Building Maintenance Systems: The Info You Need to Know

Few of us appreciate how a building management system created the mood for many successful first dates and harmonious relationships in the early ‘90s. Do you want to know how? 

In 1993, women packed the theaters, dragging their boyfriends and husbands to see the rom-com movie of the year, Sleepless in Seattle. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan play would-be romantic partners if they ever find each other. You need to see the movie or watch the trailer on YouTube. Late in the film, there is a scene in New York City on Valentine’s Day in which the windows on more than a dozen floors of the Empire State Building light up to form a red heart

How did that happen? 

A little creativity, inspiration, and a superb building management system. 

Rom-com movies aside, other scenarios might have you thinking about a building management system and why you need to consider one as a property owner or building manager. 

Let’s look at a few:

  • You’re part of the team designing and constructing a new office building or other multi-purpose structure. You are budgeting for costs and identifying partners in this quest. Besides office buildings, BMS is used in hospitals, medical centers, colleges and universities, retail malls, and just about anywhere else, even large apartment buildings. 
  • You have acquired an existing building. To be competitive in the market, you must implement a building management system or update the current one. 
  • You are a building manager and must address the same issues as the previous scenario, perhaps as you prepare a budget for building improvements. 

Do any of these sound familiar? You’ve come to the right place. There may be other reasons you might be researching building management systems.

What is a Building Management System?

A building management system is more commonly referred to by the acronym BMS. You will also hear it referred to as a building automation system (BAS). A less common term is energy management control system (EMCS). They all essentially mean the same thing (although an EMCS might be more focused on controlling the energy in a building). For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to it as BMS throughout this article. 

When it first appeared, BMS controlled the HVAC system (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) in a building or large campus. The system used a central computer with controls that governed the different functions of the HVAC system—heating, cooling, air changes, etc. 

HVAC is a vital function. No one wants to live or work in conditions that are too warm, too cold, or too stuffy. HVAC removes the stale air from the building and brings in fresh air. We’re not just talking about exhaled air, either. The adhesives used to laminate countertops, the chemicals to clean carpets, and the vapors from the copy machine all form volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are harmful to humans in extreme amounts or for extended periods. A good BMS controls the HVAC system so that it removes VOCs and other contaminants from the working or living environment. Without HVAC, your building could become inhabitable, a phenomenon known as sick building syndrome.  

Controlling the HVAC with BMS allows for considerable savings in energy, too, often in double-digit percentages. When workers leave at night, the system is programmed to lower the temperature of the building. You don’t have to worry about people leaving on the lights, heating, or air conditioning. BMS regulates everything. Workers who stay after hours or arrive early can manually override the system. 

Better ideas and better technology

It wasn’t long before creative building designers and managers saw the potential of BMS to govern other systems and make substantial improvements to HVAC. Today the core areas of BMS control include HVAC, lighting, maintenance, and access control. 

Developers, armed with better technology, continue to expand the capabilities of BMS. Moisture detectors reveal plumbing leaks, which are not only wasteful but can damage the building’s structure and integrity. Faulty or aging plumbing is not the only culprit causing water infiltration. Ruptured exterior seals and roof leaks allow water to get inside. A sophisticated BMS can detect moisture so that the problem is corrected before substantial damage occurs. 

Building security is now a big part of BMS. A scanner can detect a chip embedded in a sticker on your car’s windshield when you pull into the parking garage in the early morning. As you park your vehicle, your office’s HVAC adjusts for the beginning of the workday. It can even turn on the coffee maker. A chip in the ID tag of an employee grants access to inner and outer offices and other select locations. Employees pass through doors without inserting a key in a lock. Does your business handle sensitive information or financial materials? You can arrange for additional security and limited access in sensitive areas. This is all managed by the BMS, and some of it can also be in the tenant’s control. In an instance of workplace violence, select building areas can be locked down or opened up to route people to safety. 

BMS also allows for closed-circuit TV, computer records of entry and exit, and many other features. 

Why Does Your Building Need the Latest BMS Technology?

What are the advantages of having an up-to-date building that offers the latest in BMS technology? There are several, and they are all significant. 

Your Building is More Desirable

Remote work was already making headway into the business world, but the COVID-19 pandemic hastened the process. Many companies are downsizing their footprint, taking advantage of a reduced workforce on-site. Occupancy rates are down and will be slow to return to pre-COVID-19 levels. An office that is comfortable and features temperature control is crucial for attracting tenants and keeping them happy because their employees look forward to coming to the office. 

Energy conservation

Tenants and employees want buildings with more safety, a more comfortable environment, information systems, and even advanced electric vehicle charging features. People are also more conscious of climate change and sustainability. According to a white paper by Schneider Electric, “When indirect emissions from upstream power generation are considered, buildings were responsible for 28% of global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2018.” As much as possible, business owners and employees want a workplace that is part of the solution rather than part of the problem. 

To remain competitive, building owners find they have to offer the latest amenities. Office buildings featuring the latest in BMS are part of a competitive edge. It also allows you to charge premium rent. 

BMS avoids both external and internal problems with energy distribution

In a FICO blog post titled The Importance of Power Quality Monitoring for Your Building, we discussed harmonic pollution, a technical term for a twitchy grid system. Fluctuations in power occur frequently, caused by everything from increased demand during a heat wave to a surplus from consumer-produced energy from solar. There can also be bad actors out there sabotaging the grid. The results are power surges, system crashes, lost or corrupted data, equipment burnout, the risk of fire, and more. 

There are also internal issues—short circuits, static electricity, and loose wiring. An efficient BMS system can help regulate the power coming into your building and also monitor conditions inside your building and avoid problems. 

FICO technicians hold certifications in the Schneider Electric ExoStructure Power Monitoring Expert software system. This software includes dashboards, diagrams, trends, alarms, and reports that provide vital information on electrical system performance, energy efficiency, and power quality. 

Workforces are more productive

We all know how devastating seasonal colds and influenza can be to an office staff. A finely tuned BMS means the HVAC moves stale air, VOCs, and contaminated air and can route pathogens out of workspaces. Employees are healthier and more productive because they are not recovering from illnesses. 

Safety from violence in the office or workplace is a concern. Nearly two million U.S. workers annually report having been a victim of violence at work, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). A 2022 SHRM survey of US workers found that 28 percent of workers have witnessed aggressive workplace interactions (20 percent) or have been involved in them (8 percent). These figures refer to violence between co-workers. There are numerous incidents involving individuals who enter from outside the building and commit crimes. Employees feel more secure knowing their workplace is safer because entry is controlled and monitored. 

BMS saves money

We’ve already discussed how BMS saves money in more efficient energy use. This is important. This applies not only to HVAC but also to electricity used in lighting and other systems. It is not uncommon to see as much as one-third of non-fixed operating expenses go toward energy consumption. Federal, state, county, and local municipalities often offer incentives for energy-efficient buildings, as do utility companies. The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) provides more than $70 billion in post-COVID-19 pandemic relief funds for US schools, as reported in the FICO blog. School districts can use those funds to upgrade their BMS. 

Other savings 

A BMS system can choose different energy sources based on time-of-day pricing. If your operation involves processing or manufacturing, a BMS system can detect machinery performing at a sub-par level, costing you energy and efficiency. This applies to all buildings, including hospitals, other medical facilities, and tech and data storage.  

BMS creates a record

Information is power. BMS creates a record of everything that happens in your building. If you’re budgeting for next year, you can look at your BMS history to predict utility expenditures. You can perform predictive analytics, asking questions like, “If we install updated controls in a boiler that powers manufacturing, how will that affect our power usage?” or, “If we bring another chiller online, how does that impact electrical usage?”

Choosing a BMS Partner

Whether you’re planning a new building or upgrading your existing system, working with the right BMS partner is essential. It can mean the difference between a stellar system operating at peak levels or a little more than ho-hum.

Here are some things to look for in finding the right BMS contractor.

A good BMS partner is a licensed contractor

Consultants can tell you what to do, but a good BMS partner can make it happen. Licensed contractors must meet a higher standard and have more knowledge. A licensed BMS contractor will work well with the general contractor on your project. They are more accountable if things go wrong. 

Look for a well-rounded staff

BMS systems entail many different subsystems—HVAC, electrical, plumbing, IT, construction, security—the list is endless. Your BMS partner should have a well-rounded staff with professionals that are specialists in all these areas. Paid staff means accountability, and that’s important for everybody and the project in general. 

A good BMS partner has industry certifications.

A knowledgeable BMS contractor is allied with leading manufacturers and product developers in the industry, names such as ABB, Schneider Electric, Pelco, and others. Industry partners mean more than just names on a webpage, though. Ask about industry certifications and training from these leading companies. Check the dates on the certificates, too. Technology is developing at a rapid pace. Your BMS partner should have the latest knowledge. 

They should be sources of information

Does their website have a well-maintained blog? Do they have white papers that you can download? These are all signs of a partner with lots of knowledge they are willing to share. If the update to their blog was two years ago, that’s a warning sign.   

Ask for a list of clients

Make a few phone calls to past or current customers of a BMS business partner you are considering and inquire about their project. Good companies know that word-of-mouth is their best source of new customers. They cultivate it.  

Look for a partner that’s strong in service 

You don’t want a BMS partner that will install your system, and that’s it. Remember, technology powers BMS, and technology is constantly changing. You want a company that has been around for a while and is in for the long haul. They should be a frequent return visitor to your building superintendent, informing them of computer updates and new technology. Consider using them for an extended service agreement. Nobody knows your system better than they do. They installed it. 

For more information, check out a previous blog post on the FICO website, Choosing the Right BMS Contractor (why it Matters and How to Do it).

Warding Off Problems with Building Maintenance Agreements

Building maintenance systems work 24/7/365, ensuring the efficient operation of your building. That’s 100% uptime. The technology is complex, relying on a robust computer system. BMS monitors various systems, some of which share very little in common. It is difficult for one person to have all the knowledge necessary for the continuous operation of your system. If you can find a person capable of retaining all that knowledge, keeping them educated and informed of all the updates is still expensive. 

The alternative is to retain a partner that provides you with a preventative maintenance agreement.

Just like you might purchase an extended maintenance agreement for your car, a preventative maintenance agreement for your BMS allows you to control costs. You are no longer doing reactive maintenance, which is equivalent to fixing things when they break. With a preventative maintenance agreement, you ensure your BMS gets regular maintenance. You are also getting a team with the knowledge to do predictive maintenance, looking at systems and data for subtle anomalies that might point to a bigger problem if left undetected. 

For more information on building maintenance agreements, see the FICO blog post, Using Preventive Maintenance Agreements to Reduce BMS Costs

What Does the Future Hold for BMS?

We’ve already detailed the expansion of BMS from a system that oversees HVAC to one that encompasses lighting, maintenance, and access control. However, technology is always moving ahead, and tenants are demanding more services. A white paper from Schneider Electric titled Three Essential Elements of Next-Generation Building Management Systems (BMS) details features you can expect to see in future building maintenance systems.  

The technologies that will drive these advancements include The internet of things (IoT), cloud computing, more robust data systems for analytics, and artificial intelligence. 

Some of the features made possible by these technologies are already here:

Blinds control

Window blind controls track the sun throughout the day, opening the blinds and dimming the lights to take advantage of natural light. It saves money and is easier on the eyes. 

Health screening

In the wake of COVID-19, this is a concern. Expect ventilation systems that make disease transmission less likely, and technology that detects an individual with a fever (this latter technology might be controversial as some might see it as an invasion of privacy).   


Wayfinding has been around since Dorothy and her friends followed the yellow brick road in Oz. Later it became colored lines on the floor and walls of hospitals and other institutions so you knew how to reach a destination. Today it is a GPS for your building. 

Controlling elevators and escalators

BMS can shut off elevators in case of fire and prevent injury on escalators by making these devices more impervious to vandalism and breakdowns. BMS can also make it easier to rescue trapped individuals.  

Workforce apps 

The apps allow managers and remote workers involved in building management and supervision to access data and systems remotely. Tenants can report maintenance requests on an app. 

Third-party apps

Expect to see open BMS systems that allow the addition of property management apps tracking vacancies and lease rates, maintenance apps, and even an app that tracks building usage and enables remote employees to schedule office time and reserve a space.  

Fire suppression 

BMS systems will include fire detection, suppression, and routing of building inhabitants to safe areas during an emergency. 

Enhanced security

Service Channel, a company that produces a platform for use in BMS, had a recent blog post titled 4 Revolutionary Applications of AI in Facilities Management. The post chronicled technologies that can detect a firearm (Aegis AI) or also develop a searchable database on a CCTV system on the fly (IC Realtime). Type in “red car” or “black baseball hat” and get instant results. 

What are the three essential elements needed for BMS expansion?

Schneider Electric outlines the three things that your BMS system needs to be adaptable to future technologies:

  1. An open integration platform. The system must be open enough to integrate with other building subsystems, including operations, IoT, and IT systems. Ideally, it will integrate with systems and technologies that may not currently exist. 
  2. Cloud computing for analytics and AI services. This technology allows for instant scalability, resiliency, and mobility, enabling unlimited information storage, secure third-party app development, big data analytics, and more. 
  3. Mobility. If your BMS covers a university, students want access to internal information–such as whether a particular text is available in the library–or external information–the internet or a third-party database. For a hotel, guests might want to access tour reservations or make dinner arrangements. For administration-related purposes, your facilities manager might need to access the database of a building even though they are off-premises or on-site at another property. 

Expect More Changes

Technology is improving daily, so there will be many more improvements for building management systems in the coming years. The challenge lies in systems that allow for these future improvements. It is no small feat, considering that ten years from now, we can expect to see technology that we can’t even conceive of today. 

Our goal with this blog post is to provide education and guidance about what BMS is, what it can do now, and how you can develop a system that enables future technologies without having to start over each time you expand or make improvements. If you have questions or want an assessment of the performance of your building, call our BMS experts at 406-452-0009, or visit the FICO website.  

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.

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