Better together

BMS, BEMS, controls, Trend Control Systems, network
The benefits of collaboration ‘ Graham Lewry.

Why should you want to isolate the BEMS from the rest of a corporate IT network? Graham Lewry of Trend Control Systems, explains why closer collaboration and understanding between IT and FM departments can lead to a better building energy management system.

When IT and FM departments are faced with the task of integrating a BEMS over a corporate IT network infrastructure, the phrase ‘fear is the enemy of progress’ immediately springs to mind. The standoff between these two vital elements of a building’s operation continues to cause issues, yet they could be so easily addressed with better communication, collaboration and understanding.

In the early days of BEMS implementation, the BEMS would be configured over its own dedicated network.

This situation began to change around 15 years ago, when the BEMS started to utilise the IT-based local area network (LAN), thanks to the introduction of the client/server operator interfaces utilising web-browsing technology via Windows based software that ran on a standard PC. It was an obvious step to make this supervisory software part of the IT system and to allow it to become the BEMS’ communications backbone.

What makes sense on paper doesn’t always translate in reality though, and for a significant number of IT managers the thought of FMs intruding on their ‘property’ led to resistance, fear and hostility.

Likewise, FMs often felt reluctant to talk to their IT colleagues for fear of a negative response and obstacles being put it their way.

In instances where the two departments did have to work together, progress was often hindered through an inability to communicate effectively and take the time to fully understand each other’s technological concerns.

Fast forward to 2014, and although there is an acceptance by some IT departments of the BEMS’ need to be on the IT network, it is usually a grudging one. Instead of sitting around a table with a view to working towards a common objective in a positive manner, projects are still often carried out in a disjointed fashion.

It's not always the fault of the IT department though; FMs and BEMS integrators sometimes fail to understand the IT department’s legitimate concerns, such as security, access and accountability should anything go wrong. These are important factors, and it is equally incumbent upon the FM department to consider how the BEMS can operate while maintaining the integrity of the network.

In our increasingly connected world, the computer room or data centre is the lifeblood of an organisation, and ensuring that temperature and climate conditions comply with manufacturers’ recommendations usually falls under the auspices of the BEMS. This can mean that FM has to take control of this element of the IT infrastructure — something that also requires communication and collaboration between the two parties.

Although there is an acceptance by some IT departments of the BEMS’ need to be on the IT network, it is usually a grudging one

The fact is that when all the politicking is taken away, integration of a BEMS into an IT network has several clear advantages, many of which will be recognised by the finance director. For a start, obviating the need for two separate network infrastructures reduces both capital and operational expenditure. It also makes the entire network more secure, thereby lowering risk and the possibility of a malicious attack on the system.

It can also help to bring information to a building’s occupants by, for example, providing a continually updated record of energy consumption and carbon emissions — showing at a glance whether they are on, below or above performance targets. This not only educates people about their energy usage but also encourages more energy-conscious behaviour and acts as a driver for continual improvement.

All the heel dragging and reluctance to co-operate with each other is not going to alter the need for the BEMS to operate over the IT network. Therefore, the real issue concerns just how IT and FM personnel can start to talk the same language.

A constructive attitude will reveal the advantages of working together and, ultimately, save a great deal of time, trouble and effort.

When it comes to the operation and use of the BEMS, there will obviously be a certain degree of crossover between the two disciplines, but this is far from an insurmountable problem. It simply requires discussion and agreement about defined roles and responsibilities — for example, where does FM’s responsibility stop and IT’s responsibility start — and a commitment from all parties to stick to them.

Equally, when it comes to installing a new BEMS, it is also worth involving the IT team at the earliest possible stage to address any issues and ensure ‘buy-in’.

Once a productive working relationship is established it can soon be integrated into day-to-day operations.

Every organisation is different, so while there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, willingness, collaboration, flexibility and positivity will all play vital roles in ensuring that a BEMS functions effectively over an IT network and that everyone benefits.

The bottom line is that IT and FM should be friends, not foes.

Graham Lewry is product manager with Trend Control Systems.

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