I chanced upon Terry Hoffman’s letter in response to Paul Ehrlich’s article titled, “Help Wanted: Building Systems Architect” in the November 2006 issue ofIntelligent Buildings Today. Since I had read Paul Ehrlich’s article with considerable interest, and have had significant contact with Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI), personnel in recent weeks, I was most interested in what Mr. Hoffman had to say.

First, speaking as a consumer of the services and products JCI represents, I can understand the motive for his presentation as the director of marketing for JCI’s BAS. Still, I feel compelled to point out the validity of Mr. Ehrlich’s plea and to address some misconceptions I find in Mr. Hoffman's presentation, including the designation of a “technology contractor” to design, build, and commission these systems.

As a consultant for the development of school building design standards, I am representing the San Bernardino City Unified School District, California’s sixth largest school district with 60 plus schools and 70,000 students. For the district’s planned new schools, I have been trying to develop criteria for a “converged” BAS - one that might achieve the “opportunities for intelligent integration and cost savings” Mr. Hoffman promotes in his letter Clearly, a school or university campus offers many such opportunities.

This BAS would include systems for safety and security (fire alarms, intrusion detection, video surveillance, door access control), telecommunications (telephone, intercom, P.A., clocks, and schedules), audio-visual (streaming audio-video, sound reinforcement), building management (HVAC, lighting controls), and the computer data network. The goal is to integrate the multiple systems with Internet protocols on the district’s LAN / WAN system and structured cabling campus backbones.

The district also would look, as far as reasonable, to open protocols that would allow it to easily add new elements over the years - and avoid some of the difficulties it has encountered with investing too heavily in proprietary systems.

These criteria are aimed at the conventional AE design teams who traditionally design schools (which include the “consulting mechanical and electrical engineers”). These conventional design teams are usually not knowledgeable in the new technology systems, much less in the application of open protocols. And they are rarely experienced in systems outside their usual discipline. They have traditionally depended on manufacturers for major assistance in the design of their building systems and controls.

Therefore, we felt that it would be necessary to find a system and a manufacturer who was capable of providing that technical support in the building design phase. We tentatively selected, for several reasons, JCI and its Metasys® system. (One reason was the large number of Metasys partners, including firms like Carrier, Trane, Lighting Control and Design, Douglas Lighting Controls, who have established gateways to Metasys - all providers of products frequently deployed in Southern California schools.)

I began my more detailed investigation at JCI’s San Diego office. Eventually, I was referred to a relatively new employee whose specialty was “fire alarm systems.” (JCI is not known in the California school market as a fire alarm provider, as are Edwards, Simplex, and Notifier, and we eventually found that, to fill out its safety/security line, JCI used an OEM product from Notifier.) Although he was not knowledgeable about networks or the Metasys system, he helpfully undertook to find those who were.

I subsequently talked to several people in JCI’s San Diego and Los Angeles offices - including a security systems representative and a sales representative for performance contracting. These people were not particularly knowledgeable about the Metasys system. Neither had they heard of BACnet® or LonWorks®. The “networking specialist” they offered to find never materialized.

Finally, I went to the traditional JCI A/C industry representatives, and found someone who was extremely responsive and helpful, and got me most of the information I was looking for. However, even he could not help me much with the integration and design consulting services that would be needed for lighting controls, access control, video surveillance, and streaming audio-video.

Here is where the services of a “building systems architect” would have been invaluable.

I must point out that a building systems architect is to Mr. Hoffman's technology contractor pretty much what an architect is to a general contractor. Hiring a technology contractor for D-B procurement, as his letter suggests, is a highly remote option in the public-works building world. - especially for California public schools We must look for professional specialists to provide those design services and produce contract documents that can be competitively bid.

I have searched and have not found any. The telecommunications consultants, who can design telecom and data networks, and sometimes include AV systems, are scarce. And they have no clue about EMS and how to integrate them. Nor do they usually have any expertise in safety and security systems.

The systems integrators who might provide the services of a technology contractor, if that procurement option could be made available, just do not have the comprehensive capabilities for the convergence you say is now here. They know something about data networking, security systems, AV systems, and video surveillance, maybe. They have never heard of BACnet or LonWorks, much less oBIX. And, for most, they are committed as distributors to specific manufacturers.

And for the traditional “consulting mechanical and electrical engineers,” they are almost totally dependent on one or another of the established HVAC and lighting controls manufacturers for technical guidance in producing construction contract documents. That does not make it easy to develop systems with truly open protocols.

Mr. Hoffman mentions that, regarding technology contractors, “there aren’t many of us out there.” Actually there are thousands - they just do not have the capability in all the systems that need to be integrated. I suppose I must infer from his letter that JCI is one of those few who do. But, then, how can I account for what has seemed to be a major lack of availability of those services for a large school district? Are they only available for $575 million hospitals or major airports?

I have yet to fully grapple with the details of what a building systems architect really is, how he becomes one, and how he functions. He must be a multi-discipline organization that brings together some specialists in networking, computers, safety/security systems, telecommunications, and energy management, who can design and specify all these systems and their interoperability, and who can interconnect with power, energy, and water professionals. But he sure is needed. I’m still looking for one.

Maybe Mr. Hoffmans knows of some - either architects or contractors. But just offering a technology D-B contracting strategy to serve a wide range of public building types is an inadequate solution to a much more comprehensive problem than that posed by the mega-structures he references.

John C. Rollow, AIA, CHPS, CSI
Design Standards Consultant
San Bernardino City Unified School District
San Bernardino, CA