Three Steps to (BMS) Heaven


Graeme Rees, Vice President of the Building Controls Industry Association, gives a step-by-step guide on how building operators can select and manage their building management systems.

I imagine most reading this article will be too young to remember Eddie Cochran’s 1960 hit Three Steps to Heaven, and many too young to recall Showaddywaddy’s cover version in 1975. Yet despite being 61 and 46 years old respectively both are available to listen to now - this very instant on pretty much any mobile device thanks to digital technology and the cloud-based music streaming services. Something I am sure Eddie Cochran’s family and Dave Bartram alike could never have imagined possible when reflecting on their respective chart successes all those years ago.

A mildly interesting reminiscence but what does this have to do with building management systems (BMS)? Well, the shift from analogue to digital technology and cloud- based services has also happened in building controls and continues apace, but it is actually the theme of three steps that Eddie and Dave steered young men through in their lyrics that I wish to steal to guide building owners and operators through selecting and managing their building systems.

Step 1. “You find a “system” to…”

Ok, a system to love might be too much, but the initial choice of system is crucial, whether this be for a new building or a replacement of an ageing installation.

Clients should first understand not only their present needs but also the needs they anticipate and plan for in the future and be sure systems that are being considered can meet these needs with features and flexibility that can support them going forward. BMSs now incorporate far more than the control of heating, cooling and ventilation plant. Often occupancy systems, people density, room booking, air quality management and a raft of lighting controls are now incorporated as well as an array of analytical packages which ought to be considered.

By comparison, would a vinyl turntable be required or even a CD player? I think it is doubtful either are needed today and nostalgia aside I cannot see any future purpose for these and I wouldn’t buy one just because I had records and CDs on the shelf. Similarly, we must consider the use, application needs, and operation of our buildings going forward and not simply do what we have always done. 

To ensure the right choice is made there are some primary factors to include when shortlisting candidates. An open protocol system from a supplier who has an open route to market - this is essential to ensure not only choice of system but also a competitive choice of supply and will help to prevent any potential of later tie in to expensive spare parts and post occupancy servicing. 

The open protocol ensures flexibility and simplifies options to integrate with other building systems in a simple and cost- effective manner. The combination of these two open themes greatly supports the future proofing of the system and protects the customer’s investment.

Another essential consideration is security, with the majority of systems now benefiting from the speed and range of connectivity options that IT systems provide, it is essential that our building control systems are designed, installed and indeed operated and maintained with strong security in mind. My music collection may have once been stored safely at home on shelves and in cupboards but now it is entirely online. I want to be sure those accounts are safe and accessible only to one those people I want to share it with.

To recap, we understand our current and future needs, we select an open system from a supplier with an open route to market and we ensure a cyber secure installation and operation and maintenance routine… what’s next?

Step 2 “… Blossoming relationship…”

Graeme Rees
Graeme Rees

The song lyric talks of the couple’s blossoming relationship and having made the right choice of BMS and provider so too can our building owners and occupiers begin to enjoy the benefits of a well- controlled space.

But as we know all relationships require a little work and there are a few very simple things that can be done to ensure everything works as efficiently and effectively as it can. Keeping check on setpoints and time scheduling, being sure any temporary overrides put in place are returned to normal operation and that all sensing devices are kept clean and away from any erroneous influences that may alter readings will pretty much ensure as designed operation. Calling on the services of the professional BMS company to provide any software and security updates to system software, providing software backups and exercising of the slightly more advanced technical system elements and any modifications requests will keep a system running smoothly and cost effectively when conducted on a regular basis.

“.. And as life carries on… and things do go wrong”… sings the song, and sadly things also go wrong in our buildings too despite everyone’s best efforts. But today, with building control systems managing hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of data points. The analysis of this data can provide a rich source of information to help direct and indeed predict maintenance activity to catch and prevent things before they go wrong.

Analytical software is available that uses the mass of data from our building systems to identify how effectively the systems are operating, where there may be inefficiencies, areas where comfort levels are not what they could/should be and also identify issues that are normally hidden even to the trained eye; cooling systems working unnecessarily for example; to compensate for heating systems left overridden on or valves not properly closing off. They are even able to identify trends and predict when maintenance or replacement parts might be needed. It can also provide insight on the operating health of the BMS itself.

Step 3. “… hold on tightly...”

Because the future is here now, the good choices and behaviours made and followed; what is possible with existing digital technology is quite incredible - a change at least of vinyl record to streaming service scale. The equivalent change with our building systems is here today with the integration to workplace management software systems (IWMS).

A typical scenario could be that the building management system identifies an issue with the cooling in a meeting room which effectively puts the room out of use. Integrating with IWMS would enable the maintenance contractors to be automatically made aware of the issue and the spare parts required to facilitate a fix. It would previously check that the maintenance contractors are approved to do the work on the site and have the appropriate skills to work on that specific system and also validate that there are no other issues preventing an automatic work order to be issued to them.

It would also inform users who are booked to use that space that the room was no longer available and automatically move their reservation to another space, date or time and also trigger the occupancy and control of the new space through the integration with the building control system

Upon completion of the work, it would not only return all systems to normal operation and reinstate room bookings, it can also take care of work reports, even invoicing and departmental billing.

This might sound like science fiction, but it is quite possible today and makes for a truly smart building and “….Yeah, that sure seems like (BMS) heaven to me”.

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