What is a Building Management System?

The numbers are astounding. There are more than 5.9 million commercial buildings in the US, representing 97 billion square feet.  These buildings consume about 35% of the total electricity usage in the US. The same buildings also generate about 826 million tons of carbon dioxide, about 16% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the US.

Now comes the sad part. About 30% of the energy used in these commercial buildings is wasted.

In many business and private sectors, there is a growing realization of the need to optimize and control energy use. Architects, engineers, the construction industry, and developers realize that considerable energy can be saved, along with reduced energy costs, by implementing a centrally-controlled, computerized building management system that governs this energy use. Additionally, there are applications well beyond energy. 

BMS: the Answer to the Challenge

The primary tool of building owners is the development of high-performing building management systems, commonly known as BMS. The building management system is the energy brain of a building. This computer-based system manages and controls the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). It ensures warm and cool air is efficiently routed, the system goes into a proper maintenance mode in the off hours, and problems are found and corrected efficiently.

HVAC is integral in making any building safe and comfortable for occupants; however, this is complex. Every building is different. Here are a few examples:

  • The high-rise office building houses tenants and numerous employees.
  •  A hospital campus, including patient rooms, facilities for medical treatment (including surgical suites that require a much higher standard of ventilation), medical offices, laboratories, and much more.
  • A college campus with large and small classrooms, conference rooms, libraries, and faculty and staff offices.
  •  A data center the size of a warehouse holding rows of computers with vital information. These computers generate considerable heat and require elaborate cooling and ventilation systems to keep them from crashing.

Yes, things get complicated. Each one of these spaces has different requirements.

BMS is Known by Many Names

Building management systems are often called building automation systems (BAS). There are other terms: building energy management systems (BEMS), energy management control systems (EMCS), and energy management systems (EMS). Often the terms are interchangeable. If you are exploring a building management system for your building and you encounter these other terms, ask a few questions. Make sure you are talking about the same thing.

It Starts with Air Changes

ASHRAE is the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers. It is the professional association that sets standards for commercial and residential buildings. According to the ASHRAE Standard 62.1, the accepted airflow rate for an office building is two to three air changes per hour. This keeps exhaled air, loaded with carbon dioxide, flowing out of the room as new air is pulled in. As a comparison, the recommended air exchange for a home is about one air exchange per hour. For a surgical suite, where infectious pathogens are a concern, the recommended number of air changes per hour is 20. Without airflow, offices become stuffy, difficult places to work. They can even become uninhabitable.

“Even within a single office, the airflow is determined by a variety of factors,” explains Mitch Andrus, senior account executive at FICO Facility Improvement, a Montana-based firm that provides turnkey building management and integration services. “A conference room requires a different atmosphere than a large, open-air office. The requirements for a bathroom are different, too. Whatever the space is, you can be sure that airflow is needed. Otherwise, you may end up with sick building syndrome, an illness that during the 1970s and ‘80s because commercial buildings were not getting adequate airflow throughout their building. This led ASHRAE to create indoor air quality standards (IAQ).”

Modern offices are a soup of potentially harmful contaminants. The new cabinetry installed last year in your office is a source of harmful vapors from curing adhesives used in the laminated countertops. Carpets are another source of these vapors. The cleaning solutions that keep the office free of contaminants (including COVID-19) often contain toxic ingredients such as triclosan, ammonia, chlorine, phthalates, quaternary, and ammonium compounds. The EPA lists many more sources, most of which people are not aware of:

  • paints, paint strippers, and other solvents
  • wood preservatives
  • aerosol sprays
  • moth repellents and air fresheners
  • dry-cleaned clothing
  • pesticides
  • building materials and furnishings
  • office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids, and carbonless copy paper
  • graphics and craft materials, including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions

An HVAC system that exchanges air two or three times an hour keeps these substances from building up.

Odors are a problem, too. Everything from women’s perfume and men’s cologne contributes to that office soup, the garlic-laden Italian leftovers heated in the breakroom microwave for someone’s lunch, and the flowers your office neighbor received for her anniversary. A practical building management system keeps the air moving, preventing these odors from overwhelming employees.

There is also temperature. Anyone who has worked in an office knows the battle of the thermostat.

An Effective BMS Manages for Optimum Results

BMS uses sensors to communicate with the HVAC system, sending constant updates through a central computer system. This information allows for continuous micro-adjustments that keep airflow and temperature at optimum levels. Sensors outside the building monitor exterior temperatures so the HVAC knows when to increase cooling on a warm day and decrease cooling during the winter.

Other sensors monitor lighting needs in a building, knowing when to reduce lighting when the sun is shining, or turning lights off automatically after hours.

The results have paid off, too. According to a report by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, from 2007 to 2017, energy usage decreased by 15% in commercial buildings. Greenhouse gas emissions from commercial buildings decreased by 11.5% since their 2005 peak.

The report also says, “The growth of smart meters and other ‘intelligent components’ enable a more systems-oriented efficiency approach. Increased connectivity between devices and the electric power grid—which produces the majority of building sector emissions—allows users to tailor their demand and even utilize devices for energy storage, both of which could help to reduce emissions.”

Building management systems are also capable of much more savings. A research paper published in Advanced Materials Research cited an office building in San Francisco. Building engineers attained energy savings of 50% by installing an updated building management system.

BMS Expands to Include Other Parts of a Building System

Concurrent with the advances that a centralized computer can bring to energy management, there is a growing realization that the same systems can also be adapted to meet the needs, desires, and expectations of building tenants and their employees. The convenience of home consumer technologies, such as the smart home, quickly transitioned to the exact expectations in the workplace. Advanced versions of BMS now monitor lighting, security, access to the building, closed-circuit television, and fire suppression. Systems sense when an office is empty and adjust the HVAC delivery to those rooms, saving money and energy. The same system can also turn off the lights in empty offices.

Next-level functions in a building include monitoring water services, business processes, wayfinding (the building equivalent of GPS), vehicle charging, and more. One of the foes of any building, especially a high-rise structure, is humidity and water damage from leaking pipes, changes in the groundwater, or other sources. You can also expect these types of services to be incorporated into BMS in the future.

Other Benefits of BMS

In addition to reducing the environmental impact, there are other benefits to employing a BMS in your building.

Reduces operating costs

According to the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems, the commercial sector consumed 17.41 quads of primary energy in 2020 (a quad is equivalent to one quadrillion BTUs; a one followed by 15 zeros). Energy represents a third of a building’s operating costs. Reducing those energy costs is more money saved.

Increases the life span of system components

Mechanical components, especially those related to HVAC, have a longer life span because BMS uses them more efficiently. Operators can analyze the data collected from the BMS to detect problems with various systems before they become serious. Early detection of faulty components can prevent more severe damage in the future.  

Creates happy tenants

Many energy costs are relayed to tenants, so business decision-makers look for buildings that save them money. Additionally, tenants want the highest level of comfort and convenience for their employees and their operations. A building with a robust BMS answers this need.

Increased property values

Higher occupancy rates mean higher property values. Buildings featuring BMS are always in-demand. According to Commercial Property Executive, office vacancies hit their lows in Q2 2022 and are rising, but a full recovery is not until 2025. Office buildings featuring BMS will likely realize that recovery first.


The federal government offers tax incentives for buildings that meet specific standards by adding BMS systems. States and other jurisdictions also provide incentives. A bulletin from the Federal Energy Management Program addresses examples of rebates and help with expenses offered by utilities across the county.

Welcome to the Internet of things

Insider Intelligence defines the Internet of Things as “the connection of devices (other than typical fare such as computers and smartphones) to the Internet. Cars, kitchen appliances, and even heart monitors can all be connected through the IoT.”

The same system that monitors the HVAC in your building can also detect a sensor on the windshield of a car as it approaches the building’s parking garage. Access is automatically granted. If the driver of that car is the first person in the office that morning, the IoT can determine that person’s office, turn on the lights, and adjust the temperature. It can even start the coffee maker.

Now we are starting to talk about proper building management.

The Power of Data

The other benefit of BMS is that these systems generate massive amounts of data that can be analyzed for additional energy savings. This data can be used to add artificial intelligence, bringing together systems to work in ways that were impossible before. Building engineers can perform predictive analytics to see how a change in the building might affect energy usage. These analytics might also reveal other energy savings. As long ago as 2009, the most advanced systems were tied into a weather forecasting service so that BMS engineers were aware of weather changes and how they might affect the performance of the various systems.

The Future of BMS

The rapid pace of technology presents a challenge for building management systems. How do BMS engineers design for technological developments in the future, especially if those innovations are not even on the drawing board?

Schneider Electric recently released a white paper on this very topic. Titled Three Essential Elements of Next Generation Building Management Systems (BMS), the paper addresses the requirement for BMS systems to progress into the future.

Open, integrated platforms

Systems must be open enough to integrate with other building software and hardware—devices, sensors, and apps. They need to accommodate application programming interfaces (API) so that systems and hardware talk to each other and interact with web services, IoT and IT protocols, and operational technology. This ensures vendors and other BMS partners can work within the system to diagnose problems and update programs.

Using cloud computing

Cloud computing is an integral component of today’s computing architecture. It provides unlimited data and analytics storage, allows partners and vendors to access your BMS network, and makes data analytics and artificial intelligence possible. It also enables predictive analytics. Schneider’s paper cites an instance in which a building maintenance team can look at upcoming maintenance and determine the risk if a system goes offline, including the financial value of that risk.


We’ve become a mobile computing society, and building maintenance systems are no different. Mobile enablement allows tenants to make maintenance requests. If a client has a sales meeting, it could mean extra bodies in their office that day. Extra bodies mean excess heat and the need for a lower room temperature. All of this can be handled through a mobile-based app. Building engineers can monitor and control the building from tablet devices and make immediate updates. Mobility also makes life easier for building engineers responsible for several buildings in a downtown area.

BMS: The Key to the Success of Your Building

Limited resources, climate change, convenience, and the realization of financial savings are driving building management systems’ development today and in the coming years. Technology advances often mean that tomorrow’s norm has yet to be conceived of today. By planning, however, developers and building owners can be sure their building management system will be practical in the coming years.

Developers and building owners should evaluate building management systems from the perspective of their unique business environment. Tenants are demanding the features made possible by this technology. Higher occupancy rates and premium rents mean greater property values.

Investing in a building management system is a solid bet all the way around. 

Leave a Comment

FICO provides turnkey building management and system integration services for technically complex buildings in Montana and beyond. From design and installation to ongoing maintenance and security, our best-in-class people and products help you achieve operational savings and minimize risk as you work to provide reliable and safe environments.

We're Hiring!

We’re growing our team of resourceful and innovative self-starters. Sound like you?

Apply Today!

Contact Us!

1211 NW Bypass
Great Falls, MT 59404

© 2022 Facility Improvement Corporation - All Rights Reserved