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What's Next for AV and Smart Buildings?

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Type: Article, Report or Whitepaper

Topics: Smart Building Technology (SBT)

Date: March 2012

By Brad Grimes

Last August, members of InfoComm International®’s Integrated Building Technologies Task Force attended the National Conference on Building Commissioning in Cincinnati, Ohio. Their goal: to explain to building facility managers how the AV industry could help them coordinate their low-voltage systems in order to make their buildings operate more efficiently.

The task force, which had recently expanded to include members from the architectural and construction industries, came away from the conference and subsequent task force meetings understanding two things. First, that building managers do, indeed, understand the potential benefits of integrating everything from AV and lighting to HVAC and security in the interest of sustainability and reduced maintenance costs. And second, that they have little idea of where to turn to find the right people for integrating those systems into a smarter overall building.

“There’s a remarkable opportunity and we do not see other disciplines in the design and construction industry seizing it,” says David Wilts, CTS®, LEED AP BD+C, chair of the task force and an Associate Principal for Arup Engineering and Consulting. “We see AV integrators, programmers, consultants and manufacturers moving to fill this void in the design and construction industry.”

Why the AV industry and not one of the other building systems trades, such as HVAC or electrical integrators? For one reason, AV professionals are widely recognized as early adopters of new technologies. After all, when clients want the latest and greatest in their board rooms, lobbies, hospitality suites, and more, it often means an audiovisual experience, and members of the AV industry are called upon to make it work — no questions asked. Plus, in recent years, there has been a considerable emphasis on ease-of-use and ease-of-operation. In response, AV programmers, consultants and integrators have developed unique skills for creating intuitive, user-friendly tools and control interfaces.  What users and building managers often do not see is that behind the scenes, to create those seamless interfaces, AV professionals must often corral complex systems that don’t normally communicate with one another — and that’s the crux of the challenge when it comes to integrating disparate building systems.

“At the end of the day, no one has stepped up to the plate yet because smart building technology is new to everyone,” says Wilts. Other trades may deny the opportunity, claim it to be too expensive, or see it as too difficult to tackle, or simply consider it someone else’s job. “But really, it’s just change. People didn’t think Tyvek was worth it when it came out, but now there’s no building built without a vapor barrier,” Wilts explains.

Take It From Here

As 2011 wound down, the IBT Task Force presented its findings to the InfoComm Board of Directors. According to the group’s report, “The vision of a truly smart building appears to be gaining significant momentum, while the technology and market awareness to truly deliver on the vision have not left the starting blocks.”

The Board, in turn, green-lighted the next phase of the association’s intelligent building initiative, dubbed the Smart Building Imperative℠ (SBI).

”The IBT Task Force has always kept in mind that there must be a motivation aspect to drive the adoption of the smart and sustainable initiatives on a project,” says Joe Bocchiaro, InfoComm’s Vice President of Standards and Industry Innovations. “The answer is looming in the future, and is so important that the task force sees it as imperative that we take notice now — to get ready for the big changes to come. Specifically, the Smart Grid, the zero-energy consumption initiatives being espoused by the architectural community, and the upcoming International Green Construction Code are powerful drivers that all depend on efficiencies in building technology interconnectivity. We have identified the barriers to adoption that currently challenge smart building practitioners, and are ready to create solutions to breaking through these barriers with the common tools of the A&E professions: commissioning procedures, standards, and certifications.”

Going forward, the IBT Task Force will be replaced by the Smart Building Task Force (SBTF), which will focus its efforts in two main areas: quantifying the requirements and capabilities of smart buildings and identifying business opportunities and solutions. To that end, the task force will expand again to include end users, including building, facility and real estate managers. These stakeholders will provide a valuable feedback loop for establishing real-world requirements.

“Our efforts this year will be to help the InfoComm leadership and InfoComm constituencies understand what the roles are in a smart building and how each of the existing disciplines within InfoComm can evolve to capture the opportunity,” Wilts says. “So, for instance, we’re going to itemize and describe exactly how an integrator’s scope can expand to fill the void in the smart building construction team; how a programmer’s scope can expand beyond AV; and how a consultant can work with the design team to meet the unmet needs in the design and planning of a smart building.”

But because the Smart Building Imperative is much bigger than one industry, it will require other strategic efforts. As currently envisioned, these efforts will fall to five additional working groups, which will fall under the direction of a SBTF. The five other working groups will focus on:

Market Development and Awareness. Not only will it be important educate InfoComm members on the smart building opportunity, it will be important to constantly reach out to other trades, as well as building owners and operators. This working group will encourage members of the building design and construction team to include AV professionals in order to deliver smart building to their clients, and it will work with other industry groups to develop standards and best practices.

STEP™ Evolution Recommendations. The Sustainable Technology Environments Program and STEP Rating System, launched by InfoComm and now run as a standalone foundation in cooperation with other technology associations, offers a logical path for helping building owners implement and measure the benefits of smart building technology. Therefore the SBI will aim to coordinate its efforts with STEP and identify common goals. Ultimately, what building owners and developers say they want in smart buildings should be achievable through STEP and confirmed via the STEP Rating System.

Develop SBI With Standards and Trade Organizations. Clearly, it will be important for the Smart Building Imperative to move ahead in conjunction with other building trades. Therefore another SBI working group will identify and align with the right organizations and standards bodies, such as BICSI, the association for IT systems; ISA, the International Society of Automation; and ASHRAE, the industry society representing HVAC professionals.

STEP and Smart Building Education and Certification. A core component of the SBI will be multidiscipline education — the kind of training that would apply to InfoComm members as well as members of other building trades. The goal is to develop such training with relevant input from outside the AV industry so that it is acceptable to the larger design and construction industry. Long-term, a Smart Building Certification, conceived and designed to adhere to ANSI standards, would generate a community of experts who could design, implement and run smart building systems.

The CSI Division 25 Roadmap. Today, the Construction Specifications Institute’s (CSI) MasterFormat includes a section — Division 25 — dedicated to building automation. Because MasterFormat is commonly used by architects, contractors and suppliers, Division 25 would appear to be an important entry point for technology professionals when it comes to designing smart buildings. But in a survey sent by the IBT Task Force to commercial architects, only 16 percent said they used Division 25 on their projects. Therefore the final SBI working group, which will include members from outside the AV industry, will develop guidelines for implementing Division 25 specifications and raise awareness of the important new section of the MasterFormat.

In all, the newly christened Smart Building Imperative represents a multiyear commitment by InfoComm to seize the bull by the horns. To date, there has been a lot written, debated, discussed and even initiated regarding smart buildings. All that talk, plus the work of the IBT Task Force, signifies a real desire — by all parties involved — to achieve smarter, more sustainable and more efficient buildings. The question now is, who will cut through the confusion and bring together the entire ecosystem of smart building professionals in a coherent, standardized way? The answer, increasingly, is the InfoComm industry.

“It’s inevitable and self-evident,” says Wilts. “And it’s no longer a question of ‘if,’ it’s only a question of ‘when.’”