Building automation systems have been around for a few years now, and have been touted as a sort of “Star Wars” technology that run buildings automatically and efficiently. Only recently, however, has the reality started to match up to the promise.

Building automation systems are designed to control a variety of subsystems, such as HVAC, lighting, blinds, and fire safety systems. Those subsystems have typically operated as separate components with different protocols and communication systems that have been bundled together as a package.

The trend now, however, is to better integrate those systems, according to Ian Davies, product manager at Siemens.

“The trend in the market is for there to be an overarching system,” Davies said. “When it comes to vertical markets like data centres, and now the multi-purpose buildings that have residential, as well as hotel as well as retail, there’s a need to have an overarching system that talks to more than just HVAC. The users do not want a singular station for each product line.”

Users and stakeholders now expect a greater level of integration so they only need to learn to manage one system rather than needing to learn to control several systems for several different functions. In addition, stakeholders expect more powerful reporting, for example, so they can track costs and projections. This is made possible by designing the system to support a variety of common protocols, which are different in each industry.

Greater integration provides benefits for all stakeholders. At the corporate/financial level, for example, managers need access to reliable information about building and systems performance they can use to make sound decisions.

“Something needs replacing, something needs upgrading,” Davies said. “They want to be able to show the business case behind it without getting into the technical nitty-gritty.

“Ultimately what they want is productivity. They want to have have a system that gives them the information they need to to make decisions.”

An integrated system boosts efficiency while allowing them to get and share reports across networks automatically when needed.

Facility operators want efficiency and simplicity, and adding mobile capabilities helps these stakeholders.

“With a mobile device, and mobile apps, or mobile device clients, and mobile app clients, they can achieve the productivity across multiple subsystems, using a singular package which has the same workflows whether you’re dealing with fire, whether you’re dealing with heating, ventilation, air conditioning, or whether you’re dealing with power,” Davies said.

The consistent workflow is a massive time saver, as there is no need to learn multiple systems in order to keep a building running smoothly.

IT managers, in addition, can increase network security through use of one network, rather than using several different systems. Standard IT protocols make upgrades and updates more efficient and predictable, with with simpler troubleshooting and maintenance.

Building occupants, of course, may enjoy the benefits of more integrated building automation systems without realising it. Automated functions and systems, such as lighting and HVAC, should work seamlessly without intervention from occupants, so they can focus on productivity. Booking a conference room, for example, might result in the automated system powering up lighting and cooling a few minutes before the meeting time, then shutting those systems down when the last participant has left the room.

“The end users want simple and consistent operation of the facility,” Davies said.