building energy management systemA building energy management system (BEMS) represents a significant investment, so it’s important to look beyond initial cost and specify one that is flexible, scalable, and backwards compatible in order to receive maximum value and return on investment over the long term.

When times are tough and facilities management budgets don’t quite stretch as far as they need to, it can be tempting to focus on the here and now rather than investing in the future. Although this policy may well resolve some immediate problems, when it comes to a BEMS, it can soon prove to be a false economy.

Evolving Throughout a Building’s Lifespan

A BEMS needs to be able to evolve in tandem with a building and its occupants over a significant period of time. As the use of a building changes, so too will its layout and occupancy patterns change, meaning the BEMS will need modifying, adapting, adjusting, and reconfiguring on a regular basis — something that could lead to problems if the support structure and technology to carry out any changes does not exist. The ability of a BEMS to be flexible and accommodate any necessary modifications with minimal disruption should, therefore, be at the very top of an end user’s purchasing criteria.

To illustrate this point, consider the following scenario. A BEMS from Company X is installed and works perfectly for a couple of years. Then, during refurbishment and a new layout for one of the floors, a number of new climate control units are fitted into the building and the existing BEMS needs to be reconfigured to accommodate these changes. However, the climate control units are not compatible with the BEMS, so the end user is left with operational and energy inefficiencies as the refurbished area is not under the control of the BEMS.

This leads to a dilemma, as the only two options are to stick with the existing inadequate system or to replace it with a new one — neither of which is likely to prove popular. Also, the failure of some manufacturers to make their new devices backwards compatible means that if something goes wrong with an existing product, then it’s not as easy as simply swapping it with the latest version. Again, the whole system could need to be replaced. Replacing a system — or having two different ones operating side by side — comes with a whole host of hidden costs. A new BEMS will require staff to be trained in its use and this is likely to involve a steep learning curve for stakeholders who have to use it to extrapolate information. For example, the needs of the financial director will in all probability be very different to those of the IT department or the facilities manager. How the system collects, analyzes, and displays information is important if it is to successfully account for different priorities, targets, and measures. Ultimately, this process will be a whole lot easier if a system is designed with functionality in mind.

A Future-Proofed Investment

These examples should not be viewed as scaremongering; rather than being worst-case examples, they are in fact fairly typical of the issues encountered by end users.

Mitigating the likelihood of problems in years to come can be achieved by working with a proven and trusted manufacturer whose systems are designed to accommodate new technologies and changing user requirements. A BEMS is not a “fit and forget” technology, so the time taken to do research, ask the right questions, and ensure that the necessary level of support, know-how, and expertise will be in place for the long term will be time well spent.

Publication date: 10/7/2013