At an engineering conference this year, I had the opportunity to sit in and listen to consulting engineers discuss the need for them to commission operation and maintenance (O&M) when the job is turned over to the customer. It was a hotly debated forum about guiding the O&M responsibilities through the commissioning process. Participants duly noted, when working for an architect, it should be the architect's responsibility to close the loop between project completion and owner acceptance. Unfortunately, these engineers felt the architects were not qualified to fulfill this responsibility, and so the task had fallen on them. Thus, they discussed how to commission O&M.

As someone who knows enough about O&M "to be dangerous" but has never operated a building, I found the consulting engineers out of line. Listening to them discuss how a facility engineer could learn from them, I thought how they would react if a facility engineer told them how to design an hvac system. Designing a building system and operating and maintaining it takes a different type of person, and neither should take lightly the other person's job requirements and knowledge.

Designers vs. Managers And Owners

In our firm we have gone beyond the "buzz words" of commissioning O&M and focused on commissioning of facility management. To do so, we have facility and design engineers working as a team on commissioning of building system management. The combination of the two is essential to a truly successful building program. In previous columns I have echoed the need for consulting firms that offer design-engineering services to invest in facility management expertise "on the payroll." It is presumptuous of a designer to believe that he or she knows as much, if not more, than a building operator relative to day-to-day support services. The same can be said for knowing the details to annual operating budgets, vendor contracts, and organizational charts.

In facility management commissioning, we strive to have the customer begin the commissioning process in the programming phase of a project. This is a significant culture change for the design and construction industry that currently submits record drawings and O&M manuals at the close of a construction job. It is analogous to a facility manager in a foot race with the designers and contractors where the competition gets a 100-yard head start on the facility manager.

Today, this industry standard is unacceptable. The design and building community needs to recognize that delivery of record drawings, O&M manuals, and other pertinent information at the end of the job sets the facility manager back 6 months to a year in effectively taking control of the building systems. While building owners have been playing catch-up for years regarding the latest in business technology, computer-aided facility management (CAFM), computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), and facility condition index (FCI) have become three critical building blocks to management strategy. Also missing from traditional programs usually are the annual operating budget, strategic utility planning, regulatory agency compliance, and the necessary support service structure.

Fitting The Pieces Together

A successful building program must address life cycle investment in the building and not limit itself to first cost. In making this statement, it is important to note that life cycle investment doesn't stop with a computer simulation offering the optimum hvac system. Life cycle investment is planning and incorporating pertinent facility management needs into the building program that will contribute to maximum useful service life of the building. This deficiency is becoming more obvious as the design engineers, as well as the construction industry, shift their responsibility to the building process while continuing to use antiquated closeout procedures. How can the design community think that they can lead the building management community and contribute to reaching the building owner's goals through commissioning of O&M?

Facility management resembles a jigsaw puzzle requiring all the pieces of the "big picture" to come together as one. Seldom do building programs address key pieces of this puzzle in the programming phase of the project. Seldom do the remaining pieces of the puzzle get put in place at project closeout.

Commissioning of O&M is just a few pieces of the puzzle. Design engineers, builders, and facility professionals need to come together to develop a management plan that commissions all the pieces of the puzzle. ES