IT professionals may be surprised at how quickly buildings are changing and, more importantly, at how much computing power is deployed in buildings. The state of IT in buildings today is outlined here, emphasizing the hospitality market. Intelligent building concepts have seen a revitalization recently because of the proliferation of IT and Internet services. Many of these developments have begun to elevate average structures to intelligent buildings.

High-level system technology isn’t in every facility yet, but there’s a growing number of intelligent buildings in the mainstream.

One indication of this trend is the widespread use of the same terms when referring to IT and building technology. Convergence is used to describe how building systems are blending with IT and the Internet. IT people use convergence to refer to blending of data and functionality from several software applications. Terms like standard, E- business, and real-time are used the same way for buildings and IT. Grid is a common term, but IT people are talking about grid computing while buildings people mean the national electric system. Other terms like integration, collaboration, optimize, Internet-ready (or enabled), and intelligent have varied meanings and cause confusion in both worlds. Nonetheless, both industries are using the same language.

The emergence of IIT

Intelligent buildings are real, but more important, so is the integration of IT (including business processes like finance) with independent special systems for building automation and other functions. Integrated IT is the new IT or (IIT); it is just another way of saying “intelligent building.”

IIT, also called convergence, is like a highway interchange allowing seamless flow of information between disparate systems. IIT is the logical extension of building automation, which has grown from HVAC control to DDC. IIT will integrate DDC and other systems, like fire and security, to enhance facility management. The next step for DDC is beyond Internet access to IIT. IIT means facilities, HVAC, and process automation using integrated systems migrating to the enterprise level via networks, (e.g., Ethernet) and offering a larger set of integrated services. These developments bode well for a transformation of building and business management.

Intelligent buildings leverage IIT, which requires that building and IT infrastructure support it. This infrastructure represents a tremendous investment and operating cost. The focus is not just computing inside buildings but extending services to the Internet. This is no small issue, given Harbor Research’s projection for billions of new Internet-based devices over the next five years. Leveraging the power of these devices and keeping building data systems robust requires addressing many issues that are of mutual interest to IT and buildings. All of those devices will request network access, so we must deal with public and private Internet protocol address requirements, data security, interface requirements, etc. The definition of collaborative processing must soon include integrated sequences for all facility devices that have a processor and network / Internet access.

Intelligent buildings truly embody IIT, and there is an award designed to highlight such buildings. “Buildy Awards” are given annually at the Builconn Forum (, recognizing building owners and system integrators who create integrated and interoperable systems. A hotel has not won a Buildy yet, but those discussed here would be good candidates.

Beyond building comfort, security, and fundamental requirements, consider how IT can be integrated into customer service. The emphasis is on hotels, but this technology can apply to all building types. Hotels are interesting because they are starting to explore hospitality of the future. Nick Price, director of technology and CTO for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, one of the few hotels to use IP networks for all in-room systems, said, “Hotels have become famous for implementing yesterday’s technology today, just as the consumer traded today’s technology for tomorrow’s. No place is this more evident than in the guest room where, for example, even many middle-income consumers now have, at home, high-definition televisions with 400 channels, quality on-demand programming, digital video recorders, searchable program guides, and high-end sound systems. But you can’t find many of these things even in high-end hotel rooms.”

Mandarin Oriental and many other hotel companies are working to move the hospitality industry forward by joining Hotel Technology – Next Generation (HTNG), a “nonprofit organization with global scope, formed in 2002 to facilitate the development of next-generation, customer-centric technologies to better meet the needs of the global hotel community.” Price’s views and much more relevant information on future hotel technology can be found on the group’s website at

HTNG is visionary in its view of future hotels that will create a new level of customer service. The vision is guests who are recognized and called by name on arrival with a room ready that meets their expectations. Hotels should create a guest profile so that mini-bars would be stocked with preferred brands of drinks and snacks, and the room conditioned to the guest’s desired temperature. Readers may have had the experience of calling a hotel front desk from the room and having staff call them by name. Such personal service is very powerful, but HTNG has more in mind.

HTNG has enlisted some of the best minds from some of the best companies to define the future of hospitality. Price cited an example of implementing yesterday’s technology, noting that many hotels have recently installed compact disc players, just as consumers have moved en masse to carrying their own music and other entertainment on MP3 players, iPods, portable media centers, tablet PCs, and laptop computers. “They can plug these in to their audio systems at home or in their car, and that is how they listen to music. How can we call a hotel room a ‘home away from home,’ when we not only fail to give guests the variety of entertainment that they want, but we can’t even support what they already carry with them?” Price said.

Ken Martinez, hospitality market business manager with Paradyne Corporation, is also an HTNG member. Martinez said, “The evolution of IP-based networks has created new opportunities to deliver technology-based services to guest rooms over a single set of wires. In the past, you needed two or even three sets of wires — coaxial cable, twisted-pair, and often Category 5 cable — to deliver entertainment, telephone service, and wired or wireless high-speed networks. Today, all of the traditional services — and many new ones — can be delivered over a single network.”

HTNG is working on new technology applications for hotels, or IIT for hospitality. HTNG’s goal is “customer-centric systems” for hotels globally. HTNG executive director Douglas Rice told the Builconn audience that the challenge is that there are over 100 categories of systems commonly used in hotels that spend $25 million per year on IT.

Hotels must provide services that everyone wants, like high-speed Internet, hotel-wide and in rooms. Going beyond these services and blending them with personal attention is next generation hotel intelligence. “Most of the major hotel companies are reevaluating the entire networking strategy for guest rooms — and even how they will build and operate new hotels — in anticipation of the move to all-IP-based in-room technology, including telephony, video-on-demand, and wireless services, in addition to traditional high-speed Internet service,” Rice said.

At Builconn, Rice shared some exciting insights on the integration of hotel systems with the business process. Hospitality focuses on achieving consistent quality of guest experience, but the goal is to make it both consistent and personal for each guest. Some hotels are experimenting with VIP guest programs including mailing an RFID-labeled confirmation and welcome card. When a guest arrives, the RFID label triggers a message to the front desk and bell stand, identifying guests so that they are greeted by name. The goal is to integrate room temperature for comfort with guest check in, and to monitor guest arrival and departure so cleaning and service is done while guests are out of the room.

Another concept is multi-modal wake up calls that integrate several technologies: a phone call, turning on the TV to guests’ preferred station, opening drapes, and making coffee. Developments in voice-over-IP (VOIP) telephony have also created new capabilities and guest expectations including personalized speed dial, call forwarding, follow-me, multi-line ringing, multi-party conferencing, plus using the phone handset as a text messaging device. The challenge is integrating the hotel’s telephony infrastructure in two ways: with hotel services, to enable the guest and staff to interact in a richer and more personalized way; and with the various devices guests bring with them — mobile phones, PDAs, notebook computers, etc. The hotels discussed here have leveraged intelligent building functions and are on the way to next-generation hospitality.

Exploiting building intelligence to achieve a competitive advantage and build customer loyalty is not unique to hotels. Glen Allendinger of Harbor Research sees buildings as “pervasive microcosms” for implementation of smart building Internet-enabled devices offering a wide range of functionality. He believes “the buildings space is a test-bed for machine to machine (M2M) and pervasive systems — a vast ‘staging area’ for what’s to come in the M2M space overall.”

M2M refers to Harbor’s pervasive Internet projections of trillions of new Internet users over the next five years, and that it’s possible for these devices to employ collaborative processing. In that light, smart devices in buildings are a microcosm of the M2M business, yet IIT goes beyond simply installing these devices in intelligent buildings. IIT is exciting because collaborative processing can leverage the power and information in these devices to improve building performance and enhance the business process. Figure 1 shows some of the systems found in intelligent buildings that can be leveraged to achieve these goals.

Based on concepts presented by HTNG and Harbor Research, intelligent buildings are clearly not just about building functions. There are a dramatic number of companies in this space working on and developing technology offerings, and not just manufacturers but also integrators and software companies because this technology is accessible to large and small companies. HTNG is counting on suppliers to develop robust and intelligent hospitality solutions, but a wide range of building types will benefit from this technology. Markets in larger commercial buildings, shopping malls, and campus environments can improve the ROI, and help justify technology development cost and link heterogeneous systems. There is industry consensus that business process improvement and lower technology cost will drive the market for smart devices, Internet services, and automation systems in smaller buildings.

Hotels on the cutting edge

Hospitality industry technology adoption hasn’t been rapid, but the properties discussed here have benefited from forward-looking management. These properties are providing better guest experiences, while also making use of intelligent building and even sustainability technology. The core components of IIT are being used by these hotels including: standardized data networks for building systems; local area network communication, especially Ethernet; and having high-speed Internet access. This technology creates an exciting picture of how IT, interoperable systems, and system integration are redefining all buildings, including hotels.

The Brookstreet Hotel is in the heart of Silicon Valley North — Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. It is appropriate that this hotel is in Ottawa’s thriving high-tech community. Brookstreet has won numerous awards and is a preeminent boutique hotel, business center, and resort. It features 16,000 sq ft of elegant meeting space and has high-speed Internet access in each of its 276 guest rooms. It is interesting that many upscale hotels have not routinely offered high-speed Internet, while most budget hotels have offered this feature for some time. Brookstreet’s management was forward looking to offer this feature and it is one more way to make hotels desirable. Brookstreet caters to a sophisticated clientele, and extra effort was added during construction to ensure occupants maximum comfort and control on demand.

The Brookstreet installed a Delta Controls DDC system for optimum comfort in guest rooms, and to ensure intelligent system operation and cost efficiency. The BACnet® solution allows guests to control room temperatures. DDC controls meeting rooms and common areas including 29 air handlers, heat exchangers, pumps, a swimming pool, and exterior lighting. DDC was integrated with the hotel’s booking system so that it can optimize comfort and also monitor unoccupied areas, setback rooms as needed, and save energy. Delta’s system has graphics customized to Brookstreet specifications to monitor the hotel. This level of technology allows the hotel to operate flawlessly and to cater to distinguishing guests. Patrice Basille, manager for Brookstreet said, “The system solution has been trouble-free since opening, and these systems will be included in future developments.” Clearly, this hotel manager sees IIT as a valuable tool to improve business performance.

Another leading-edge hospitality application is the Sawgrass Marriott, an exclusive resort community in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. The Sawgrass event facilities welcome corporate groups with an all-new, state-of-the-art, 56,000-sq-ft meeting complex. As the largest conference resort between Atlanta and Orlando, and the home of two prestigious TPC golf courses, the Sawgrass Marriott has earned numerous honors as a premier setting for conventions and meetings.

The 56,000 sq ft meeting complex and convention center is certainly up to par with this highly acclaimed golf resort. Sawgrass has a Delta Controls DDC system integrated to Marriott’s construction standards, which far exceed standard construction requirements. The facility mechanical systems are networked together over a high-speed Ethernet backbone with fiber optics. The Delta native BACnet solution is part of a high-speed architecture system. It is coupled with an automated smoke evacuation system, a Marriott standard, and BACnet communication to the new Carrier centrifugal chiller plant over Ethernet and Delta’s ORCAweb™ for Internet monitoring.

Integrated information management requires Internet access and is critical to meeting and exceeding the demanding requirements of this high-tech facility. “The ability for my staff to access the system from virtually any computer (anywhere, anytime) over a high-speed network enables them the ability to provide immediate response and service to our guests,” said Ayres. This system leverages building systems to improve business processes and positions Marriott Sawgrass as a next-generation facility.

El Monte Sagrado is a resort and spa in Taos, NM, a luxury resort hotel complex that was featured in the Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine in February 2005. This is an eco-friendly resort catering to guests that want a sustainable environment, but it is completely high-tech. The resort offers video conferencing, complimentary high-speed Internet through its buildings and guest rooms, and the entire property is a WiFi hotspot.

Building intelligence is provided by a TAC Vista™ DDC system that maintains comfort throughout the complex. This resort went beyond intelligent systems for the campus to implement sustainable technology throughout. Heating and air conditioning are provided by a ground-coupled, or geothermal heat pump (GHP) system, which is classified as renewable energy technology. GHP uses the earth as a heat exchanger through a closed loop system with a network of boreholes located in the parking lot and surrounding field. The bore field was sized to handle expansion and connect into existing cabanas that existed on the property. The Spirit Magazine article emphasized the building intelligence and sustainability of this property with 36 guest rooms and common areas. Resort owner Tom Worrell said this hotel is “green” and “guilt free” due to the renewable energy. This type of high-tech sustainable hotel is definitely the way of the future.

A final note

It is clear that IIT is here now, but in the near future the focus will likely transform from intelligent buildings to intelligent enterprises and ultimately, the intelligent grid. An intelligent electric grid effort, called GridWise, has been commissioned by the DOE through Pacific Northwest National Labs.

GridWise envisions a smart national electricity distribution system, or grid, that would be more reliable by allowing utilities to respond quickly and intelligently to emergencies. GridWise could also create tremendous savings opportunities for energy users like hotels without detracting from their mission. Futurists talk about disruptive technologies that completely reshape markets, and these new IIT and GridWise technologies have just that potential. Any such technology that blends cost savings with business process improvement will be worth watching. IBT