Our industry's DDC systems, some of which are up to 20 years old, have performed extremely well with great reliability, and have reduced control maintenance to the point that it has almost been eliminated. This has been of great benefit to building owners.

Highly functional interfaces are presently available that seamlessly connect these existing DDC systems to most vendors' latest and greatest graphical Web-based operating systems. This may fly in the face of the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." However, the ease and relatively low cost of completely changing the personality, including the touch and feel, of the existing DDC systems while greatly increasing the overall functionality is starting to tempt system owners. These benefits make upgrading extremely compelling.

The Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) Technology Roadmap for Intelligent Buildings mentioned in last month's column, addressed this in its lifespan issues section:

"The evolution of electronic technology is moving rapidly, with lifespans and life-cycle times in the range of five to 10 years. Buildings typically have a lifespan between major refits of approximately 25 years, or two to three technology cycles. A significant advantage of intelligent building technologies is the ability to upgrade the electronics while continuing to use the cabling that is already in place. Equipment and system vendors have an opportunity to design graceful growth into their product evolution plans; to enable their products that are in service to be upgraded to add the most recently introduced features and functions."

Upgrade to keep up

The recent software operating evolution to Web based has leapfrogged the electronic evolution cycle. Although the above concepts make sense when an upgrade of electronics is required, most vendors now offer software-only upgrades of the operating system. Most of these upgrades include a low-cost Internet server, which allows existing electronics to be connected to the newest Web-based operating system solutions.

These upgrades are cost-effective and transform tired, text-based DDC systems into leading edge Web-based graphic presentations. The transformation of moving from old modem-based DDC technology to TCP/IP communication is a time warp sensation. Standardized browser-based graphical presentation allows the awkward proprietary-based interfaces, known to a select few, to become available to a much larger audience. This includes management and even the world if that is required. An interesting observation is that the greatest resistance for these powerful upgrades comes from the existing operators who have crawled inside the DOS-like proprietary interfaces and are unsure that they want to share their systems knowledge with management and others.

As the pressure continues to do more with less manpower while driving down the operating cost per square foot, these powerful anywhere, graphical presentation interface upgrades provide cost-effective vehicles to achieve this goal. These interfaces are more important to management than they are to the operators as they provide an interface, which allows input from several sources to insure the lowest cost operation in today's complex buildings.

As outsourcing becomes a cost-effective measure for building operation, it is only effective if management can control it. Controlling intellectual input from valuable resources that are allowed access to systems can only be done with this technology.

The new upgraded servers can be expanded to include many forms of building information, all Web based. The building's Web identity grows either by the addition to the new server, or by connection of this server to an existing extranet hosting the building's identity.

These cost-effective upgrades often determine if the existing DDC system is capable of growing into the new Web-based operational model that is evolving for most of our clients.

Questions for now

Are we as an industry doing everything we can to educate our clients to the tremendous advantages of these cost-effective upgrades to Web-based operation?

Do all the players in our industry understand the significance of these powerful interfaces, or is it only important to the few that have conceived and developed them?

Our survival depends on moving quickly to educate our clients and ourselves about the powerful bridges that our industry has built which will allow new connections to the complete functionality of the existing DDC systems.

In last month's column, "Repackaging the Large Building Automation Industry," I stated that "organization as a unified industry is required to market our new capabilities, products, and services directly to large building owners and developers."It appears that some movement is occurring in this area, and it is my hope to report more about these developments in my next column. ES