If you follow my ramblings in AutomatedBuildings.com and Engineered Systems, you will understand that the concepts and approaches to applying the new open networked building controls with connection to the enterprise are extremely varied. For example, comparing a wireless system to a wired system or a purchased solution that includes a Web services approach can radically change the total design concept, its cost, and the necessary support infrastructure. With all of these dynamics, how do we ensure procurement of the latest and greatest in building automation features that provide our client with the greatest value?

Keeping It Simple

We solved this problem over 20 years ago, when direct digital systems started to replace pneumatic controls. The problem then was that the old ways were hard to change, and to reap the benefit of these new technologies, the traditional design needed to be retrofitted as soon as the system was installed. A new approach was needed to really capture the power of DDC. The control part of a building represented a small fraction of the total cost, and assembly was left to a fragmented group with no concept or concern as to how the building owner may wish to use the system. The solution was to follow the IT industry procurement model and to buy the building controls much the same as an owner would buy his IT enterprise system. When purchasing IT systems, the fact that it all fit together and worked was more important than the lowest cost. Feature, functionality, and fit ruled the procurement process.

To follow this model, the conventional controls contract was removed from the various fragmented building contracts. An RFP document that included the owner's mandatory requirements and the mandatory control points as defined by the building design team, was prepared by the owner/user and her specialized automation consultant. Removing this work from the plan and spec world had many advantages. One of the biggest was the purchase of current capabilities. The design time for a large project from inception to completion is often several years, allowing mammoth changes in automation capabilities and reach as well as the building owner's requirements. Just in time, automation procurement ensured the latest and greatest at the lowest cost.

Keeping It Clear

This approach worked extremely well for our consulting firm in providing fresh systems that were well suited to our clients' requirements. Total automation costs dropped substantially as a result of the clearly stated mandatory requirements that included a detailed list of mandatory connected points. This approach added clarity to this complex equation. Another advantage was that vendors were encouraged to provide innovation as part of their proposals. This allowed us to provide leapfrog-type technological advancements as we harnessed the complete capabilities of all the proposal teams. If a great concept was accepted and proven in one project, it became a mandatory requirement in the next. This provided a constant update of our documents. The time from start to finish of the automation application was amazingly quick as the building was completed and previous unknowns (e.g., manufacturer of chillers, adjustable-speed drives) plus actual client interface and interaction requirements were now known.

The great progress made in open standards in the last few years will allow the task of separating the hard building stuff (chillers, fans, lights, etc.) from the soft stuff (interfaces and integration) easier. A tight spec using one of the major protocols that will become part of an integration RFP will allow equipment to be purchased with controls including well-documented global strategies.

I believe that using the approach of separating the hard stuff in buildings from the soft stuff will lead to ensuring the procurement of the latest and greatest "just in time" technologies. Innovation will flow, and the industry will feed on each new idea and application. Imagine being able to accurately compare a wireless approach with a wired one. Imagine an approach where the complete global integration control of the building is provided by a vendor as a Web service for a monthly charge. The RFP approach allows active solicitation of the innovative approach.

Removing the scope of the final building automation interface from the traditional plan spec approach allows multi-discipline coordination problems to be addressed. The economics of sharing computers, servers, networks, and existing IT infrastructures are clearly seen and well-managed while coordination is inherent and occurs at a new level.

Use the RFP approach to ensure procurement of the latest and greatest at the lowest cost. ES