Commercial buildings – the neural network wakes, led by security

One of the latest trends in major commercial buildings is the convergence of the security function and other vital building systems onto a single network.

April 15, 2013

By Neil Cameron, General Manager, Johnson Controls Systems and Service Africa

One of the latest trends in major commercial buildings – especially among those of multinational corporations – is the convergence of the security function and other vital building systems onto a single network. While well worth the effort, it is not an easy task.

The converged systems must be compatible with current needs and future technologies, while being able to support an increasingly complex mix of users. When done correctly, this network and connected systems meet the specific needs of an organisation, offering combinations of speed, convenience and flexibility that traditional systems simply cannot match. Plus, building operators are provided with a single point of control that allows for enhanced building management that drives more than just security strategies.

One large multinational corporate executive put it succinctly: “For this building, the system is akin to the neural network in our body. It is the core of the building’s disaster and control centres. It directly determines the cost and efficiency of operations management and ensures safety and comfort within the building.”

Successfully converging systems requires the design and maintenance skills of an experienced and proven service or solution provider. These system-wide solutions must support not just the security of people and assets, but also ensure that the building environment is conducive to productivity and facilitates the smooth running of operations. Furthermore, it must drive cost containment and meet other demands, such as energy efficiency or work safety policies.

These converged systems have many benefits. Chief among them is the ability to constantly monitor and refine the operation of many disparate building systems simultaneously. Integrated and converged systems are helping building managers take more control and become more responsible for overall building operations.

Authorised users can access the network from anywhere, anytime and with any Internet-enabled device, tapping into security devices or components such as CCTV cameras, as well as control and retrieve data from other integrated systems. This provides them with insight into overall performance of the facility or alerts when pre-configured thresholds are or are not met.

Here is an example of how converging building systems can work to improve the outcome of a situation. As soon the fire alarm system detects a fire, the building automation system signals the HVAC system to stop delivering fresh air to the area and pressurize the path of egress to clear it of any smoke. The access control system will unlock doors along the escape route and train CCTV cameras on the fire area to give first responders a live video feed.

And with the single network making more data readily available, innovations in management are emerging. Developing the requirements for a security system or for facilities management is important to meet business policy, drive operations, enable strategy and even comply with industry regulations. It has, however, been difficult to monitor and manage these systems proactively. One solution is to link to a cloud-based service where all facility data is constantly monitored. If configured thresholds are exceeded (energy consumption peaks or a security risk presents itself), identified users are alerted, procedures are automated (non-critical power usage is closed down or sectors in a building isolated) and the problem is escalated to ensure a speedy resolution.

But usage and other patterns, along with pattern divergence, can also be discerned. As more organisations subscribe to monitoring and management services, facility and security performance benchmarks are being identified to drive a new level of problem resolution and raise the bar for performance of these systems.

One of the key issues organisations need to focus on is buying into and acquiring security and other building solutions that are built on open platforms. The best platforms for integrated and converged security and building operations are those that best enable the use of solutions from numerous vendors. This allows facility managers to pick the best of fast-advancing technologies and drive standardised policy adherence throughout the organisation.
The days of separate, standalone security and building control systems are numbered. IT professionals, security directors and facility managers see the value of converging potentially dozens of building systems onto one network with a single control-point option. System convergence has arrived and will only gain momentum for its ability to more effectively and proactively manage large buildings.