by Tracey Caldwell

CIO’s role in delivering green buildings

Dec 16, 200810 mins

Not so long ago green IT was hot property. CIOs who had introduced energy-guzzling hardware were keen to get the kudos for reducing electricity bills by switching the hardware off again and replacing it with something more efficient.

Now sentiment is changing: analyst firm Forrester Research has gone as far as to issue a report asking, ‘Is Green IT Your Emperor With No Clothes?’ and Gartner has voiced concerns about “greenwash”. The CIO’s contribution to greening the IT estate has become a given and CIOs ahead of the curve are looking beyond green IT and towards leveraging the IT infrastructure to control the building environment, from heating to air-conditioning and ventilation through CCTV and access control.

Rakesh Kumar, Gartner research vice president, says, “A small but select group of CIOs, probably about less than five per cent of the clients that we deal with, realise that their responsibility lies in being able to green the entire business.

“We are at the start of that curve as the CIO becomes the technology arbiter and gatekeeper of appropriate and relevant tools to be used in the rest of the business because there is no one else able to evaluate them in the same way.”

Kumar believes it is critical that CIOs start looking at this now. “If part of the organisation starts bringing in tools that may not be compatible with tools in other parts of the company, we start down that horrible minefield of integration,” he says.

“It is a little bit like the Wild West with people coming out with point technologies. Then we have the added complexity that the marketing is slightly [away] from the reality of the products.”

At BT, CIO Al-Noor Ramji says, “In tough economic times intelligent building management can play a key role in delivering whilst reducing costs. Green IT should to my mind have become business-as-usual for any CIO.”

Efficiency through IP

There has been a step change in the past few years where building management systems have moved beyond managing peripherals to elements central to the building such as heating and lighting. There are now a number of very good reasons why CIOs should be looking towards converging the IT infrastructure with a building management system (BMS), particularly when using IP networks which allow a BMS to hang off the network. There are huge operating efficiencies, the building works more efficiently and people can gain better control of their environment.

But there is a set of resisting forces extending the timescale for adoption. Many building suppliers are opposed to IP-based BMS as they perceive it as new and risky. Also, the organisational structure in the enterprise arena is very often siloed into facilities management and IT.

“There are some very cosy relationships between those facilities managers and their major suppliers so there is a cultural gap that has to be overcome; there is also a power battle that we are beginning to see,” says Kumar.

As BMS become IT infrastructure-based, the CIO role is evolving to encompass them. This is happening already in the property sector. Andrew Thomson, operations director at property firm Hammersons, says, “I was the CIO here and my role broadened to become operations director with the two areas being brought together because we see a lot of synergy.”

CIO responsibility for BMS is long overdue in Thomson’s opinion. He points to benefits above and beyond the green agenda, giving the CIO an opportunity to take control of software and hardware in the building that has been outside of the IT infrastructure.

“Building management technology has become increasingly complex and is using computers and software that hasn’t been properly managed, backed up, maintained — all back-end disciplines that IT has. I would argue that this is somewhere that the rigours and disciplines of IT have brought as much to play as operational efficiencies. For example, access control software has been linked to a single PC which, if removed, all the doors would open. This has been done by software yet the way the software has been managed and upgraded has been pretty woeful.”

In Thomson’s experience, building contractors avoid IT and like to buy in discrete packages so, for example, they get their CCTV from one supplier and access control system from another. They have resisted IP networked systems as this doesn’t fit this traditional procurement model: “It has taken clients’ strategic intent to make this a condition of the project,” he says.

Redstone Converged Solutions works with banks and law firms using IT to support environmental management. Peter Williams, senior consultant, says, “We recently provided solutions to two large shopping centres and if it wasn’t for their owners saying they wanted it all to be IP-based, it wouldn’t be; there was a significant push back from the construction company who didn’t think that was the way to go.”

Energy directives

Legislation demanding that buildings are energy-efficient will concentrate minds on the need for centralised BMS. The EC Energy Performance Buildings Directive has been factored into UK building regulations, mainly under Part L, from October. Businesses making any changes to buildings or leasing a new building have to have an energy certificate for the building. Companies will see the impact of poorly performing buildings on their balance sheet because the value of that building will decrease. From January there will be regulations covering air-conditioning efficiency too.

Building contractors are waking up to the need for integrated buildings systems and there may be a small window of opportunity for CIOs to take control of the green buildings agenda. Giuliano Digilio, head of technical services at the Electrical Contractors’ Association, says electrical contractors have seen an increase in requests and demand for more complex systems. “More members are becoming aware of technology and are asking for information, guidance and details as to where they can be trained to deal with the IT interface,” he says.

Implementing all the disparate aspects of a building environment management on a single IP network is an effective first step to cost savings. However, once systems are on a single network the real opportunities for interactive systems and accompanying efficiencies arise. Building services company NG Bailey launched its flagship green building in September to show off the potential. Heating systems talk to air-conditioning systems and windows open and close automatically to adjust to temperature. If a light bulb fails, it is flagged up remotely. Even the vending machines are all on the IP network so if they’re running low, they can be replenished quickly.

Rajesh Sinha, technical director of NG Bailey’s ICT arm Bailey Teswaine, says, “One of the reasons why this is a slow moving area overall is because facilities managers have set ways of doing things and property directors haven’t traditionally had to deal with these types of issues when looking at their buildings. One of the key benefits the CIO has right now is they’re used to change and a very short cycle of innovation.

“CIOs should be going to the boards of their companies and presenting proposals which say [this is] what are we doing with our property at the moment, here are some tangible things that we could do from an IT perspective by working with facilities management companies that we’re using and by working with our property directors to completely transform the way we’re using energy within our buildings.”

Most CIOs do not have the benefit of a flagship newbuild to work with. John Lewis Partnership is perhaps more typical of progress towards converged buildings and IT systems, where the two do not yet overlap.

Gary Hird, technical strategy manager, says that may change in the future. “We are looking at upgrading some of the systems but we are some way off an intelligent buildings management system on the infrastructure. It is an area we are interested in staying in touch with as it becomes more possible,” he says.

“We do talk to buildings management a lot, though for many companies IT and FM are chalk and cheese.

Cost is definitely coming into it but we do see it happening — we are working on projects that look promising. The granularity of the energy monitoring we can go down to is not what we would like. We would love to be able to measure down to each floor then employees could compete against each other to save energy.”

Large IT and networking suppliers such as IBM and Cisco are forging relationships with BMS suppliers and Hird agrees this is providing a helpful way in to negotiate a complex supplier landscape. “There are so many suppliers that we are looking at relationships through traditional IT vendors. It is a matter of knowing what is out there and what is possible. In the next 12 months we will be taking steps towards it. We are doing a lot of evaluation as to what is practical and what is effective.”

Gartner’s Kumar recommends that if they do nothing else CIOs should start to provide guidelines for BMS procurement to future proof the systems as far as possible. “BMS providers have their own protocols that are not always IP-based so CIOs could say products have to be IP-based and have to send information in an SNMP format,” he says. “A lot of BMS suppliers are converting their old protocols into more of the IP-based protocols [and] by setting that policy they are making sure that what they have is ‘integratable’ even if it isn’t integrated at the moment.”

Conversion attempts

Until recently it had been accepted wisdom that retrofitting integrated building systems was expensive and the business case hard to prove. It remains the case that it is a key consideration when an organisation is designing a newbuild or replacing its cabling solution. The best efficiencies come at an early stage — converged systems should go in with the drains — but there are converters for older BMS solutions that convert them into IP, and retrofitting a converged BMS into an existing building has become feasible.

Flagship BMS projects have tended to be in large newbuild shopping centres and sports stadia but, according to Hammersons’ Thomson, the biggest savings are those to be had in office buildings. “The problem is that many of them are multi-let. Where it does really stack up is single occupancy where people take the whole building or the whole campus. I would say it depends on the nature of the organisation. If you are a multi-site operation connected by a wide area network with a pervasive IT infrastructure, don’t be scared of the technology. It is not that difficult and enough people have done it. It is not bleeding edge — you can see it working. The reason why offices are lagging behind is that the person who can drive it is the CIO and very few CIOs understand this.”

Just as IT came to encompass data-centres and networking, it would seem to be a natural evolution to take on building management systems, reaching out beyond the IT department to drive wider efficiencies and green benefits

Indeed, as more CIOs strive to become chief operating officers, the social responsibility agenda could become their proving ground. Just as CIOs are increasingly assuming responsibility for datacentres from facilities management departments in order to improve energy efficiency and protect against over-heating, the ability to look across business departments and have familiarity with the capabilities of new technologies could prove a valuable asset that extends well beyond the traditional confines of the IT department.