March 2007
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AutomatedBuildings.com

Babel Buster Network Gateways: Big Features. Small Price.
Control Solutions, Inc. - Minnesota

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Control Solutions, Inc

ArabianBusiness.com - Christopher Sell - Saturday, 10 March 2007 - An irrepressible advance in technology and an increasingly sophisticated populace is slowly forcing a re-think in the way buildings are constructed in Dubai. Fundamentally a straightforward process, the posts are slowly shifting as demand and expectation grows for IT to be integrated into a building at an earlier stage, to integrate with its facilities.

According to Anto Budiardjo, CEO, BuilConn Middle East, while building facilities such as heating, air conditioning, security and lighting have incorporated increasing amounts of systems over the last two decades, they have all developed as separate disciplines within their own industries and so there has been no common ground. The key change now, he says, is that there has been a realisation that many of these systems contain common technologies, especially when they become networked.

"The major catalyst right now is that most of these systems are starting to use internet protocol (IP, essentially the networking technology), therefore there is a very significant convergent between these systems and the sort of technologies, products and solutions that you typically see put together by an IT department. This is where the convergence comes in," he says.

Budiardjo believes that in the future, networks should be given greater priority by contractors and that IT should be viewed on a similar level to existing utilities. "We need to start seeing information networking as the fourth utility. Typically, buildings have three utilities: water, gas and electricity. So why don't networks form part of those utilities, because everything in a building starts with information? You wouldn't consider a building without water."

Such an approach, adds Budiardjo, would enable developers to achieve greater individuality for projects, a much-coveted feature that is especially relevant to Dubai, where the bar is being raised on almost a daily basis as buildings continue to innovate. Samer Alkharrat, Cisco's Gulf Region general manager, agrees: "I think it's pivotal; the next generation is going to expect a lot more mobility, ubiquitous access and customised services - if you look at Google and MyPlace, it is all about customising experience for the user. So those environments being built in Dubai have to be able to cater for customised services and that only happens if you invest in infrastructure now."

Incorporating IT into construction can impact a building in a number of ways, namely by providing a more positive experience for both the tenant and the building owner. Integrating IP technology provides cost-cutting benefits, but also improves the sophistication and experience of the building. One example often touted is the ‘virtual' hotel chain that knows of the customer's room preferences before arrival and, without needing to check-in in person, all room requirements, from the temperature to the TV or radio, are all tailored to personal requirements and taste.

"People are starting to see the use of IP technology, not just as a way of cutting costs but as a way to improve the sophistication and experience of the building. If you are able to control buildings in a more definite, refined and sophisticated way, then you can start to manage those kind of issues," says Budiardjo.

Integrating IP throughout a building will also see fundamental changes to a building's design. Convention dictates that an architect will design the building, a contractor will build it, before the building is parcelled out to different tenants who install their own IT systems. The new model should see people thinking of the building differently, where the information technology of the building is entwined with how it is going to be constructed, operated and experienced by the end-user.

This has buoyed IT vendors and integrators to implement IT-centric applications such as CRM. This provides many benefits, not just a reduction in cost but in a less tangible manner. "As systems become more sophisticated using IP power, energy becomes one of the key drivers, not just in terms of cost but also on the environmental and renewable resources side of things," says Budiardjo.

And the best part about converging networks is that technologically is not hard to implement. "The hurdle is not technology, because this technology is not hard and it is there. The problem or challenge I foresee is the go-to-market strategy, the engagement model. You must marry the various building service providers together to get the right operational model, so there needs to be a new breed of operators that can understand all these different systems," says Alkaharrat.

The problem with the industry right now, he adds, is that it is too fragmented, so when a real estate developer wants to develop a property or mall, it is very difficult to understand how much technology is enough. Cisco therefore has developed a practice, which brings in the best of industry, from building management systems to IT and telephony.

TREC, (Tourism, Real Estate and Construction) provides a comprehensive suite of solutions which is designed to address the increasing demand for intelligence in network infrastructure from the tourism, real estate and construction sectors. TREC's framework is based, says Alkaharrat, on the convergence of network infrastructure and building systems onto a single IP environment, potentially transforming building construction and management. Cisco Connected Hotel, for example, delivers sophisticated services that differentiate your brand, creating a personalised experience for each guest.

"The key benefit is providing reduced capital expenditure, including the return on investment of invested technology being put into the building, developing new revenue streams and increased experience for the user. And obviously reducing operational costs, because the construction industry is financially driven, so when you add technological investment you have to make sure it reduces capital expenditure and operational expenditure, opens new revenue experiences and adds value to the company."

Illustrating the importance of this growing convergence, an IT event, which has been running for five years in the US and UK was held last week in Dubai. BuilConn is an event which aims to unite all the individuals involved in building and facilities management to take an objective view of the industry and raise awareness of the technologies and steps required to implement truly intelligent integrated buildings. Budiardjo says that exhibitors included Etisalat who, together with other telecom providers in other countries are beginning to take notice and explore other opportunities beyond the dialtone.

With Cisco choosing to launch its convergence software in Dubai, BuilConn's inaugural visit to the region plus its one-day event in Saudi Arabia last week, it is clear that companies and real estate developers in the region are aware of the opportunities of networked connectivity and represent a key audience in the future.

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