Can IBM's deal with Uncle Sam boost the smart building market?

As it strives toward President Obama's executive order to cut federal buildings' energy use 30 percent by 2015, the federal government is taking a leading role in installing new energy-efficient and sustainable technologies for commercial buildings.

Earlier this week, the GSA awarded IBM (NYSE: IBM) a contract worth up to $11.5 million to install and develop building-monitoring systems in 50 to 100 of the fed’s highest-energy-consuming buildings.

Those systems -- expected to improve these buildings' energy efficiency -- would connect to a central facility using a cloud-based platform. Tenants will be able to monitor their buildings' real-time energy performance via dashboards, which also will display the systems' energy savings and recommend additional ways to increase efficiency.

If successful, this deal could help boost the market for similar energy-management systems in nongovernmental commercial buildings too. That's because Uncle Sam is single largest real-estate owner -- and the largest consumer of energy -- in the U.S.

"This program connects existing building technologies in new ways to improve building efficiency in over 32 million square feet of real estate,” GSA acting public buildings commissioner Linda Chero said in an announcement Monday. “Awarding this contract benefits taxpayers, as it will reduce maintenance and operating costs of the federal building portfolio -- saving taxpayers an estimated $15 million annually."

According to James Caton, a client solutions executive with IBM's global business services, the first 50 buildings are expected to be connected by late May or early June of 2013.

"With the new system, commercial building managers will get alerts and notifications telling them when something needs fixing," Caton said. "Alerts will be in the form of emails and text messages." As other federal buildings are upgraded or built, they too will be integrated into the system. And yes, technology updates are included.

Dave Bartlett, IBM’s vice president of industry solutions, said in the announcement that we’ve reached a “tipping point” for green building technology. "When you look at buildings holistically, with end-to-end visibility across all systems, you can more clearly see the connections, the interactions, and opportunities for efficiency among the various systems," he said. "Using analytics, we can make better decisions about how to best visualize and optimize these systems. The data exists -- it's a matter of understanding and responding to what the data is telling us, and that's what we're helping GSA to do."

Paul Baier, vice president of sustainability and consulting for Groom Energy and a GreenBiz contributor, doesn't see the IBM contact as a tipping point, but rather an "indicator that real-time monitoring [in commercial buildings] continues to become mainstream," he said. "And [it] offers large organizations which are owner/occupants, like the GSA, opportunities for savings."

GSA’s Linda Chero, meanwhile, believes the federal government’s new smart building system will “prove the feasibility of this technology for the larger industry.”

Photo of Hoover Buildling by Christa DeRidder via Shutterstock.