Tenants take note – there’s a good business case for integrating key building management systems yourself

In South Africa, integrated facility management of the kind that can cut energy use and costs by 20 to 30 percent is struggling to get out of the starting blocks.

September 17, 2012

By Neil Cameron, GM: Johnson Controls Systems & Service – Africa

In South Africa, integrated facility management of the kind that can cut energy use and costs by 20 to 30 percent is struggling to get out of the starting blocks. With building owners seemingly reluctant to make the necessary capital investments to integrate basic systems, it’s time for tenants to step up to the plate – there’s a strong business case to be made.

A smart building management system (BMS) platform can drive energy efficiencies, easily achieving an immediate 20 to 30 percent improvement. It’s a particularly good opportunity for medium sized tenant leasing. The most basic building block is the integration, automation and optimization of the most energy hungry systems –air conditioning and lighting systems. But it’s not just about the savings, it’s the principle.

In South Africa we are typically still very wasteful of energy. Globally, energy wasted by business facility use is reckoned at 10-15%; in South Africa, we waste 25 to 40 percent of the energy we use. Integrating key systems will let us easily cut back on energy use. It will also enhance safety and security and facilitate the creation of a greener, healthier office environment … and there’s a huge business advantage to that.

An active effort to lower the businesses carbon footprint and ensure a healthy business environment will help attract and retain high quality staff, as well as appeal to customers and investors. However, the challenge facing many tenants that do want these environments is that building owners are not taking the initiative.

For building owners the capital cost of overhauling or integrating all stand-alone facility management systems within a building — security, access control, CCTV, fire detection and suppression, lighting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems — can be high. The benefits will certainly be passed on to tenants, even acting as a lure for new tenants, but it’s often very difficult to rewrite the lease agreements of existing tenants to also share implementation costs.

Service providers servicing stand-alone building systems are also not supportive of integration. The local market is full of stand-alone lighting, air conditioning, security, etc., system specialists who are unaware of industry advances in terms of integrated facility management. For example, many still consider a building management system (BMS) to be little more than a time clock for the HVAC system, switching equipment on and off at set times. Today, however, BMS’ form the basis – they are the brain and the backbone — of sophisticated solutions that integrate multiple systems and add intelligent automation to the running of a building.

Time to return on the investment of putting in place a fully integrated building management solution is usually 18 months to 3 years, and the higher the investment in the BMS and system integration, the higher the return. The key is to select a BMS that has the necessary functionality and the all the protocols to integrate to other systems – stay away from proprietary systems that attempt to lock you in.

And to ensure the organisation continues to achieve the maximum benefits from an integrated management system – including one that is being incrementally enhanced — make use of a service provider that can optimise its performance rather than just check that the equipment is switching on an off as configure. With proven benefits and documented best practices on integrating facility management systems, the time is right to look at the business case, make a move in the right direction.