Bouyant real estate developers in oil-rich Middle Eastern countries, bustling Vietnam and the high-tech cities of China increasingly share a common trait these days: they are not afraid to mix tonnes of concrete and steel with miles of fibre-optic cables and petabytes of software.
This cocktail is the intelligent building, where air-conditioning is managed on the same network that sends the office e-mail. And this trend is booming - as can be seen by the growing number of intelligent building deals clinched in recent times by regional IT infrastructure providers like ST Electronics and NCS.
According to one report, the market opportunity for providing the infrastructure for intelligent commercial and office buildings will be worth about US $1 billion by 2012.
Like developers of the sail-like Bahrain World Trade Centre and the sculptural China Central Television (CCTV) Beijing headquarters, many developers now see a strong economic upside to constructing such intelligent buildings. Pampering tenants with first-class digital convenience aside, imbuing intelligence into buildings can help building owners slash long-term operating costs through consolidation and automation, and create new revenue streams through new applications.
'Developers and building owners will benefit from a lower building life-cycle cost, happier tenants and lower energy bills,' says Seah Moon Ming, president of Singapore Technologies Electronics (ST Electronics).
He notes that the current breed of intelligent buildings, such as Shanghai's Jingmao Building and Jakarta's Grand Indonesia hotel and shopping complex, centre around the optimisation of basic elements of building systems, structures, services and management - and the inter-relationship between them. Both buildings were recent projects completed by the Singapore firm.
An intelligent building starts with an Internet Protocol (IP)-based network that can combine networks that carry building information systems, with the one that carries voice and data. Collapsing both platforms into one makes it possible to manage all information systems in a building - or in a group of buildings - via a centralised control room, therefore saving on manpower and capital costs.
A converged IP platform also gives typically rigid analogue-based building information systems a new lease of life. Imagine being able to fine-tune office lighting or air-conditioning via a self-service Web interface, instead of needing to call up buildings services.
For new buildings, building a converged IP building services platform can save developers up to 30 per cent on cabling costs, says Ferry Chung, managing director, integrated solutions group and emerging technologies, Asia-Pacific, Cisco. This is simply because developers now need to build only one cabling network instead of two. And by centralising the management of building services, developers can save more, since building management operating expenditure can be slashed by between 20 and 30 per cent, he adds.
Today's intelligent buildings have management systems for different building services like facilities control, power consumption, security and tenant convenience features.
Tomorrow's intelligent building will become even smarter. Vendors believe that the next wave of intelligent buildings will lean heavily on technologies centred around energy- conservation, integrated networking, wireless and mobile networking, digital media and more.
'An upcoming trend is an intelligent green building,' says Mr Seah. This is a building that combines green and intelligent building technologies for long term sustainability. He says Singapore developers are warming up to the first part of the equation - the green building concept.