Building Management and the Net Connection

November 14, 2000
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The Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA is in the process of installing software that will give them access to their systems over the Internet. In addition, the system will integrate fire alarms, security systems and lighting systems.


Everybody seems to be turning to the Internet these days for information and to solve problems. Need to find out what the weather is in Dubuque, IA? No problem, go to the Weather Channel’s website. Need to know how much your stock has plunged? Charles Schwab is where you want to go.

Now Internet connectivity is becoming the focus of most building controls manufacturers. Many are claiming that new Internet technologies will change the way facilities are managed.

Basically, they say that the Internet could help data flow more easily from one point to another, so the appropriate personnel can retrieve meaningful data no matter where they might happen to be. In addition, they may be able to perform overrides and commands that could alleviate a problem, or at least minimize it until someone can take care of it on-site.

Contractors are a key part of this trend, as they are now able to offer Internet connectivity to customers who are looking to do more with their building management systems (bms). And given the buzz over the Internet, you can be sure that customers will soon be asking you for connectivity to their bms.



Much Ado About Something

Many building owners are cutting back on personnel, and they’re looking for building systems that are as easy as possible to use and operate. Part of this ease of use is knowing where the problems are and fixing them before tenants even know there’s been a concern.

Enter the Internet.

By installing an Internet interface with a building’s bms, service personnel can log on from wherever they are and “see” the conditions in the building from a web browser. If there’s a problem, the bms can send an e-mail alarm to everybody who needs to know about it. In addition, it’s possible to import system trends over the Internet, which is always of interest to building engineers and facilities management contractors.

Many contractors are excited about being able to offer this option to customers. One company that already offers it is Tridium, in Richmond, VA, whose system works equally well with LonMark and BACnet protocols.

The future is heading toward the Internet, and all building systems can now be accessed through the Internet via an Internet module.

For many building owners and contractors, this is a strong selling point over the traditional way a bms would work; that is, the proper personnel could dial into the system by modem and view the building conditions. Or, the system could send a page to the correct personnel if there was a problem with the system.

Modems can be slow, and with a standard phone line, sitting on the phone for a long time can get expensive. With a high-speed Internet connection, there’s no need to wait for dial-up time or for information to come dribbling slowly across the line.

With any type of a web browser interface, it’s possible to go to any computer for “free,” use the web browser, and access the data. All that’s necessary is to pay for that main front end, which most of the time is already paid for when the first module is purchased. Then it’s possible to have many different computers on it, accessing it at the same time, and there’s no extra cost to the customer at that point.

Paul Meng, building automation manager, Mona Energy and Technology, Clinton, MD, says the reason many customers are interested in Internet systems is the ability to access their data from multiple sites and incorporate that information into other databases used by management companies.

“Just about every major provider of building management systems is introducing their own Internet-ready product for their data gathering hardware. Determining the best solution will come down to how many standard Internet services are incorporated into the product,” such as e-mail, access to other databases, links to other sites, etc.



Cost Not a Big Factor

Building owners and managers are definitely interested in hooking up with the Internet. Cost doesn’t seem to be much of a factor, especially since most are motivated by technology that enables a more efficient way of doing business.

Meng points out that, “Given the solutions are a more efficient and profitable way of operating, the sell is a natural.”

Selling the Internet module especially makes sense to those building owners who also want a graphics package with their bms. Putting in a graphics system that is overlaid on a hardware-based system is just as expensive as putting in an Internet system such as Tridium, but there’s more functionality with the latter. With an Internet module the web interface is included, as well as all the pretty pictures that a graphics package can produce.

While the owners and managers may be excited, sometimes the information technology (IT) department is a harder sell. Often the first comments from a person in IT are, “Why are you putting this on my network? I don’t want something else on my network that I have to maintain.”

It’s generally reassuring to the IT people when they learn that they usually won’t have to maintain the system at all. Most controls contractors just need access to their network, and then the contractor maintains the boxes sitting on that network.

Then the IT people ask, “How much information are you going to be putting on my network?” The amount of information sent out over the network is slim, and it can often be timed to go out at less busy times such as 2 a.m., when virtually no one is on the network.

The Internet is not going away, and it’s important for contractors to take the time to learn about how it can benefit customers. “Stay abreast of the latest technology and spend the resources necessary to train your staff on that technology, to educate and inform your customers about the value of open systems,” says Meng.

Publication date: 11/20/2000

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