Is There Gold at the End of the Building Automation Rainbow?

Security systems integrators have posed the question many times, to mixed response: Is there gold at the end of the building automation rainbow?

Now, we all know that many of the larger conglomerates in the security and building automation world, like Siemens, Johnson Controls and Honeywell, have made a lot of money by offering their customers a one-stop deal for all their systems integration needs. But what of the rest of the market? Is there a place for the independent security systems integrator to be successful in building automation systems integration?

The answer is a resounding "Yes" for those strong, enterprising companies with the stamina, talent and flexibility to handle the rough and tumble of the BAS market.

The State of the Market
In order to get a true perspective of the opportunity, we need to examine the current state of the security systems integration market. It has grown from $1.6 billion in 1999 to $4.2 billion in 2003 (SDM 100). This market has boomed in many areas, but in general has been affected by the economy as much as any other support industry. In many cases the larger systems integrators have got a lion's share of the market, leaving only crumbs for the independent companies.

The market has also become more crowded with merger and acquisition activity. Many of our large, established companies have been swallowed up by even larger companies. Manufacturers especially have seen fit to preserve their market share by the acquisition of installation and integration organizations.

One of the greatest limitations of security systems integrators is their own mindset. Many of them build imaginary fences around their little worlds and never look beyond them, and this often develops into an anxiety about entering further into the applied technology arena. This severely limits the available market growth in allied areas.

But with all the movement in the marketplace, the opportunities for forward-thinking, ambitious, independent security systems integrators have never been better, for many of them have developed unique skills and carved out very profitable niche markets. The savvy ones looking at the state of the market know that the only way to compete is to develop an increasing focus on adding value to their market proposition. It is no longer good enough to just offer the lowest price or to say, "We have excellence in service." Rather, integrators need to be able to offer customers a compelling reason to do business with them. The value proposition must include all the elements that make it easy for the security director/buyer to present to his management for approval.

That is where the opportunity with building automation systems integration comes into play, for now the decision maker is at least one notch and as many as three notches up the corporate ladder. The decision maker for building automation is the facility director, who typically looks after the entire facility?HVAC, lighting, energy and security?and works directly for the CEO.

What Is a Building Automation System?
Before expanding into the world of building automation, it is important to have a clear understanding of what makes the BAS market successful.

Building automation includes the control and monitoring of the following systems:
o HVAC system (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning), BUT NOT the HVAC equipment, which is designed by the mechanical engineer and installed by the mechanical contractor.
o Lighting control system, BUT NOT the actual lighting system, which is designed by the electrical engineer and installed by the electrical contractor.
o Energy management system, BUT NOT the actual electrical switchgear contained in the energy management system, which is designed by the electrical engineer and installed by the electrical contractor, often with heavy involvement from energy management personnel.
o Standby power generation system, BUT NOT the actual Gen-Set part of the standby power generation system, which the electrical engineer designs and which is installed by the electrical contractor, often with heavy involvement from the energy management personnel.

BAS and security are similar in many ways, but they have their differences as well. The BAS installation focus on LV wiring and control is in many respects like the LV wiring and control used in a traditional security system. The big difference with BAS is that there are far more analog inputs and outputs than in a traditional security system, and there is more programming and on-site commissioning, some of which can be quite intensive.

Why Is a Building Automation System Important?
With an effective BAS it is possible to increase productivity in a manufacturing or service environment and increase sales in a retail situation. People comfort (customers and employees) is of vital importance. Clean air and humidity reduction are issues over which many a lawsuit has been fought. Many aspects of conditioned air are now regulated by rules and regulations.

A BAS greatly increases the interaction of mechanical subsystems within a building, lowers energy use and allows off-site building control. Modern building automation systems use computer-based monitoring to coordinate, organize and optimize the administration, operations and performance of HVAC equipment and alarm systems with purpose-built networks and protocols. They can also optimize building control sub-systems such as security, fire/life safety and elevators.

Standards and Open Systems
Over the years, several proprietary building automation network standards have evolved in the marketplace, including Siemens' APOGEE? and Johnson Controls' Metasys?. Proprietary solutions have generally permeated the non-residential HVAC market, limiting the upgrading and expansion of infrastructure to either off-the-shelf, vendor-compatible products or costly custom solutions. Vendor initiatives to publish their proprietary protocols usually resulted in one-way open systems, with the host system always playing the role of master.

Migration to open systems has become the buzz phrase over the past few years. Flexibility, scalability and expandability are extremely important when selecting a BAS. The ability to reconfigure and monitor changes made to an automation system in real time is of tremendous importance to building managers.

In recent years, truly open protocols like BACnet have been promoted and implemented as primary protocols by companies such as Automated Logic, Alerton, Andover Controls, Advantech, Delta Controls and Reliable Controls as alternatives to proprietary vendor-specific protocols. Furthermore, LonWorks-based solutions (developed by Echelon Corp) have taken the interoperability down to the device level with support from companies like Honeywell, Invensys, Smart Controls LLC and Distech Controls.

Finally, gateway controllers with Web-based connectivity over Internet/intranet/VPN have come into play with companies like Tridium and Enflex, making connectivity between systems even easier. More recently, the Continental Automated Buildings Association has taken the lead in defining the industry directions for vendor-independent open systems. Specifically, the oBIX initiative defines an XML-based standard for the future. Having the ability to implement best-of-breed solutions, use existing network infrastructure and retain existing investments in field-level gear provides building and system managers with many fiscally positive options that they never had before.

Does this fit into the realm of the security systems integrator? The latest SDM 100 estimated that only one percent of the $4.1 billion revenue was in the area of BAS. From other market research it is known that the BAS covers at least five to 10 percent of the HVAC market (ASHRAE). So there are certainly some areas of significant opportunity possible for security systems integrators who want to grow into that area.

Who Is Buying BAS?
Generally the buyer of a BAS is the facilities department, which is responsible for the building environment?occupant comfort, productivity and cost of energy across the enterprise. This has an immediate impact on the company's bottom line, so it gets looked at far more closely than security.

Often in new construction, the architectural/engineering team carries out the basic design, and the project is bid through the general contractor/mechanical contractor, very much like a security project. With retrofits of existing facilities, an energy engineer and a mechanical engineer will often be involved in the purchasing process. Thus, a whole different group of people is involved in a BAS implementation than is typically involved in a security implementation.

Why Chase After the Gold?
o Money is normally the biggest rationale for any good business decision. There is money to be made in the BAS market, and presently somebody else is making it.
o Increasing market share is often a compelling reason for change. If there is no more significant growth in access control in your area, there may be significant growth in the BAS market.
o Keeping the BAS systems integrators out of the security systems integrator market space is probably one of the most pressing reasons for action, for those guys are looking at the security market more carefully each day.
o Federal government is calling for new work to use open systems architecture, bringing a tremendous number of additional opportunities to the table.

Map to the Gold
Knowledge is the key, for in many respects BAS is a whole new world, with different terminology and licensing. The best way to begin to understand the BAS market is to attend an exhibition or BAS convention, and then go on educational courses and maybe even become certified in this area.

A quick way into the BAS market is to acquire talent. Hiring the correct person?say, an ex-BAS employee?can certainly speed up the learning process. Then pick up a BAS product line. There are plenty out there and many of them just need a little effort to get sales working.

Alternatively, buy a company in the BAS marketplace or develop a strategic alliance with an existing mechanical contractor who has a controls group. Grow the business slowly and remain focused on the end game.

Just as it was not possible to ignore the influence of IT technology in the security world, it will not be possible to ignore the market pressures from the BAS area. Interoperability and open systems will drive this force, and systems integrators that get involved early will be able to grow their business. These market forces will push manufacturers to close the gap between security and BAS, and the pressure will be on the them to provide products that are useable in the BAS world as well.

About the Author Lionel Silverman, PE, is vice president of business development for Facility Robotics Inc., a nationwide systems integrator specializing in building automation and security systems for larger multi-location and prestigious clients. He is a member of IEEE and ASIS.