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Buildings Become Information Systems

By Daniel J. Weitzner
November 29, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The transparent enterprise is characterized by increased data integration possibilities across formerly stovepiped databases. Now, even the buildings that house our transparent enterprises are becoming transparent themselves. In response to the demands of energy efficiency, security, lower operating
costs and the need to increase space-planning flexibility, the physical structures in which we work are on their way to becoming more closely integrated with our information infrastructure.
Consider these new requirements in the design of building systems and some of the issues they raise:

  • Secure access control: Linking the provisioning of RFID-type security systems to human resources systems will ensure that the right employees get through the right doors. This will require organizations to make sure appropriate privacy policies and practices are in place.

  • Energy efficiency: Electric power demand-monitoring systems promise cheaper power and higher levels of availability from the public power grid. Enterprise users must be ready to have their power utilization monitored and possibly even controlled down to the individual device level for this to work.

  • Security: Video monitoring of premises for both external and internal security purposes is increasingly common. We can hope that this improves the physical security of our buildings, but whether it does or not, it certainly makes the environment more transparent -- or intrusive, depending on which side of the camera one sits.

  • Building signage: Even building signs (e.g., lobby directories, special-purpose meeting-instruction signs and emergency exits) are being integrated in the interoperable building of the future. On arrival in an unfamiliar building, it will be nice to have signs that are dynamically configured to point us in the right direction. I'm not sure how I'll feel, however, when information screens in every elevator lobby of a high-rise inform me -- and every other occupant -- that my car has been towed out of the parking lot because I'm two months late on my parking fees.

In support of these goals, building systems, once the domain of HVAC engineers and security services, are becoming just one more information system. As with our other information systems, the first design requirement is that it be built on open standards for interoperability. The International Standards Organization has even released a standard (ISO 16484-5:2003) that "defines data communication services and protocols for computer equipment used for monitoring and control of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration, and other building systems." The aim of the standard is to facilitate "the application and use of digital control technology in buildings."
As buildings become more automated, formerly disparate components (HVAC, LANs, security systems and even signage) will become interoperable


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