting power, as well as connecting equipment.What does this mean to building performance and the interaction among players throughout a facility? Hoffmann answers the following relevant questions.Aren’t there some roadblocks to convergence and true integration – a language barrier between IT and FM personnel?“There was,” Hoffmann admits. “The IT people certainly didn’t know the language of building automation, and more importantly, the building automation people didn’t understand the language of IT. Now that we have begun to use the standards that define the intelligent infrastructure in a building, namely IT standards, we can move forward and communicate better. When we propose a network device that’s going to be part of the IT infrastructure, we have a document that’s especially designed to go to the IT people to tell them what we’re putting on that network, and it’s written in their words.”How can convergence aid building systems integration?“Basically, convergence allows us to apply systems with reduced installation costs because we’re using the existing IT backbone,” explains Hoffmann. “It allows us to give higher performance at a lower cost because we now have a very, very high-speed network that is not applied in a redundant or proprietary fashion. And, frankly, because we have these wires running through the building, we can avoid long ‘wire-arounds’ that often give us problems on the technical side. Now it’s a win-win: higher speeds, lower cost, and less propensity for breakdowns.”In terms of system benefits, where do we (as an industry) stand today?“The important thing is that before, if you will, we had connectivity – not necessarily integration,” notes Hoffmann. “We had systems that could communicate functions, but those systems didn’t have complete data-exchange capabilities. Now, however, we’re able to get more information on a by-request basis and in a manner that is more easily understood by either one system, other systems, or the people who want to analyze it. More is better: More opportunity and more integration allow us to do things we weren’t able to do before.”How can the readers of Buildings learn more to help the concepts of convergence and true integration move forward?“Professionals need to keep abreast of what’s happening in the industry through publications that are focused on their areas of interest,” says Hoffmann. “There are a lot of good websites also, including those from organizations like ASHRAE (, LonMark Intl. (, and the Continental Automated Buildings Association ( However, the most important thing is that people challenge themselves: ‘Why would I install a proprietary network in my building to do something when I can use the existing IT network?’ ”Linda K. Monroe ([email protected]) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.

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