It's one step closer to the merger of building systems and IT systems. But it could be scary for start-ups and others promoting building management software.

IBM and Johnson Controls are going to work together on smart building technologies. IBM, of course, is an expert on networking, hardware, computer simulations and all things IT. Johnson Controls, meanwhile, remains one of the largest names in building management. To date, however, building management networks and IT networks have been separate and managed by separate divisions within companies. Technology, along with the need to cut energy costs, is prompting large companies to seek out ways to merge the two networks so that air conditioners and lights can be more easily and dynamically controlled. An IT-aware building management system, for instance, could contain hooks into weather forecasts: if a heat wave was expected, the building could be pre-cooled in anticipation.

Corporate managers could also more easily cross-check power consumption data across different departments or functions. Potentially, making building management systems more IT-like will also cut their costs. The alliance is an outgrowth of an earlier alliance between the two on energy-efficient data centers.

In fact, you could argue it's good news all around -- except for where companies such as Adura Technologies, BuildingIQ, Lumenergi and others who have created systems for controlling power consumption in commercial real estate are concerned. It's not a death knell; only around one percent of lights in commercial buildings in California are networked. Building operations consume 39 percent of the energy in America and 76 percent of the total electricity, so the market opportunity is huge.

IBM also isn't known for offering bargain-basement prices for its technology or consulting services. Both IBM and Johnson will also likely enlist start-ups to help on various projects. (The three companies listed above, for instance, have all said they don't want to replace traditional building management systems. Far from it: they want to ride on top of applications from Johnson and Honeywell. Intel also wants to get into building automation and has a long history of seeking partners.)

Still, having two trusted names like IBM and Johnson band together will likely force everyone else to re-examine their own status in the market.