Energy conservation coupled with IP-based technology is creating surprising forms of convergence in buildings - and IT departments are being drawn into this new green vortex. For years, building automation (BA) systems to control lighting, temperature and access chugged away as boring archaic systems buried in the bowels of commercial towers. But skyrocketing energy prices are now providing some hard-nosed stimulus to revamp and integrate BA and IT systems to improve energy efficiency by infusing buildings with intelligence.Standalone BA systems waste energy because they often work against each other, explains Ron Zimmer, president of the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), an Ottawa-based industry group. Lighting systems, for example, are major energy hogs as about 70% of the energy they consume is produced as heat, not light. This is the last thing you want in summer, as air conditioning systems will kick in to cool the environment, thus wasting yet more energy.Connecting lighting and HVAC systems to an IT management system that modulates the two can cut energy costs by a third by harvesting lighting's heat in winter and reducing it in summer when more sunlight is available.New developments that go well beyond such simple one-to-one integration are popping up in Canada. And previously proprietary BA systems are increasingly designed with mainstream IT standards and protocols to facilitate integration with IT systems to manage energy consumption, security and more.Telus Corp., Honeywell International and the Royal Bank of Canada are just a few of the companies erecting intelligent towers in Toronto within the next year or so. Next-generation features are already showing up in these new developments. Telus, for example, will enable staff to access some building functions with BlackBerries and cell phones. People can check live images of the parking garage pulled from surveillance video cameras before they enter, and activate lighting and environmental systems in their workspaces with their handhelds, says Dermot Sweeny, an architect acting as liaison between Telus and Toronto-based Menkes Developments Inc. Intelligent features are already commonplace in the glittering towers of Dubai and Tokyo, says Ted Maulucci, CIO at Toronto-based developer Tridel Corp. North America is behind the curve in constructing intelligent buildings, but this will change dramatically in the near future, he predicts. "Based on what's happening overseas, there will be a slow build-up - but once it breaks a certain point, every single building will be built this way." While an intelligent building isn't necessarily green, or vice-versa, the concepts overlap in design and imagination. "Companies that want to be seen as environmentally-friendly are often also more technologically advanced," says Claude Boudriau, global program manager at BA vendor Honeywell's Montréal office. And green features are more easily designed and managed with integrated systems, he says. "Interestingly, the term ‘intelligent building' is used for both green and high-tech buildings."Smart operationsIn 2006, Toronto's MaRS Discovery District won the Intelligent Building of the Year award for its inventive use of technology. The innovation centre integrates an array of systems - BA, security, telephony, audio-visual, broadcast, and digital signage - on top of a single common IP data network. "All these disciplines have a control component, and IT staff can get from anywhere to anywhere in our buildings with this infrastructure," says Rob Smith, chief technology consultant at MaRS.The IT department provides central support to MaRS' monster network, says Smith. A key benefit is threshold monitoring of all its interdependent systems that prevents breakdowns instead of reacting after failures, which cuts maintenance costs considerably. In addition, a tenant's environmental preferences and energy consumption can be programmed, tracked and charged right down to the cubicle level.Using a common IP system means building operations can be streamlined and centralized. "If I had to operate the traditional way, I would probably need two to three extra staff," says Smith. "You can do so much from a single desk, even turn up the volume in a conference room." There are similar benefits in intelligent security systems, says Maulucci from Tridel. These use pattern analysis on integrated data fed from sensors, access cards and digital video to detect discrepancies and kick out alarms to guards. "So you don't have someone trying to catch something on a monitor for hours - they'll just fall asleep," he says. "One of the biggest costs in running condos is paying for a physical body to sit there. Tenants can be safer with less security people." Another emerging trend that promises even bigger economies of scale is networking multiple buildings to central operating centres. Cisco Systems Inc. is a leader in this space, with more than 400 sites worldwide managed by a handful of operating centres covering security, energy management and other systems, says Zimmer. Maulucci adds, "Instead of buying multiple copies of energy management software, you can buy and implement it once at a central spot, create a disaster recovery plan around it, and use one set of IT staff to manage all of your buildings." Impact on IT departmentsSupporting BA systems is fairly straightforward, says Smith. "They have applications and network components, so it's still traditional IT functions." But the challenges lie in acquiring the range of skills needed to stay on top of integrated digital technology, he says. "There's a whole new dynamic around the skill sets you need to be able to support all these different devices and topologies. When you get into telephony, video and conferencing on top of supporting BA systems, it starts getting unique. We need people who can edit a video as well as configure a network, and they don't exist yet." Builders are having similar cross-functional human resources headaches, says Maulucci. People who've never worked together before - IT staff with architects, engineers and construction staff - now have to be orchestrated to work integrated systems into building designs. "IT is getting involved in new areas. This is like what happened with VoIP, when suddenly the phone system landed in our lap," he says.But Maulucci points out his people find this new convergence fascinating. "The construction guys find it hard, but the tech guys love this stuff." This is also the case at other organizations. Maulucci recently visited an IBM facility showcasing an integrated energy management system that has 2,500 points of connectivity. "Their IT guy loves playing with the system, tweaking and tuning all those dials to drive energy costs down."But there can be tensions across organizational areas such as building management and security if roles and accountabilities aren't clearly defined. "Our senior executive said, ‘Okay, so everything's on one network now. What if the network fails? Who do I go to?'" says Maulucci. "There's IT and security, and then when you start layering on energy management and access control, it becomes a whole new paradigm. New organizational structures will probably emerge as companies get more expertise managing building operations."Managing security in this scenario can be tricky. At MaRS, the IT department's role is to act as a service provider to other areas, and not to do their jobs, says Smith. But the blurry line between logical and physical security is essentially gone in intelligent buildings. "Although accountability for security still resides with security people, they're not comfortable knowing there's an IT guy who can open all the doors just by hitting a couple of keystrokes," he says. IT departments play a vital role as brokers and utility providers in intelligent building operations, says Greg Turner, director of global solutions at Honeywell. "A lot of our customers are including their IT organizations in procurement and in managing the hand-off of relationships between systems, as they're used to dealing with different vendors and sorting out the interdependencies between them," he says. "The facilities people have their building management systems, security and HR have theirs, and the only bridge between all of them is the IT people."IT will be critical as these monster networks evolve in the future. "Security can use enormous bandwidth, especially with IP video and analytics, so IT staff get concerned all these new converged applications will overwhelm the system and bring the business to its knees," says Turner. Although IT needs to be very involved in these types of security initiatives, issues are minimized if roles are clearly defined. "Companies must draw clear lines around who's responsible for security policy and security infrastructure."He points out that this relationship with the security area can be reciprocal, as intelligent buildings have capabilities to help IT do their job by enforcing security policies. "One thing that drives IT people crazy is people leaving without logging off the network. What access control systems can do now is notify the IT system when someone badges out of the building, and if they're still logged on, this transaction automatically logs them out and tracks it as a security violation. A number of our customers are starting to do that."The idea of being service providers may not sit well with IT organizations that are trying to redefine themselves as strategic areas. But Turner disagrees the utility role diminishes IT's strategic value. "We wouldn't be able to deploy digital video systems today if IT departments hadn't been forward-thinking five years ago about envisioning the things that would come along that used more bandwidth, and installing the infrastructure to make it possible."