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BAS Integration: The Facility Manager's Role
Imagine this: Energy prices continue climbing and your budget — so carefully projected for the year’s energy costs — is nearly depleted. Occupants are starting to complain that their work areas are too hot or too cold. Managing work orders is taking far too much time. Building systems don’t seem to be working together as well as they once did.
For experienced facility executives, symptoms like those suggest it may be time to examine the way building systems are — or aren’t — integrated. An integrated system can make a facility department far more productive, improve comfort and help reduce energy costs. But integration is a complex process that demands the active involvement of the facility executive.
Big or small, every systems integration project involves software or hardware interconnections for some economic benefit, says Terry Reynolds, partner and vice president of business development for Control Technologies Inc. The integration might involve one or multiple building subsystems, such as HVAC, lighting, access control and fire safety. It may include Web services for remote monitoring of functions across multiple buildings or a systemwide network for process control operations. Maybe the integration is to eliminate repetitive paperwork and maximize productivity across the enterprise.
The best person to decide how much systems integration is necessary is the one who knows the building and the corporation inside and out. In other words, you. You should be actively involved in any building systems integration team from the earliest conceptual stages through commissioning. After all, when the building is not performing seamlessly, you are the person who gets the complaints.
What if you don’t know exactly what you want to achieve through systems integration? Jay Pitcher, technology group manager for Althoff Industries Inc., says that you are not the only facility executive in that predicament when a project begins. “Very seldom do facility executives know exactly what they want to get out of integration,” he says.
Another question to consider: Do you know what you can afford? “It used to be that the hardware and installation was the expensive element, but now the software is the most expensive,” Pitcher says.
Jack McGowan, president and CEO of Energy Control Inc., suggests facility executives begin by answering a series of questions: What are your needs? Is this a new building, or a retrofit of a building automation system in an existing building? What are you trying to accomplish with this systems integration? Do you want to improve safety, security or worker productivity?
Given an unlimited budget, just about any building system today can be integrated to work with a disparate system. An integrated system can tie together lighting, HVAC, access control, tenant billing and enterprise functions. Provided the checkbook has no strings, even the coffee machine’s microprocessor can be integrated into a Web-services-linked building automation system. But the real question is, which functions are worth the cost? That is the question each facility executive is confronted with, because achieving open integration still requires layers of programming.
In a university or medical center campus environment, where structures are regularly being built, expanded or renovated, investing in integrated building systems is nearly essential. “For locations with construction in different phases and buildings with differing building automation system technology, integration to achieve some level of interoperability can save money and create an environment conducive to what is being done there,” says McGowan. “Interoperability can create opportunities to make those buildings easier to maintain.”
Though much has been said about open protocols in HVAC, lighting and other building subsystems, the truth is that many controls remain proprietary. “The IT world talks about convergence and integration,” says Pitcher. “But the computer world is not the HVAC world.”
For companies with building portfolios scattered across an area, a country or multiple continents, high-end systems integration of buildings also makes economic sense. “Systems integration can do a lot of things, but the facility executive has to assess what value to put on the price tag,” says Pitcher. “Do you need a systems integration that will allow you to pull out all the energy data? Are you operating a centralized 911 center? Do you need to open up your system so that you can buy your VAV controllers from better vendors?” These issues determine what level of systems integration to specify.
One limitation Reynolds sees in systems integration is over-complication. “Each software program assumes certain things,” he says. “But no one wants the people in the building having to flip around their working patterns simply to comply with software limitations.” In such cases, Reynolds says, the integration may do more harm than good.
“If you get the right expert, you won’t get a puffed up solution,” says Reynolds. “Frequently, they will provide advice and realistic costs gratis or for reduced fees.” Independent systems integrators want to build a long-term relationship.
BAS Integration: The Facility Manager's Role