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Convergence

Convergence could be compared to a freeway cloverleaf seamlessly managing the flow of data from one direction, or source, to another and allowing for myriad combinations. 

John J. "Jack" Mc Gowan, CEM
Energy Control Inc
.
Contributing Editor

as published 

November Issue


The Energy Industry is undergoing continuous and massive change. Just a few of the critical issues are the: ongoing fate of deregulation state by state, rebirth of demand side management, Federal efforts to create energy policy and legislate electrical system reliability and Convergence. Ok …you were with me up until that last one, right? Convergence may be a new term for readers, but it is getting a great deal of attention in selected areas. For example, this month Engineered Systems Magazine is running it's third Editorial supplement in a year devoted to Convergence. This trend grew out of Building Automation, but it addresses all building special systems, including; Fire, Access, Video Surveillance and Information technology (IT), and how they are being integrated with each other and the Internet. So what is it really and why should you care?

Defining Convergence

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Clarifying what Convergence is starts by noting that several terms have been coined in an attempt to describe this trend. These include: "Convergence", Enterprise Energy Management and the title of my AEE Online Seminar "Real-time System Integration". Convergence is the logical extension of building automation, which has grown from Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning (HVAC) control to Direct Digital Control (DDC). Convergence is the process of integrating DDC and other special systems to enhance facility management. The next step for DDC was Internet access, but Convergence is more. Convergence is simply defined as facilities, HVAC and process automation using integrated systems that migrate to the enterprise level via campus networks, such as Ethernet, and thus may be integrated with IT and the Internet. This converts a control system into a management information system. Convergence could be compared to a freeway cloverleaf seamlessly managing the flow of data from one direction, or source, to another and allowing for myriad combinations. The Automation business has been evolving toward Convergence for more than two decades, aided by the standardization of data communication and the desire for interoperable systems. Integrators can combine legacy DDC systems together, or with new standard-based systems, for interface via a single front end and sometimes to provide limited control integration. DDC data communication standards like BACnet™ and LON™ were the precursor to and enabled Convergence, yet it is possible that TCP/IP could be the ultimate data standard for the energy industry. "Web Appliances" for HVAC control are already available that speak "native" TCP/IP, and there are also Web-based technologies that integrate information from internal hardwired points, wireless networks and Internet sources. Ultimately the result is an Energy Information and Control system that introduces new types of data, and the opportunity for real-time sequences, providing an unparalleled management tool.

Defining ConvergenceConvergence and the Energy Industry

So there is a lot of buzz about Convergence but is it important? A growing number of buildings industry professions representing every perspective from user to manufacturer and from utility to Energy Service Company believe it is. For example, my November Engineered systems article takes the position that 75% of today's "control contractors" will cease to exist, or dramatically change their business model, over the next decade. If this is true, owners must ask … how will buying and managing building systems change due to convergence? For vendors, the most compelling reason to embrace Convergence is competitive advantage; ultimately it is about improving the business process, which creates value for customers and profitability for shareholders. Convergence is driving the developments that will define "best practices" in Facility Management for the next decade. Buyers will strongly consider doing business with companies that demonstrate best practices, but they also want their vendors to be around for long-term service and support. This means suppliers must develop business models that position them to be viable now and in the future. Decision makers are faced with many challenges regarding what companies to align themselves with. The old bid and spec construction business model is hopelessly flawed and more owners are exploring negotiated design / build type approaches. This model fits Convergence because System Integrators can deliver fully functioning packages that control equipment and deliver the real-time data that is critical to effective building management. This eliminates the traditional finger pointing between independent vendors. Clearly this approach has risk because of reliance on a single provider. Yet, risk can be controlled if the owner completes due diligence in vendor selection, directly participates in design and build phases and explores performance guarantees and other mechanisms to ensure long term service.

Reliable Controls Best practices and the value of real-time information are equally important reasons to pursue Convergence. There is a ground swell of enthusiasm in the IT world for real-time enterprises because, quite simply, businesses that are slow and inattentive die. Using the power of Convergence to create management tools to optimize efficiency and cost effectiveness offers a tremendous opportunity. Competitive advantage does not only apply to vendors though, it also applies to customers. Energy Customers are competing with other companies that offer similar products and services, and tools that help enhance their balance sheets will get managements attention. This applies in both public and private sector. The economy is on a positive upswing, and those organizations that are positioning to be in the economic recovery vanguard understand that investing in these tools now makes sense, especially if they can pay for themselves with savings. Besides this column, there several places to explore Convergence further, such as: www.automatedbuildings.com, and the free automation sessions offered each year at the AHR show, see http://www.automatedbuildings.com/news/articles/ksin/ksin.htm for more on the 2004 sessions. Another growing force in the industry heading into its second year is the Builconn show www.builconn.com  with dominant themes of Convergence, Integration, the Internet and much more. No matter the source, readers are encouraged to track developments in the world of Convergence. Without question Integrators and astute owners will leverage convergence to optimize facility management and raise their importance within the overall management of their businesses. Managers that use this trend to create and deliver real-time information to top management will demonstrate unquestioned value to their organizations and benefit as a result. 

________________________________________________________________________

Mc Gowan is President of Energy Control Inc., an Energy Service Company and System Integrator. He is an author and has published 5 books including "Direct Digital Control" on Fairmont Press. The Association of Energy Engineers named him 1997 "International Energy Professional of the Year. Mc Gowan sits on the Energy User News Technical Advisory Board and is a Contributing Editor with www.automatedbuildings.com. Mc Gowan was admitted to the AEE International Energy Manager's Hall of Fame in 2003.


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