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Advanced BAS/EMS Operations Still Need Staff Oversight

By Rita Tatum - October 2011 - Energy Efficiency


To use advanced software optimally can be a challenge for traditional building operators. In response, Knight is encountering more customers who are adding in-house systems integration capabilities. Some companies use their corporate IT department for systems integration. Others have the systems integrator as part of the property management team. Another option is to have that capability from the energy manager.

"The honest truth about all this powerful software," says Knight, "is that it still can't do the thinking for us. Somebody needs to write and tweak the fault diagnostic algorithms, model new energy management scenarios in the analytics software, refresh the content on the LEED kiosk, modify the management dashboard when the CIO wants a new metric."

But those facility managers who can do that can achieve significant savings. According to Sinopoli's admittedly conservative estimate, predictive software tools can yield 8 to 12 percent savings in HVAC operations alone.

Althoff believes the current energy picture will continue to encourage BAS/EMS retrofits. "Tenants are into green improvements," says Althoff. "So if you are going to be competitive in the marketplace, you need solid BAS/EMS to attract clients and to keep operating costs as low as you possibly can."

Learning Curve

In the past, facility managers often have had operating staff who knew their buildings' every heartbeat. However, these seasoned facility engineers are now retiring. Their replacements cut their teeth on computer mice and keyboards.

"Good facility engineers who know whether a unit is working properly or not are in short supply," says Sinopoli. "People entering facilities management don't have that real-world experience. And there's more technology in today's buildings. BAS/EMS today needs more analytics software tools to support the new generation of facility engineers."

Those tools are often designed to make it easy to learn to use them. "The prevalence of easy-to-use Web-based interfaces, email alarm notifications, pre-made report forms and basic fault diagnostics can enable the typical overworked building manager to do more with less," says Knight. "That building manager no longer needs weeks of specialized off-site software training, or a degree in mechanical engineering, to keep a building running comfortably and efficiently."

The technological advances in BAS/EMS are not just for big companies. Smaller building operators also can tap this newer technology. Like elsewhere in the information technology arena, "yesterday's bleeding edge feature is today's standard offering," says Knight.

A Long Way

Not that many years ago, marketing for building automation systems and energy management systems (BAS/EMS) focused on which interoperable protocols was being used. That debate seems to have ended. Major manufacturers today offer open protocol products as standard, with proprietary systems targeted at supporting legacy systems.

"Flexible middleware appliances and software platforms are equally adept at all common protocols," says Knight. "The focus shifted rapidly from 'Which one will win?' to 'What's the best fit for this application?' and 'Which contractor do I prefer for this project?'"

Sinopoli sees more software that creates standardized databases so the BAS/EMS merges into an enterprise-wide network. "Smaller to medium size companies, often regional control companies, are creating this software, which goes way beyond traditional EMS," he says.

What's more, "islands" of facility data are now being connected. "We are quite pleased to see some very innovative software coming to market that bridges the gap between BIM, CMMS, asset management, document management and BAS," he says. "This is a real killer app and it certainly isn't anywhere near the mainstream yet. But we think this is what the future of building operations will look like."

Knight enjoys imagining how the silos of data from such diverse software applications would interoperate.

"We think these systems will have a transformative effect on the entire life-cycle of managing a building," he says.

Rita Tatum, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, has more than 30 years of experience covering facility design and technology.





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