Why Is Building Systems Integration Difficult To Achieve?



One of the main selling points of integrated building systems is ease of use. No more switching back and forth from various machines. Less of preparation. Simpler ways to conserve electricity, make the occupants happier and keep up with improvements in the way the building is used. No wonder facility-staff friendliness also tops the list of advantages of integrated systems.


Building systems integration, as facility managers have always been told, will soon be “plug and play” thanks to the launch of BACnet and LonWorks. But why is the process of actually integrating systems always anything but easy?


The issue is what might be considered the bad news about system integration, as detailed interviews with facility executives, suppliers and system integrators have made clear.


But there is also a good news side: most facility managers are pleased with the integrated systems they have even though they are dissatisfied with certain elements of the integration process, according to a survey of Building Operating Management readers.


What’s more, while the transition to interoperable systems has been slower than facility executives would have preferred, progress has been steady. One business analyst summarizes it this way: “I wouldn’t say it’s the kind of plug and play we have with computers. But there are criteria that make it a lot easier to integrate than it has been in the past.”


Provided that the facility executives are generally happy, does it really matter how this result is achieved? There are good reasons to think about it. For one thing, a system can be adequate without being the best facility choice. More and more facility managers have a choice between open and closed systems. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to make the right decision. Systems have different strengths and weaknesses; even though they appear to have the same capabilities, they can incorporate features in different ways.


Then there’s the matter of preventing headaches. Facility executives who participate in a system integration project with wide-open eyes—armed with a clear sense of the obstacles and options ahead of them—are far less likely to be struck by unwelcome surprises, such as discovering that the budget is insufficient to fulfill the initial objectives of the project or that the supposedly interoperable system is not as open as it appeared.


It is difficult to comprehend the complexities of system integration without knowing the diverse experiences, abilities and motivations of people involved in the system linking process. This is the subject of this essay, the first in a three-part series on device integration. The second section will discuss the myths surrounding BACnet and LonWorks. Part three will outline key decisions that should be considered in the early stages of system integration planning.

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