February 2007

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Technology Contracting The Future is Now
This is an open letter in response to Paul Ehrlich's November 2006 article Help Wanted: Building Systems Architect.

Terry W. Hoffmann


Terry W. Hoffmann,
Director of Marketing, Building Automation Systems,
Johnson Controls, Inc.

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Mr. Paul Ehrlich, P.E.
Building Intelligence Group

Re: Job Posting – Building Systems Architect

Dear Mr. Ehrlich:

We read your job posting for a Building Systems Architect with great interest. Frankly, we are surprised you could not find someone more easily.

What you call a building systems architect, we call a technology contractor. Regardless of how you label it, however, the recent convergence of building and IT systems has put us squarely in that business. Owners and consulting engineers are looking for assistance in designing, integrating, installing and commissioning a wide variety of diverse systems. They understand that getting the technology contractor involved at the very beginning results in a facility that better serves the owner’s needs and saves them money over the long-term.

A New Building Construction Model

You are right. New information and building systems technologies have strained the old model for designing and constructing buildings. It still works for smaller-scale building construction where the systems are simple and little integration is desired. However, for large and more complex technology installations, it falls short. It misses opportunities for intelligent integration and cost savings. The old model can result in redundancies and waste, finger pointing, big change orders, and construction delays.

Enter the new technology contracting model. Here, the general contractor hires one vendor to design, integrate, and commission all integrated building systems. Mechanical and electrical consulting engineers still coordinate systems specification. Electrical contractors still install systems for medium and high-voltage power distribution, as well as emergency power generation. The technology contractor designs, installs, and commissions everything else: building systems, IT systems, and specialty systems. The result? The new model delivers smart buildings as well as single-point monitoring, control, and programming of both mechanical and low-voltage electrical systems.

Cost Savings, Efficiency Gains

What are the benefits? Technology contracting:

An Industry Emerges from the Shadows

So why isn’t everyone clamoring for technology contractors? First and foremost, there aren’t many of us out there. Very few players have broad enough technical expertise, and familiarity with enough third-party products systems, to function effectively in the role. Technology contracting also breaks with construction industry precedent. Many architects and developers believe that general contractors – in tandem with mechanical and electrical engineers – have sufficient expertise to coordinate and integrate systems. They usually do not.

Examples of technology contracting work abound. Shanghai (China) World Financial Centre recently enlisted a technology contractor to lead the design, implementation and commissioning of all low-voltage building and IT systems. Scheduled for completion in 2008, the building will be the world’s tallest. Installed systems will include a building management system as well as wireless distribution, closed-circuit television (CCTV), security, car park management, fire alarm protection, key box, master antenna / cable television (MATV/CATV), central metering, water leakage detection, access management, telephone management, and public addressing systems throughout the entire facility.

The Process

How does a technology contractor engage a building project? A relationship with the customer typically begins at the very early stages of building design. The objective is to respect the project’s budget while meeting the needs of the facility’s prospective occupants. Involving the technology contractor early ensures that overall building architecture and systems are mutually supportive. The process results in mechanical and electrical systems that are efficient, optimized, and future ready.

Every project differs. In general, though, the technology contracting approach means turn-key design, installation, and commissioning of all low-voltage technology systems. The process gives customers tremendous peace of mind. However, most of our customers cite cost savings as its greatest benefit. By some estimates, technology contracting can reduce the initial costs of designing technology systems by up to 10 percent. We help our customers identify potential redundancies and trim capital costs. For example, multiple departments and systems may be able to share a common LAN infrastructure.

Capital savings are merely the tip of the iceberg. Roughly 75 percent of a building’s lifecycle costs accrue after construction. Effective systems design and monitoring can reduce expenditures on energy, maintenance and upgrade costs.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Specialty Systems

When systems are integrated, interesting opportunities emerge to take advantage of their interoperability. The technology-savvy facilities owners who hire technology contractors demand that systems communicate with one another, as well as with enterprise applications such as human resources and accounting.

A good example of the need for technology contracting is the healthcare facilities market. Hospitals have all the usual building and information technology systems: comfort controls, access controls and other security systems, fire and life safety systems, as well as sophisticated, secure voice and data networks. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s new $575 million Children’s Hospital campus and Denver Children’s Hospital both enlisted a technology contractor in a similar capacity to install, integrate and optimize these discrete systems.

Hospitals may also have sophisticated nurse call, public address and paging, and other specialty systems. State-of-the-art nurse call systems take full advantage of systems integration. For example, intelligent and integrated systems include nurse call applications that intelligently deploy human resources and equipment in response to certain coded alarms. A radio frequency locator service (RFLS) knows where people and equipment are at all times. When an alarm sounds, the system can deploy nurses based on specialized skill sets, the priority of an individual nurse’s outstanding calls, or physical proximity to the patient. Orderlies know what equipment is needed, and where to find it. It all can be done silently, via wireless pagers, minimizing noise, and contributing to a more peaceful and patient-friendly hospital environment.
Other industries are developing similarly cutting-edge applications to take advantage of system integration. Airports are an excellent candidate for technology contracting because of their need to seamlessly integrate and optimize building, security and IT systems to ensure the safety and comfort of their customers, the productivity of their employees, and the operational efficiency of their facilities.

Supporting the trend

The future of technology contracting looks bright. New developments in building construction have enabled its growth and proliferation. In 2004, the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) issued its most significant revision of Master Format in 40 years. In making the revision, the CSI acknowledged that rapid technological advancements have made the old contracting model obsolete. Forty years ago, building systems fit into neat silos (climate and comfort, fire safety, security), did not communicate with one another, and were generally regulated by operator-initiated, manual mechanical controls. The revised MasterFormat reflects the emergence of new controls and systems, and the specialized expertise needed to design and build them.

The fact is, whether you call them “building systems architects” or “technology contractors,” the discipline exists now. The construction industry increasingly agrees that new technologies have made the old contracting model obsolete. A few select technology contractors – larger companies like Johnson Controls with the requisite mass, experience, and product access – have stepped forward to meet the demand. As the industry grows, it can only mean smarter, greener buildings that compliment their occupants’ business operations more and cost them less.

About the Author

Terry Hoffmann is Director of Marketing, Building Automation Systems, for Johnson Controls building efficiency business. His responsibilities include defining and developing materials for new product deployment, strategic brand management and the identification of leading edge technology.

Terry has worked extensively in sales with experience in the Building Automation, Fire and Security markets. He served as Marketing Manager of Johnson Controls’ International Division and as Manager for International Performance Contracting.

He has written numerous articles in various industry trade publications including most recently: the ASHRAE Journal, Today’s Facility Manager, the Refrigeration Systems Engineering and Service (RSES) Journal, and the HVAC Systems Maintenance and Operations Handbook.

In his 33 year tenure with Johnson Controls, Terry has spoken extensively at numerous conferences and industry forums including the American Society of Heating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE). He represents Johnson Controls as a board member of LonMark International.

A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Terry holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Marquette University and a Master’s degree in Engineering Management from the Milwaukee School of Engineering where he serves as an adjunct professor.

Contact information: Terry.Hoffmann@jci.com


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