Putting some thought into a graphic strategy can keep your interface from getting ugly.

Our February column (“Set it and forget it? Forget it!”) ended with a discussion of continuous commissioning - “the best continuous commissioning comes from a diligent operator who is using the BAS on a regular basis as a tool to optimize the facility.” Unfortunately, we find many buildings engineers aren’t regularly using these systems. There are many reasons for this, including challenges with training, time, focus, and the usability of systems. This month, we would like to look further at the challenges in delivering a usable BAS solution.

There is an entire industry focused on delivering usable software solutions from desktop software to websites. Software developers do analysis on user needs and conduct formal usability testing. Web developers monitor usage to see how their sites are accessed. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for BAS installations. Most projects have few requirements provided for their user interface (e.g., graphics), and BAS engineers who may be more talented with installing controllers and programming sequences than in creating and linking graphic images often create the graphical interface. As a result, the user interface for these critical systems comes together often more by convenience and less by design.

Vendors have attempted to fix this problem by moving to web-based interfaces, creating standard graphics libraries and tools to support easy replication. We even see suppliers who provide graphics as part of their system, as well as independent graphics contractors who support owners and controls contractors. But in most cases, little time or attention is put into creating the graphics, reports, and trends.

GRAPHICS STANDARDS

Creating high-quality graphics is only half of the picture to support system usability. For operators of multi-building organizations, it is important to have a standard in place so that all BAS graphics look consistent for each type of system and the same information is found in the same place on each graphic. These standards include conventions for building, system, and point naming, how equipment and systems should be represented. These standards can be created by the owner, systems integrator, or by specialized consultants. Creating these standards allows an owner to maintain that consistency even when multiple suppliers and contractors are used.

Have a graphics standard? Great. However, this does not necessarily mean your BAS graphics will comply with the standard. It is one thing to create a standard, and another thing to implement it - not to mention implementing the standard accurately.

TIPS FOR IMPROVING SYSTEM USABILITY

Here are a few tips for consultants, and facility management teams to development and successfully  implement a usability standard.
  • What can consultants do?

  • Help the client understand the value of accurately following user interface standards.

  • Help the client develop a process to effectively use the graphic standard, including what to do if the controls contractor or graphics provider does not follow the standard.

  • Work carefully with the client to understand what their needs are and document them carefully and accurately.

  • What should owners and facility management teams do?

  • Determine what is needed for graphical interface for your facility. A few questions to ask include:

  • Who will use these systems?

  • What level of detail is needed?

  • What graphics and graphic standards exist now?

  • Determine the best way to procure graphics

  • Provided by owner’s staff

  • Utilize a controls contractor or a graphics specialist
The expectation is that a BAS should be as intuitive and easy to use as commercially available websites or software. The development of standards and the selection of high-quality suppliers can make this a reality.

Special thanks to our associate Angela Lewis for this month’s column. ES