It’s time to admit that on the road to better BAS operations, the biggest obstacle is the people.

For years, I have lamented how sophisticated larger BAS were generally unused or misused in all but the relatively few major institutional and corporate campuses. At the same time, I argued that BAS were not being bought for average-sized commercial buildings because owners had not been sufficiently educated to their benefits.

Starting with an article in Energy User News in September 2003, and repeated in numerous articles over the years in Homes and Buildings Magazine, Automated, and the CABA newsletter, I argued that the BAS manufacturers were not reaching the average-size building market because they were spending their marketing dollars on product features, often talking a language totally foreign to building owners. They assumed the demand for BAS existed and directed their marketing efforts to product comparisons.


More operator training for larger installations and better educational marketing to smaller building owners was recommended, but perhaps both of these recommendations were inadequate.

Perhaps small building owners were prescient enough to know that their operating people would not be able to produce the potential promised by the automation system, or worse, that there would be system failures due to misuse through misunderstanding. Even if they were aware of the potential benefits, owners doubted those benefits would be realized in day-to-day operation. Maybe greater educational marketing would not have made that much difference.

Perhaps owners of larger buildings who did invest in sophisticated BAS systems expected too much of the people charged with operation of the many building systems and components


As stated inEngineered Systems’ July 2010 “Building Automation” column by the Building Intelligence Group, “most existing buildings have challenges with their operational platform … that is the tools, processes and people,” that are not producing acceptable energy efficiency.

The authors argue correctly that proper documentation, commissioning, and operation are essential. Documentation and commissioning have been the subject of many articles, and there needs to be better specification enforcement in this area. Stronger contract specifications coupled with on-site certification by design engineers can, and will, improve the situation, but that does not address operation.

Successful building operation requires strong doses of multiple talents. Facility managers on one end of the spectrum and custodians and janitors on the other end often have responsibilities for, among other things, cleaning, tenant satisfaction, accounting, expendable replacement, trash removal, purchasing, and employee relations, but still we expect them to be expert in optimizing energy use through an understanding of computer-based systems as well as the science of HVAC and the subtleties of utility billing formulae.


All these factors contribute to the judgment that it probably isn’t possible for the misuse and underuse of BAS to be corrected without a paradigm change.

Here’s the paradigm change. Instead of providing building operating people with sophisticated hardware and software and then lamenting that they do not maximize the use of these systems, perhaps it’s time to make the BAS even more sophisticated and expect operating people to leave them alone! Maybe it’s not a fair comparison, but think of our automobiles today, with computerized maintenance management and fuel consumption optimization operating with a myriad of internal and external variations. Operating these requires no more than acceleration and braking from the driver. Think also of computerized weaponry, monitored and adapted internally yet successfully and efficiently employed by people with little formal education and no awareness of system performance.

Granted, building operating personnel will always have to check and lubricate some controlled devices, and they will still have to deal with tenants, suppliers, and bosses, but we should be able to let them “drive the car’ and “fire the weapon” without studying and understanding the operational variables.

With the paradigm change, we should be able, for example, to:
  • Provide dual sensors with failure override.

  • Make the system responsive to voice commands for occupancy changes affecting lighting and HVAC.

  • Provide automatic response to utility vendor billing formula changes.

  • Link air quality sensing to ventilation use.

  • Provide redundant system controller microprocessors with failure link to a central source.

  • Provide emergency mode response by voice command.

  • Provide daily action/efficiency report, one page, no graphs, with a dashboard warning light if necessary.

  • Automatically return system to full occupant comfort mode upon any failure.

  • Provide an enterprise wide multi-functional grid responding, subject to management limits, to individual environmental preferences stored on their access cards.
Bottom line.The industry has been too focused on making operator interface with the system easier to understand and implement, while the reality is that the operator is not skilled enough to make correct and timely adjustments to the system, no matter how easy it is. With a doable increase in self-sufficient automation, we can make it much more likely that the systems will produce anticipated results. This can provide increased owner satisfaction with the investment and reduce the resistance to purchasing building automation by the smaller building owners.ES