How to improve the building management system of the future

As we transition to more complex, higher performing and energy efficient buildings, it is apparent that traditional building management systems (BMS) are not up to the task of monitoring and managing today’s building operations. What are the shortcomings of the legacy BMS?

The list is quite long, but the major items include limited integration capabilities, inadequate and elementary analytic tools, proprietary programming languages, a dearth of software applications and legacy user interfaces.

Overview

To some extent, BMS have gotten to this point because of a range of related business and financial factors. When a traditional BMS is sold and installed, it’s usually a small part of a much larger investment. The larger business piece is the sale of BAS controllers. It’s the controllers’ need for service, parts and possible replacement over time that will generate significant recurring revenue for the equipment manufacturer. As a result, the main building management tool -- the one that provides the user interface for many of the building systems -- often takes a back seat to selling and installing the controller hardware. Why would manufacturers put a lot of resources into developing a product that may be only a very small part of a total sale?

Major BMS manufacturers have made some incremental improvements to their products. They may have added an “energy management package,” or re-engineered an industrial process system for buildings. They might have even bought smaller software companies, thinking that would save the day. But despite their efforts, the fact is that BMS are well short of where they need to be as an industry. 

Part of the problem is that BMS manufacturers are not good at IT and that the BMS is an IT system. It’s a server with a database, IP address and software applications, connected to an IT network. What has developed at the industry level for building automation and IT is just a magnification of what is happening in many facility management and IT departments. Given the significant penetration of IT into building systems, the roles of facility management and IT departments have been readjusted. Some organizations have worked out those organizational issues. But for the most part, the BAS manufacturer and the IT industry is stuck in an “IT is from Mars, Building Controls are from Venus” mentality. The movement of BAS manufacturers into IT, as well as IT companies into building controls has been feeble at best.

Next page: Behind the drive to improve