December 2004
  
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Review of ib2004, two-day conference
Review of ib2004, two-day conference

 Andy Haynes
Event Producer
i&i limited

Intelligent Buildings – Capturing the Opportunities

Building automation and management systems are now taken as “givens” in any new public or commercial non-domestic building. There is no debate on the requirement for them to be installed. Yet all too often individual systems act in isolation, and significant opportunity for greater performance is missed.

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The key to capturing this opportunity is integration of the systems, and thanks to the increasing power and affordability of information technology it is now possible to do this in a highly cost-effective way. Combining the different building control systems using information technology allows us to create intelligent buildings.

However, changing conventional building design practice is never easy. The supply chain is long and complex, aversion to innovation is the norm, and the established focus upon capital cost limits understanding of the value of improved lifetime performance. Equally, for many building types, the characteristics of established building stock act as a perceived barrier to change.

Yet, through all of this, building owners and users have expressed a real requirement for increased building performance. The manufacturers and suppliers of advanced building controls are geared up and ready with the products to deliver this performance but all too often the link is not made. In September, industry experts gathered for a two-day conference to address these issues. ib2004, as the event was called, took place on 23 and 24 September in Watford.

The 150 delegates at ib2004 explored, debated and discussed how the opportunities presented by intelligent buildings can be captured to improve building performance. Sessions through the conference focussed on the “what, how and why” of intelligent systems in buildings and featured over 40 presentations from leading industry figures.

The first track featured sessions on opportunities for integrating new building management technologies and better performing information infrastructures into buildings, as well as presentations on value-add technologies such as intelligent façades and smart lifts.

The overriding headline from this track was that information technology has given us the opportunity to manage our building systems like never before. Information on system performance is now available pretty much as and when required through a web browser interface. The increased proliferation of wireless technology and the speed at which data can be accessed means that management need no longer be location dependent - control can, subject to security considerations, be effected whenever and wherever. This opens up a whole new range of opportunities for owners and users of intelligent buildings to exploit.

The second track looked at the intelligent building process, and how this can be used to develop market penetration of intelligent building systems. What became evident from the experiences discussed through the sessions was that if the intelligent buildings industry does not possess the skill, information and authority to capitalise on the benefits of intelligent buildings then it will never achieve its potential.

An educational process must be in place running all the way from the building owner, financier and operator, through the professional design disciplines to the contractor, sub-contractors and tradesmen. The building procurement process is a long supply and decision chain and unless all involved buy in to the concept of intelligent buildings they will strip out innovation and go back to basics as budgets become tight. An holistic view across each decision maker and influencer community is required to ensure that the added value of intelligent buildings is not stripped out during the building procurement process.

Reliable Controls The third and final track looked at the case for investing in intelligent buildings, looking at investment drivers, proving the business case to investors and focussing on how maximum value can be extracted from buildings through their intelligent operation, management and maintenance. The intelligent buildings industry is uniquely poised to capitalise on the increasingly stringent legal and commercial requirements related to buildings, but it needs to get the right marketing message across to the right set of decision makers.

Chris Lees, CEO of IT solutions provider Calvis, presented the case that only 33% of commercial building stock in the UK is owner-occupied, and that only around half of this lends itself to incorporate intelligent building technology as a value-add solution. This means that intelligent buildings currently only have a maximum potential penetration of 17% of total building stock.

The overwhelming proportion of commercial stock is actually owned by investment houses that have not traditionally seen the benefit of installing intelligent systems in their properties. These financiers see intelligent systems as an outright capital cost that has to be met, one way or the other.

Real estate must compete with stocks and bonds for investors’ money to maximise return, and the major way in which a building generates return for its investors is through rental income. The additional outright capital cost of intelligent systems must be met either by absorbing the cost thereby reducing the margin that the investor makes on the rent of their property, or by increasing rent to maintain margin. Neither of these strategies is viewed as attractive in a fiercely price competitive environment such as commercial real estate

A change in the mind-set of investors is needed, and it is up to the supply-side to provide the right marketing message to them. Manufacturers and consultants must address the key investment judgements that investors must make: How can intelligent systems help me understand my tenants’ needs better? Do intelligent systems help my tax case? Will intelligent systems improve the flexibility of my building and reduce “downtime” during between tenant fit outs?

Until the supply side can provide answers to these questions, investors and financiers will continue to think of intelligent systems as an unnecessary luxury in their buildings, rather than as the asset improvement tools that they can be.

The intelligent buildings industry is established and has a firm base, but in some senses it has reached a plateau, as newer, more fashionable building trends - such as green buildings - have over taken it in the minds of building designers and architects.

Yet there exists significant momentum and opportunity to propel the intelligent buildings market to the next level. Regulation such as the new EU Energy Performance in Buildings Directive, which begins to come into force in January 2006, will be seen as a threat by many in the building industry, but for the building controls industry it represents a tremendous opportunity. The products which allow buildings to not only meet but to exceed the regulations exist, and if the industry can get its messaging right, then the market is there for the taking.

Notes:

  1. ib2004 was organised by specialist intelligent buildings consultancy i&i limited with BRE, in association with the Institution of Electrical Engineers

  2. ib2004 was sponsored by Schneider Electric (Gold level); AMX, Echelon, Electrical Contractors Association, Honeywell Building Solutions; Konnex Association; Satchwell Control Systems and the University of Reading (Silver Level)

  3. ib2004 was endorsed by automatedbuildings.com, BIFM, CABA, CIBSE and IBG

  4. For more information see http://www.iandi.ltd.uk/pages/events.html

  5. ib2005" October 19 & 20 2005 in London  http://www.iandi.ltd.uk

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