Integration is and has been a “hot topic” in building automation. To start and finish a successful integration project, you need to clarify your goals, explore the technology to meet them, and get the data to back up your decisions.Clarify Your GoalsDefine upfront what integration means to you, your organization, and your buildings. Do you want to tie together all control systems for all buildings on a campus, or throughout the country? Do you want the access control and security systems to interface? If so, what do you want to accomplish? What’s the benefit to you and your business?Write down your goals early in your project as a clear, single statement. For example: Integrate HVAC occupied operation to respond to access control recognition in order to achieve a savings of $54,000 a year in energy costs, at an installed cost of no more than $90,000 by June 30, 2003. Like any goal that defines a project, make the statement specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-constrained (S.M.A.R.T.).You’ll need to start with a general goal and then get more specific as you explore technology options and analyze data.Explore Your Technology Options Once you define your goal, identify the experts who can help you evaluate your technology options, clarify your objectives, and recommend solutions. These experts may be members of your own staff, building automation vendors, or a combination of both.For example, if you want two systems to interface, such as HVAC and access control, the systems may have existing, compatible interfaces that aren’t being used or can be purchased as add-ons. Alternatively, you might be able to hard-wire an output from one system to an input on the other. A good team helps you pinpoint the integration options to fulfill your goals.Get the Data and Analyze ItThe old adage “you can’t improve what you can’t measure” applies to your automation system too. “How much can I save?” is usually the toughest question. For new construction, historical data from other, similar projects might be useful. For an existing building, getting the data in a form that you can analyze is an integration effort in its own right, and usually the best place to start.Getting the data can run the gamut from highly automated to low-tech. For example, integrating your enterprise database dynamically to an automation system through ActiveX or SQL is at one end of the spectrum. At the other end, you can retype data from a printed report into a spreadsheet manually. In between, you can export data to a compatible file and then import it into your spreadsheet. Upfront programming might save you in the long run – you won’t have to do as much typing or file transferring – but it may cost more in the beginning. Once again, get help to figure out what your data retrieval options are and how much it will cost. The right technology choice and the level of integration depends on your goals, your timeframe, your budget, and the capabilities of the systems that you choose or with which you need to work. As a rule of thumb, the more time spent analyzing and defining your goals, and then researching to find the best and simplest way to achieve them, the more successful your project will be.Jeff Gollnick is the communications manager at Alerton Technologies Inc. (www.alerton.com), Redmond, WA. He has 12 years’ experience working for manufacturers of building systems.