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Intelligent Buildings Today

The concept of an intelligent, smart, or “next generation” buildings was first proposed back in the 1980s, and discussions and promotion have continued ever es coversince.

In many ways, this concept has followed the classic “hype cycle,” described by the noted technology consulting firm, Gartner Group (Figure 1). In this cycle, new concepts start and are quickly hyped to a peak of expectations. This is followed by reality or the trough of disillusionment, and finally the actual benefits are realized and the technologies plateau. Gartner uses this concept to chart the progress of numerous technologies.

So where does the concept of an intelligent building fit in this cycle? It is pretty clear that we are following this path today. We have suffered from inflated expectations and experienced some significant disillusionment. We would like to think that we are entering the slope of enlightenment and starting to see demand and acceptance. Why do we say this? There are several reasons driving this opinion.

  • Technology maturity. When this concept was originally introduced, the technology was expensive and complicated. Today, Web-enabled integration platforms and IP-enabled devices are available from a number of established suppliers. This is no longer experimental, but mainstream technology. The result is that it has become practical and economical to implement an intelligent building.
  • Standards are in place and accepted. In addition to using mature technology, there are solid industry standards such as BACnet® and LonWorks® readily available. All major manufacturers are supporting standards and offering some form of tested and verified products. The result is that integration has become practical and economical.
  • Market need is present. Building owners and operators are driving the demand for intelligent solutions through their need for increased productivity, energy, and efficiency from their staff.
  • Future concerns. In addition to the needs of today, we are seeing new concerns over global warming and long-term supply of fossil fuels. This, combined with the pressure of an aging electrical generation infrastructure, is putting the onus on new programs for high efficiency and even zero-energy commercial buildings. These programs will have an intelligent, integrated system design as one of their core elements.

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TABLE 1. The Gartner hype cycle has been used to chart the growth of new technologies.
TABLE 1. The Gartner hype cycle has been used to chart the growth of new technologies.
This isn’t to say that we are without challenges. We still see significant challenges with delivering on proper project planning, design, installation, and commissioning. But there is work going on within organizations such as CABA ( to help solve these issues. To this end, CABA has introduced a new tool called the Building Intelligence Quotient (BIQ) that is designed to rate and provide the value of an intelligent building. They also have established a group to develop an “Intelligent Building Roadmap,” which will serve as a tool to help the industry develop the necessary programs to help solve many of these challenges.

Finally, many excellent educational events, such as the Engineered Systems Building Automation Conference (, help to provide education and raise awareness. As a result, we are seeing significant progress and the delivery of truly intelligent projects not just in Asia and the Middle East, but also in North America as well. Given the progress we have made, it is realistic to think that it is time for intelligent buildings – today!

Recent Articles by Paul Ehrlich, P.E.

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