A leading IT experts argues the industry will never create truly sustainable and efficient buildings without open protocol building management systems

Driven by the government’s ambitious target for all new commercial properties to be carbon neutral by 2019, environmental concerns are influencing UK construction projects like never before.

With Building Management Systems (BMS) capable of controlling up to 70% of a building's energy use, it’s no surprise that many of these projects now incorporate BMS. However, for these systems to provide real, long-term value, open protocols need to be at the heart of any design plans.

Open protocols enable different systems to ‘talk’ with one another - integrating all the functions of a building into one seamless intelligent system. With such a system in place a building can limit and control its own environmental impact, with minimal human intervention, via automated monitoring, control and optimisation of services including lighting, heating and ventilation. For instance, an intelligent building can automatically switch lights and air conditioning units off the moment an area is left idle and return to normal conditions as and when required.

ethernet cable

How it works

An example of this is our central Scotland Office, Solais House, opened last week. It will provide employees of NG Bailey with an eco-friendly, sustainable working environment, where the building itself is BREEAM Excellent rated and a benchmark for sustainable building projects.

Central to the infrastructure, is an open source BMS that connects with sensors throughout the building to monitor external temperatures and wind conditions. With this in place, the system will regulate and automatically select the most appropriate source of energy based on external factors, tightly regulating the building’s energy use to eliminate inefficiencies.

Aside from the environmental benefits, intelligent buildings based on open protocols can reduce installation costs and provide greater control of life-cycle expenditure and maintenance costs.

For instance, because the maintenance of heating, lighting and other services can be performed remotely and around the clock, engineers only need access to the network rather than physically visiting each site, saving time and money.

the building industry needs to recognise the importance of open protocols when laying the network foundations

Rajesh Sinha, NG Bailey

Also, once the Internet Protocol (IP) (see definition below) foundations are in place, a myriad of services based on open protocols can be rapidly and easily plugged into the IP backbone, reducing future expenditure.

Proprietary equals bad

Many construction firms already weave IP-based networks into the physical building infrastructure itself – providing the foundations required for a BMS. However, many within the industry are failing to take into account the crucial need for open standards and instead, are opting for proprietary technology when incorporating an IT infrastructure into a building.

While proprietary networks can suit tenants’ immediate IT requirements, they do not provide the foundations required for a sustainable, intelligent building. This is because the key to intelligent buildings lies in using open protocol technology that allows disparate mechanical and electrical elements of a building to communicate automatically.

Proprietary IP networks hamper the ability to link the physical and digital elements of a building and fail to generate any real financial and environmental benefits.

As a consequence, manufacturers that had previously pushed against the tide of open standards in IP networking are finally seeing the benefits of an open approach. In fact, the majority of IT equipment is today open source, making it easier to integrate disparate IP devices from multiple IT equipment vendors.

With sustainability issues dominating boardroom discussions across the country, buildings in the future will no doubt be developed with building management systems at their core. However, the building industry needs to recognise the importance of open protocols when laying the network foundations. Only then, can genuine financial and environmental benefits be realised.

Internet Protocol

All digital equipment connected to a network has its own unique Internet Protocol (IP) address. When open source IP-enabled devices and equipment are connected to a network, they can automatically communicate with each other, share information and be controlled centrally over an internet connection.