And how can you make them irrelevant in your own work?

Recently, a client with a good understanding of the owner/engineer perspective of the industry made some strong statements regarding the state of BAS interoperability:
  • There is quite a bit of confusion regarding open protocols, and what is fact vs. fiction.
  • Some owners with legacy control systems feel that they’re being held hostage by control suppliers.
  • Because of the myths concerning open protocols, control suppliers can decide the equipment to which they will or won’t integrate.
This sounds pretty damning if this is an accurate reflection of even a significant minority of our industry. What makes this even stranger is the fact that both BACnet® and LonWorks® are fairly mature technologies that have been “official” for well over a decade. In fact, the industry has thoroughly embraced their use, largely making proprietary protocols obsolete. So, why do the myths and confusion continue?

As professionals who focus on intelligent buildings, we’re comfortable with learning about new protocol issues to demystify them. Therefore, we are constantly bewildered when reviewing project requirements and/or specifications that seem to mix and match BACnet, LonWorks, and/or Modbus specifics as if they were interchangeable (e.g., provide LonTalk communications over EIA-485 using BACnet objects - huh?).

Is it fair to blame the control suppliers? Sorry to say, but the cliché of “buyer beware” applies here, as with any other purchase. On the other hand, are the control suppliers and manufacturers doing enough to help diffuse this problem? While this is doubtful, it also is not their responsibility to fully shoulder. So what is one to do?

We see plenty of opportunities for the industry to educate itself sufficiently to be overcome these myths. How about:
  • For self-learners, the BACnet standard has plenty of sections that are meant for specifiers (mainly the Annexes), and both the BACnet committees and BACnet International’s websites list educational resources. Likewise, the Echelon and LonMark websites list educational documents and resources.
  • Many organizations (ASHRAE, AEE, etc.) offer courses on open protocols.
  • Many BAS manufacturers list open protocol white papers on their website.
  • Why not take a course on the BAS of your choice, especially one which covers installation and programming? Sure this usually is a multi-day commitment, but the knowledge gained will be well worth it (and you will see firsthand how protocols per se have less to do with what’s needed to make a BAS work in an open environment than you would think).
  • If a lot of the terminology and concepts provided by the above still seems like gibberish, maybe a course on data communications would be a worthy investment.
  • Of course planning on attending Engineered Systems’ “Sustainable Solutions Conference on High Performance Buildings” in June is also a great place to learn more!
The opportunities abound, so if an engineer can become an expert in computational fluid dynamics, why not in open protocols? We would argue that the challenge is more about priorities, interest, and investing the time needed rather than due to a lack of opportunities. Perhaps this means it is time for the industry to admit that the knowledge needed to properly specify interoperable BAS and intelligent building solutions entails a specialty that needs to be viewed in the same vein as that for acoustics and/or for the design a building’s IT infrastructure.ES