Smart Buildings

6 Steps to Reach Your Smart Building Goals

Henry Franc
We can’t talk about business today without discussing smart buildings. The possibilities they offer in terms of productivity, comfort, savings, health and employee attraction and retention can’t be overlooked.


Many times, however, smart building discussions typically don’t become a reality in building design: We understand the benefits of smart buildings —and the technology behind them—but not yet how to bring them to life.


It’s important to remember that technology is only a small piece of the puzzle in a smart building—it’s only one way to overcome challenges. A smart building starts with the right questions: What problem needs to be solved? What needs to be better or easier? Once the answers are known, then the right technology may be chosen as the right smart building solution.


Behind every smart building is a growing demand for more bandwidth, faster speeds and the inclusion of bandwidth in more places to support new ways of working and living.


New approaches to network infrastructure are necessary to support these demands. We offer six important considerations to help you take smart buildings from paper to practice and achieve your goals.


1. Standardize Material Choices


Using similar building blocks in smart building design can solve problems that arise from using systems that are difficult to deploy, maintain and manage because they’re built differently. These systems are not only frustrating but also cause problems: high costs, slow deployment, downtime and difficult scalability, for example.


When IT systems and components are changeable, scalable, repeatable and understandable, there’s a vast potential for time- and cost-saving design, installation, operation and maintenance.


As technology requirements change, additional building blocks can be added without re-engineering an entire system or space.


Standardization can also reduce training and troubleshooting requirements. Components are easy to understand because everything works similarly. When systems and components look, function and respond in a similar way, employees can easily maintain them and respond to problems.


2. Rely on Standards-Based Solutions When Possible


One of the most significant ways to simplify a smart building network is through standards. They provide a framework for structured cabling performance and sustained growth, and they evolve as technology and demands evolve.


Use Category and optical class cables—and keep future fit and flexibility requirements in mind as products are selected. Following industry cabling standards ensures that applications of today and tomorrow will run effectively, but some applications may call you to deviate from standards.


It’s possible (sometimes even optimal) to deviate from standards if the environment has specific goals, needs or anticipated outcomes in mind. Consider situations where a surveillance camera needs to be moved closer to a parking lot or a wireless access point needs to be placed in a specific location to ensure wireless access. In these situations, depending on the environment, standards may not always be followed. Cable distances may need to extend beyond the 100 m distance limitation, or more than four mated connections may be used despite the limitations set forth by standards for Category cables, for example.


When and how you deviate from standards will depend on the application, technology, situation and environment. Remember: Standards ensure interoperability and establish minimum performance levels. They don’t take other value judgments (like cost, time, maintainability, etc.) into account.


3. Focus on Business Needs, Not Technologies


Focusing on business needs and not only technology lets the application drive the need. For example, historically, the industry relied on cross-connect (BIX or 110) fields for voice applications. Why? Because, at that time, phones weren’t mobile. They didn’t move off desktops. Although plug-and-play connections were available, they weren’t necessary in these applications. At that time, using an RJ45 connection for an office phone didn’t provide a strong advantage. Today, however, it’s a different story.


This is a good reminder to start with business needs. If modularity isn’t necessary, then why should it be provided? For example, is plug-and-play connectivity needed for today’s access control devices or surveillance cameras? Will these devices need to be connected and disconnected regularly? Probably not. In these cases, perhaps IDC cross-connects are the right answer. Plug-and-play connections are an option, of course, but what value would they provide?


4. Consider People, Process and Impact


Designing a smart building requires collaboration and cooperation at all levels.


Every team member has different experiences, viewpoints, areas of expertise and egos—and they all need to be considered. The team can involve many parties:


  • Contractors (low-voltage communication, electrical, specialty and other contractors)
  • Owners, managers and clients and their respective partners
  • Consultants, integrators, contractors and suppliers
  • Systems integrator(s)
  • Others (legal, risk management, compliance, etc.)


These perspectives don’t invalidate one another. Instead, ICT professionals need to find common ground between parties and focus on desired outcomes.

If traditional ICT infrastructure makes up 1% of a building’s capital budget, it can be considered very small in comparison to the electrical and mechanical aspects of the project, which may be 10 to 20 times larger. But does this mean ICT cabling isn’t important? Not at all. It’s still very important, but it may not be practical, responsible or realistic to expect it to be separated from its core function (i.e., electrical, architectural or mechanical). 

For this reason, ICT professionals must learn how to respect, get along with and partner with other team members to reach a consensus on what makes sense for the customer while respecting those other organizations, capabilities and requirements. Desired outcomes can’t be achieved without collaboration. 


5. Use the Six Vs of Decision Making


Smart building design requires smart decision-making. Success often comes down to managing the six Vs.


  1. Vector: Everyone and everything need to move in the same direction and toward the same source and goal.
  2. Velocity: Everyone and everything need to decide on the pace at which to move together so forward progress is possible.
  3. Variety: Always have an open mind and consider a variety of options to make sure the right product, system or solution is selected.
  4. Veracity: After considering many options, think about practicality as well. Do some solutions appear great on the surface but lose their appeal after more research? There’s no single magic media. For example: Don’t decide upfront that only Category cable, only fiber or only wireless will be used. The media should match the application.
  5. Value: The value to the project and resulting expectations must be clear to everyone from the start.
  6. Volume: Consider how much the project is trying to accomplish from a business perspective to keep goals and priorities in focus.


6. Work Your Way Down


For network topology, start high and work down. A top-down approach starts with business requirements and moves to a network design at the application layer. It then works its way down the seven-layer OSI model, finishing at the physical layer.


Delink network topology from cabling topology and break cabling topology into sections (layer 1 backbone, layer 2 backbone, horizontal and outlet/station/device cabling). Network topology dictates how devices talk to each other. From the device standpoint, the most efficient way for that to happen is for devices to be directly linked.


From a physical ICT infrastructure point of view, this creates a problem when the network topology is mirrored in the real world. Think about a spider web that connects every device directly to its switch. Can it be done? Yes, but it makes a mess, takes too much time and wastes resources (ceiling space, pathways, conduits, rooms, etc.). On the other hand, a structured cabling approach accommodates everything by selectively consolidating and taking a measured, practical approach to achieve the goal of “everything attached to everything.”


The Ideal End-State for a Smart Building


People want to be connected everywhere—no matter what—and the machines we rely on need this connectivity, too. Emerging technologies empower this demand, and strong cabling foundations are required to support them and drive these expected business outcomes.


For each smart building project, an evolutionary path must always be defined. Every project has a different pace, path, approach and responsibility assignments. The road to smart building design is never the same from one organization to the next.


Belden is here to assess your smart building needs and help you find the best technology to address them. Learn more here


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