Use it or lose it: making BEMS accessible for all
To work effectively, the modern building energy management system (BEMS) should be straightforward to use and accessible for every potential user. Ian Ellis of Siemens Building Technologies discusses past issues with ‘usability’ and positive changes that are being made.
The advantages of running a BEMS have been well documented, but the technology isn’t flawless, and gripes among users are not uncommon. Traditionally, the biggest single issue has been centred around ease of use — or lack thereof.
It may be a tough pill to swallow for the controls industry, but many BEMSs are simply not being used in the way they were intended because the user is unable to get to grips with the system.
Operating costs account for around 80% of total building costs, so to tackle this expenditure and get energy usage under control it is absolutely imperative that organisations make proper use of their BEMS.
Any BEMS worth its salt should be designed to make life easier for all users of the system. BEMSs have historically been designed by engineers for engineers and herein lies the problem — not everyone has fully trained engineers looking after the building 24/7.
It is not unusual for employees with little or no training to be placed in charge of the BEMS, which almost inevitably leads to incorrect operation and energy prices that are far higher than they should be. Nowhere else in the business would someone be left in charge of a system that can generate thousands of pounds’ worth of expenditure without first being provided with the requisite knowledge and understanding.
Thankfully, this is all changing. The next generation of BEMSs are all about intuitive use and making sure that every user can feel comfortable and at home with the system from the very start.
For example, the Desigo BEMS from Siemens Building Technologies will allow facilities managers, building managers and, even, security guards to log in and access the tailored information they need — presenting them with the equipment they are familiar with and helping them relate the physical building to the one they are viewing on the screen.
This intuitive set-up will ensure that the user is given proper support when a fault occurs or an alarm sounds, with the BEMS telling the operator what to do and guiding them through the correct response procedure. By offering step-by-step instructions, the chances of a user simply switching off an alarm and believing the problem is solved are significantly reduced.
BSRIA is predicting that the global BEMS market will almost double to around $6.8 billion by the year 2020, suggesting that more and more people will be coming into contact with some sort of building-management system during their working lives. Having the right interface and controls in place from the very start will ensure that the operational benefits are not lost and energy-efficiency targets are met.
Modern buildings are often designed to be flexible so that alterations can be made as and when they are needed and with minimal disruption to operations. A flexible BEMS solution will help facilitate a seamless transition when making changes to the structure of the building.
Having a system with open architecture and incorporating BACnet allows for simple reconfigurations and changes and gives the user complete control of the building equipment and systems. This open platform can support a range of communication standards, allowing data to flow both to and from other IT based systems
The latest solutions now contain functions such as drag and drop capability, which makes it simple to add new equipment or drop CAD drawings into the system. In addition, a built-in library of high-quality images can make the work of the installer a lot easier.
Some systems also allow the user to analyse system data from different zones in one go — offering them the opportunity to drill down to a specific component in order to identify potential failures and reduce errors in the system. Advanced analytical tools can even help to identify and address potential issues before they become serious problems.
The more-powerful BEMS solutions feature a wide range of standard reports whilst also enabling the creation of customised versions that can be enhanced with charts, graphs and images. Reports can be generated based on a pre-set event trigger or schedule.
To ensure that a BEMS delivers the efficiencies expected of it, ease of use must be a primary consideration. On numerous occasions, overly complex controls have taken the brunt of the blame when the system is shown to be underperforming — something that is finally being addressed by a generation of BEMSs designed to put the user at the heart of the system.
It doesn’t matter how advanced the technology is if the human element is ignored. Make sure your BEMS puts the people first.
Ian Ellis is marketing manager at Siemens Building Technologies.