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A CABA Conversation

Its president and CEO talks about opportunities and challenges in the intelligent building space.


May 1, 2005  


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The Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) is a not-for-profit industry association based in Ottawa that promotes advanced technologies for the automation of homes and buildings across North America. CNS editor Paul Barker recently talked to Ron Zimmer, its president and CEO, about what the future holds for intelligent buildings and the role the structured cabling and networking industries should play both now and in the future.

CNS: What led to CABA’s formation and how has it evolved over time?

Zimmer: It was launched 16 years ago by six organizations in Canada involved in the area of intelligent buildings. To our knowledge, it’s the only industry association in the world that covers both residential and large building automation.

We have continued to fill a need of providing industry intelligence, which includes research and information data trends analysis. We gather and disseminate it back to all members of the sector, who are interested in receiving updates.

CNS: Ron, you talked about the trends in the intelligent building space during your presentation in January at the BICSI Winter Conference in Orlando. How prevalent are the buildings globally and is Canada ahead or behind the curve?

Zimmer: In Orlando, I attempted to highlight the fact that there are certain areas such as broadband deployment that put Canada and the U.S. ahead of the curve in some respects.

But when you look at the overall aspect of intelligent building usage by building owner, operators and managers I would say we are not leaders, but falling behind countries such as China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore and others.

There are many things that the building sector is not taking advantage of. The technologies are certainly there, but they are not being utilized.

CNS: How challenging is it to create and construct an intelligent building?

Zimmer: That’s a good question. Ultimately, intelligent buildings and integrated systems are not that difficult to deploy and utilize, whether you are talking about a retrofit or a new building. Particularly with the latter, you are starting with a process where you can easily design and install the systems.

There have also been so many technological advances in the last two or three years, particularly with wireless, which has helped to overcome some of the great issues that have plagued older buildings.

Owners often think there is going to be a tremendous expense in that they have to do an entire building at once, but the reality is that you can have integrated systems installed in phases.

CNS: What are the primary benefits?

Zimmer: You are able gain a higher return on investment, higher value for the building and higher retention and rental rates.

There is also a tremendous benefit that can be attained through increased employee performance in the workplace. Others range from improved security systems to better use of data within a building to help manage and operate the property.

Unfortunately, our industry has not done a very good job of communicating these and other advantages to building owners.

CNS: You mentioned in Orlando that communication consultants and contractors are not well trained or familiar with working on a construction project. Why is that and what needs to be done to fix the problem?

Zimmer: The truth is that there have been quite a number of systems that have not been interoperable; however, new technology advances such as XML, LonTalk and BACnet, and in the area of wireless are helping to build bridges between disparate systems. These and other initiatives allow existing legacy systems to work with new systems and make interoperability take place in a cost-effective way.

The problem is that not every consultant or contractor is familiar with all the new technology and opportunities that exist. That is why having education programs and events such as the BICSI Conference and CONNECT 2005, CABA’s annual large building conference, are so important.

Certainly, the most recent changes to the MasterFormat from many groups including BICSI, CABA, BOMA and others reflect the new reality about the technology that is now out there.

CNS: In light of some of those shortcomings, how critical will the Communications Life Safety Automation Design Institute be moving forward?

Zimmer: It will be very critical. We are taking steps to work more closely with many groups to inform and make their members aware of the opportunities.

In addition, one of our key groups within CABA — the Intelligent & Integrated Buildings Council – has put in place a program that will look at such issues as life cycle costs benefits and an intelligent building ranking system.

The Council itself was established in 2001 to specifically review opportunities, strategize, take action and monitor initiatives that relate to integrated systems and automation in the large building sector.

CNS: The XML Symposium has been instrumental in communicating the impact XML and Web Services will have on the HVAC industry. Will this be a critical piece of the puzzle moving forward and if so, why?

Zimmer: It really covers most of the technologies involved with integrated systems in large buildings. We want it to become a key bridge between disparate systems and, ultimately, have it help overcome the lack of interoperability.

The symposium brings together leading industry experts once a year to talk about how it is currently being used, utilized, developed and being put in equipment and technology currently in use.

The core objectives are to deliver a cohesive vision of how XML and Web services will propel the intelligent building industry forward.

CNS: You announced in January that CABA has received financial assistance from the Canadian and U.S. governments as well as Siemens and Honeywell towards the Buildings Life-Cycle Costs Analysis tool. What is the primary purpose of this initiative?

Zimmer: It is a key CABA initiative through our Intelligent & Integrated Buildings Council. The tool will require specific input from professionals who understand the scope of the sub-systems being analyzed. A range of typical values from existing buildings will be provided to help anyone interested in initiating an intelligent building project.

The goal is to create something that everyone will be able to utilize. The model will be automated and an interactive, Web-based application that will permit the building construction industry to analyze the factors that influence networked building sub-systems costs over the life cycle of the building.

As for Siemens and Honeywell, they are involved in some massive projects at locations around the world ranging from airports and universities to manufacturing plants. As sponsors of the CABA Intelligent & Integrated Building Council activities, they understand that these specific projects will assist in educating the marketplace. This will allow assist them as they explain to staff at each venue how they can cost-effectively undertake a major retrofit and incorporate technologies that will turn an existing structure into a leading-edge building.

CNS: Finally, are you satisfied with the level of participation of the structured cabling and networking industries when it comes to the intelligent building cause?

Zimmer: Organizations such as CABA, BICSI and others have to do as much as they can to provide the right research and information to the public so they can make informed decisions.

As an example, CABA is developing in conjunction with the National Research Council of Canada a high-performance, intelligent building demo project on the NRC campus in Ottawa. The first phase will scope out the technologies, costs and timelines to develop the building.

Phase Two would be to show beyond a shadow of a doubt how to take a retrofit building and make it into a world-class, high-performance intelligent building in a cost-effective way.

It will also be benchmarked and monitored for all kinds of para-meters such as indoor air quality and energy management.