Building Automation Systems and IT – a perfect marriage


The benefits of integrating Building Automation Systems (BAS) into an organisation’s enterprise ICT backbone are significant.

Johnson Controls’ Neil Cameron (image: Johnson Controls)

The trend to realise the promised efficiencies and insight into operations that this brings is being driven by the evolution of Internet Protocols (IP) based communication, which makes the transfer and sharing of information from one data point to another not only possible, but seamless.

It’s an opportunity still waiting to be exploited by South African organisations.  Johnson Controls’ Neil Cameron provides an insightful lens through which to view this trend.

Explains Cameron: “Facility management and building automation divisions within organisations have traditionally had to deal with costly and complex mechanical equipment, like chillers, as well as other systems like lighting and security, which were proprietary solutions with dedicated software and controllers.”

The cross-over with IT began in the late 1990s, however, when most BAS vendors reinvented their systems to use standard protocols that were developed for the controls industry, such as BACnet and LonTalk. This allowed building control systems from multiple vendors for HVAC, lighting, electrical distribution and life safety to be integrated into a common facility management system. It’s the evolution of IP-based communication and establishment of open standards that has brought about the true BAS/IT integration capability, however.

“They allow IT applications to read real-time or historical control system values – so they are no longer trapped in a building management system’s workstation.  This means that building-related data – including energy, security and life safety system information – can now be accessed through a standard Web browser. The benefits that can be gained by being able to access this information are tremendous,” continues Cameron.

Control costs, optimise performance

With BAS data integrated to the organisation’s IT backbone, it can, for example, gain access to current and historical electricity consumption. By merging this information with data from financial and enterprise databases, departments can more accurately identify enterprise expenditures and forecast budgets. This information can also provide the basis on which to identify best practices and improve energy efficiencies.  The benefits in an industrial or manufacturing environment, where equipment and building automation data can be used in conjunction with standard business applications to identify cost (per manufactured item), manage and optimise processes and operations is unimaginable.

So what changes?

A closer relationship is developing between Services and IT, and between building automation system suppliers and IT. The challenge is to share information, not duplicate efforts; to build a common platform which each can exploit to enhance organisational performance – albeit from seemingly different perspectives.

Says Cameron: “A practical way to approach integration of BAS and IT systems is to do a needs analysis. Identify the core information the organisation’s needs on a real time and historical basis, and then build a dashboard of these items that is regularly updated and can be accessed by IT applications.”

A future wave ready for riding

Concludes Cameron: “IP-based control and monitoring, whether in a wired or wireless environment, is the new expressway to expanded enterprise applications. The opportunities are immense in terms of greater cost control, increasing energy efficiency, and improved enterprise-wide planning, coordination and budgeting. This is a future wave that is ready to be ridden – now is the time to investigate and take action.”

Johnson Controls