BCIA, BCIA Awards, Controls, Econowise, Jon Belfield

Jon Belfield, President of the Building Controls Industry Association, discusses the importance of end-user engagement in creating the ideal work environment.

“The customer is always right.” This is a statement that will no doubt divide opinion in terms of always being “right”, but when applied to buildings, the fundamental start point must be that the “customer” should be the focus of our attention when we set out to design a comfortable and energy efficient space in which to work.

Whether it is an urban myth or not, it is likely that you will have heard stories from the past about adjustable thermostats being installed but not wired to anything. They just served to provide a “feeling of having some control”. It is possible that there is some psychological benefit from believing that a change has been made but likely that any placebo effect is short lived.

 These stories hailed from an era when the divide between end users and building services engineers had never been wider and, on occasion, building occupants were actually seen as the problem in buildings where environmental conditions fell short! With the continuing advancements in integrated control systems that are now available, we have moved to an era where the people who actually use a building are the focus for designing and engineering the controls systems within these buildings.

 Controls have now come out of basement and rooftop plantrooms into spaces actually occupied by people. As this shift towards focusing on wellbeing and efficiency continues we can significantly improve the effective control of a building with professionally designed systems for all stakeholders. With the growing shared ownership of being responsible with energy usage, we can have an impact on user behaviour and give occupants more influence over how they use the space so they can become part of increasing the efficient control of their environment.

 “Individual performance variations” is likely to be a principle we are all familiar with and, without wishing to draw on any stereotypes, let us take a family car that might also be suitable as a company car. The exact same car is owned by two different people, who also both travel 18,000 miles per year. So with the same specification, the same designed fuel efficiency and the same distance covered why might one car use significantly more fuel than the other? It comes down to individual behaviour and is an exciting opportunity for our industry as we engage more proactively with the people who occupy the spaces we control. By doing so we can give them the opportunity to improve the efficiency of the space they occupy and reap rewards for all building stakeholders. For example, increased comfort and motivation (leading to improved productivity?) for occupants as well as improving energy efficiency for the FM team.

 A recent white paper by Planon, the global software provider, identified 10 trends that will shape property and facilities management by 2022. The 10 trends will be familiar to many of you, including: “Increased legislation”; “Far-reaching integration”; “Innovations from the market” and of course, “Getting your money’s worth”.

However, with reference to the “end user satisfaction”, three trends stood out in particular:

  •  Diversity in work, culture and generations: personalise the workplace and corresponding service provision.
  • Well-being and security: retain employees by creating an attractive work environment.
  • Productivity and continuity: facilitate the core activities and innovation.

 These three trends very much go hand-in-hand to create “perfect” work spaces for the 21st century that cater for varying occupants’ needs. With increasing diversity in a work environment comes the challenge of catering to everyone’s comfort.

 A diverse work force will require different noise levels, temperature, light, and in some cases, working hours. Likewise, wellbeing and security are becoming increasingly important in the workplace. At the high end of the scale, some organisations can offer staff sports facilities, catering and transport free of charge. While not all organisations will be able to provide perks like this, the onus is on the employer to offer high quality environments and services to their staff, and best opportunities for physical and mental health as possible. Finally, any downtime in a company’s production could prove extremely costly if it results in the organisation falling behind a competitor. Business continuity is therefore imperative. A Building Energy Management System that monitors a building’s plant and identifies underperforming areas is advantageous if it helps keep power and plant outages to an absolute minimum.

  The BCIA Awards evening in May showcased an impressive range of products, projects, companies and individuals that typify the innovation and passion that thrives throughout our sector, and many demonstrated superbly the importance of good client/contractor interaction to create the ideal working environment.

 The winner of Technical Innovation of the Year – (Projects), Econowise Drives and Controls, for example, was approached by a blue-chip company that had received complaints from tenants about temperature and needed a suitable solution that would not only meet but exceed expectations.

Econowise put forward its Bubll app, which was initially trialled on the sixth floor of the building, and supplied a seven-inch tablet to the tenant. Following a successful trial period Econowise installed a series of Wi-Fi access points enabling site-wide connectivity and configured the remaining five floors with Bubll. The solution provides tenant interactivity through a fully featured wireless connected environment that can notify the site engineer of any anomalies in floor temperatures. Data can now be collected and reviewed to ensure that the property management company’s exact requirements are being met on a daily basis.

 Technology will continue to play a crucial role in providing a flexible, comfortable and user-friendly work environment. If a BEMS is tailored as closely as possible to the requirements of the people benefiting from it, companies will give themselves the best chance of enjoying a workforce at its most productive, which means a happy boss, and subsequently, a happy building owner.

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