A Facility Manager’s Guide to Building Management Systems in 2023
FICO provides turnkey building management systems (BMS) for businesses, schools, office buildings, hospitals, and others in and around Montana. We have been doing it for more than 20 years. We are also experts in building management and system integration services, and our staff has numerous industry certifications. FICO works with leading BMS component manufacturers to provide optimum environments that are comfortable for employees and save energy. This white paper is meant to introduce facility managers to BMS. For those already familiar with BMS and what a good system can do for your building, we hope to educate you on the latest technological advances.
Buildings should be treated as sophisticated, integrated, interrelated systems–The US Department of Energy.
As a facilities manager for a medium to large office building (or a hospital or university), you can be a hero to owners and tenants. The power to do this lies in assembling a building management system (BMS) that makes your facility comfortable, cutting-edge, and energy-efficient.
According to the 2021 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, buildings account for 37% of global carbon emissions. Municipal, state, and federal regulatory bodies are pressuring building owners and managers to make their buildings more energy-efficient.
The utilities have an interest in conserving energy, too. They provide stable, reliable energy for everyone, businesses and residences alike. This means asking everyone to be judicious in their use of power. Energy is finite (at least until scientists figure out fusion energy), and the grid that delivers that energy has limitations.
This pressure is not coming only from the government and utilities, though. End users of these buildings— those who sign the leases and write the checks—have expectations. All things being equal, businesses will choose the building with the most bells and whistles, or in this case, the best BMS. A study by The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) revealed that building occupants with greater control over temperature and lighting are more productive by as much as five percent.
Whether it is an office building, a hospital complex, or a university or college campus, an advanced BMS can respond to conditions from a long-term approach and as they happen. BMS can turn off the lights in a conference room as it empties, adjust the thermostat as the outside temperature rises or falls, or detect a malfunction in any number of systems and call it to the attention of the facilities management staff. A capable building management system can discover a failing component, order the replacement part, and notify the administrator.
A top-of-the-line BMS can pay for itself within a few years. According to a blog post by Schneider Electric, direct and indirect savings from such a system can easily total 30% annually.
External factors often present challenges for your BMS, but a well-designed, carefully installed, and regularly maintained system can overcome these challenges. If the system can’t rectify the issue, FICO’s technology allows engineers to remotely access your system and help your engineers solve the problem. This is a particularly invaluable service when your facility is in a remote location.
As the facility manager, viewed as the architect and administrator of the system, you become a hero.
A clarification of terms
Building management systems (BMS) are often called building automation systems (BAS). You will also encounter the term “smart building.” When you hear these terms from consultants and other industry members, clarify what they are talking about. In this guide, though, we will refer to these systems as building management systems, and to make things easier, we’ll use the acronym BMS.
A brief history
BMS started as soon as buildings became part of the human experience. For centuries, BMS consisted of windows to let the fresh air in and chimneys and other ventilation to let the stale air and smoke from fires escape. With the advent of the industrial age and more and more workers occupying the same building, employers found that too many people in an enclosed space created lots of stale air. Colds and other pathogens spread quickly. People in the workplace suffered from the first cases of “sick building syndrome.”
A strategic approach to BMS came in the late 1800s, starting with hard-wired systems transmitting signals from a central location to actuators throughout a building. Human controllers could open and close dampers to adjust the flow of air. The heating came from a boiler in the basement.
Computers joined the mix in the 1970s, almost 100 years later, and buildings became increasingly automated. Two decades later, the internet emerged, followed closely by wireless technology. BMS could be controlled remotely. Engineers started looking beyond HVAC, envisioning systems incorporating power management, building security, and more.
What’s driving popularity in BMS today?
If the US is going to fulfill its pledge in the Paris Climate Accord, we must reduce carbon emissions. Global warming is still a political football within the Washington, DC, beltway, but increasing numbers of corporate and business decision-makers are taking it upon themselves to do something.
The electrical grid is groaning, too. Every building or high-rise that comes online in an already congested downtown area places extra stress on the power delivery system. Those who live in the suburbs are familiar with pleas from the electrical utilities to limit appliance use in the afternoons, and in extreme cases, there are brownouts and blackouts. Part of the reason is that the utilities must redirect that energy to businesses, where a power loss is far more consequential.
Then there is the cost aspect. One-third of non-fixed operating expenses in an office building or similar structure go to energy consumption. Reduced energy usage in a building translates to lower utility bills for the owners and tenants.
BMS goes beyond higher utility bills for tenants, though. Business owners want a comfortable office that enhances employee wellness (which means fewer sick days). They also know that employees with access to the latest workforce apps, access control, customized climate control, and other features are more productive.
Employees want to know that everything they do helps improve the world. They can recycle at home, drive an electric or hybrid vehicle, and purchase brands that reflect the same ethos, but if their workplace is a polluter, it negates everything.
There is also the reality of what a BMS does to building economics. According to a white paper by Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), an international commercial real estate firm, buildings outfitted with the latest BMS technology command more value:
- Lease prices are 8% to 35% higher.
- Occupancy rates are 9% to 18% higher.
- Sales prices are 17% higher.
The occupancy bullet is critical to building owners. Office occupancy rates took a hit during the pandemic. Many people worked from home, and businesses discovered the benefits of remote work, including higher productivity and the ability to downsize their real estate footprint since there were fewer people in the office. According to McKinsey & Company, “demand for office space is 13 percent lower … for the median city in our study. In a severe scenario, demand falls by 38 percent in the most heavily affected city.” Experts predict it will be a few more years before occupancy rates return to pre-pandemic levels.
Why is this expansion of BMS possible?
BMS has reached a level of savings, efficiencies, and possibilities based on three technologies:
- Open and integrated platforms
- Cloud computing
- The Internet of Things (IoT), and mobile technology
Let’s look at each one individually.
Open and integrated platforms
We’ve all had the experience of buying a product, a computer, a watch, or a car, only to find that within a few months, there is new software or features that do not work on our slightly older model. There was a time when the same was true for BMS. Older systems, because they were tasked only with HVAC, often could not interface with new software and hardware that might bring in power usage controls, diagnostic tools, or other efficiencies.
Today’s BMS incorporates an open computer platform, allowing integration with subsystems and enabling the exchange of information. This development occurred because most BMS designers and manufacturers recognize they can’t do it all. They might provide HVAC, power control, and lighting systems, but other BMS features, such as security and access control, are beyond their scope. These companies recognize, however, that other firms design such systems, and allowing the two to digitally handshake benefits everyone. Shy away from vendors who recommend a closed system, especially if they say, “Well, this vendor does it all.”
Do not confuse open platform BMS with a system that is easy for hackers to infiltrate. Today, BMS systems are secure, preventing unwanted intrusion.
Also, consider any legacy systems you might have in your current BMS. The new system needs to interface with older software. Your vendor should have an answer for this.
The revolution of cloud computing has brought unique capabilities to BMS. Unlimited scalability means you can store massive amounts of data so that other components of the BMS can access and analyze it for reference.
For example, one of the tenants in your building could be a digital advertising agency. This is an industry where a hybrid workplace is common. Not everyone is in the office every day. Team members may need to come in on specific days for in-person meetings and planning sessions and choose to be off-premises for the rest of their work. If such a business has 200 employees, they may only need a physical workspace for 125 people. Team members use a workforce app for scheduling when they will be in the office. The workforce app communicates with the BMS to determine the proper temperature for that office, depending on how many people reserve space for that day. This is machine learning. Nowhere in this information exchange is there a need for a human decision.
For instance, an unexpected group of employees could come into this office (perhaps the team member tasked with scheduling the meeting failed to document it on the app). An occupancy sensor detects the influx of people, computes how the added body heat affects the office temperature, and automatically lowers the thermostat.
Cloud computing can also help facility managers by creating a digital twin of your building. This means you can use this digital twin to ask “what if” questions.
- What if a tenant proposes building a 1500-square-foot, in-house data center to store sensitive information? What are the electrical needs to run the servers and cooling to maintain optimum operating temperatures?
- What if a new tenant does medical imaging? Such procedures often require a clean power source with no fluctuations. What, if any, changes do you need to make to your system so that you can supply that power?
- What if tenants ask about additional chargers for electric vehicles for their staff? How does adding EV-only spaces and chargers affect the rest of your parking? What will it do to the energy demands?
Cloud computing means your BMS system can store and process the massive amounts of data it takes to envision these scenarios using a digital twin.
The Internet of Things and Mobile Technology
Access to the Internet previously required a computer terminal, laptop, tablet, or cell phone. That’s also changed. If you have recently purchased a dishwasher, a refrigerator, or even a new thermostat for your home, then you know that you have remote access to these appliances, usually through an app on your phone. Welcome to the Internet of Things (IoT), an interconnected system of devices that transfers and exchanges data over a wireless network. This can happen without any human intervention.
Let’s look at an example:
The office manager of a tenant arrives early one morning to prepare for a client meeting. When she approaches the parking garage, a sensor detects a barcode sticker in the window of her car and raises the gate, allowing her entrance. Closed-circuit TV also monitors the parking entrance. If it detects an intruder sneaking in after the office manager, an alert is immediately sent to her app, as well as building security. Simultaneously, another message is sent to a sensor controlling the elevators, and an elevator opens in the parking garage so that she does not have to wait.
As she moves through the building, she never has to remove a set of keys from her purse. A sensor on her keychain detects her approach, automatically turning on lights and unlocking doors. Meanwhile, the coffee maker is brewing a pot on the 38th floor, where her office is. (That is, of course, as long as someone prepared the coffee maker the previous evening. If they did not, then the coffee maker sensor will not permit it to be turned on.)
Sensors are at work in other parts of the building. The HVAC system adjusts the temperature, depending on what the BMS learned about the weather that day from consulting an online digital weather service. Another subsystem of the BMS checks the same report and opens the blinds on the east- and south-facing sides to allow outside light, thus saving on electricity to power unnecessary lighting. Other sensors detect a low level of paper towels in seven washrooms on various floors in the building. When building maintenance arrives, they have a list waiting for them of where supplies need to be delivered.
Mobile capabilities are essential, too. What if a facility manager works for an entity that owns several buildings in a downtown area or a neighboring city? The property could also be a large college campus or a hospital with separate buildings and adjacent medical office buildings. Surgical suites, patient rooms, laboratories, and other departments all have differing temperature, ventilation, and energy needs. Everything still gets done because IoT is wireless. Mobile technology allows for the exchange of information from just about anywhere. A member of the facilities management staff could be in one building but can control systems elsewhere via a cell phone or tablet.
Who do you choose to work with?
The fourth factor in a great BMS is the partner you choose to develop your system. For more than 20 years, FICO has devoted its energies, and those of its staff, to embracing the proven technologies that make a difference in the performance of your BMS. Our team includes specialists in all the disciplines that comprise a system that performs at optimum levels, makes your build comfortable, and saves energy. Facility managers should pay close attention to their selection of the best BMS partner.
What systems can you incorporate into modern BMS?
HVAC was the main focus of BMS in the beginning and still plays a large part in the overall mix, but other systems are now routinely part of BMS. Some have been part of the mix for a while, and others are just coming on.
IT thieves, disgruntled employees, and other bad actors are all a concern. Some technologies can detect firearms and other weapons. Sensors control access.
COVID-19 made all of us concerned about pathogens in the workplace. Airflow is a primary job of an HVAC system, exhausting exhaled air and airborne pathogens from a workplace. UV lighting in critical locations deep within the air-ducting system can destroy as much as 99% of all disease-causing pathogens. There are systems that can even detect someone running a fever.
Wayfinding used to be colored lines on the floors and walls of hospitals and other institutions, so you knew how to reach a destination. Today, it is a GPS for your building. When they enter, visitors can access an app to help them find their way. Changes to the wayfinding occur in real-time as tenants move in and out of offices or space is expanded or subdivided.
Fire suppression systems protect against the types of fire most likely to occur in an area, solids, liquids, gases, or otherwise. Building access systems and wayfinding can also help occupants safely exit the building. Similar systems can help do the same in an earthquake or a weather disaster.
Controlling elevators and escalators
If there is a large meeting in an office, tenants can notify workplace apps. Elevators can be waiting to carry people to the office efficiently and assist their quick exit when the meeting concludes. BMS shuts off elevators in case of fire. Escalators are safer by making these devices more immune to vandalism and breakdowns. BMS can also make it easier to rescue trapped individuals.
“Grid-responsive demand management” will be more of a factor. Facility managers will follow price signals and shortages, especially during severe weather. Solar panels and other technologies will enable on-site energy generation (and the potential to sell it to the grid for a profit). Power-generating solar windows are in their infancy but can change how we produce electricity. Facility managers will use grid-responsive demand management to tell them when using a specific energy source is financially appropriate. The BMS might even make the change automatically.
These apps span a wide gamut of possibilities. Visitors to your office will find themselves connected to wayfinding systems. Other systems can issue temporary passwords for parking, building access, and more. A tenant can request a temporary password to allow a visiting client to charge their EV for free when they visit. The charge is billed to the client.
These apps will allow third-party vendors access to areas of your BMS that involve their products or services. You can set limitations to prevent these vendors from accidentally entering into other areas of the system.
What about maintenance?
In a FICO blog entitled Using Preventative Maintenance Agreements to Reduce BMS Costs, we discussed the various types of maintenance.
- Reactive maintenance
- Preventative maintenance
- Predictive maintenance
- Reliability-centered maintenance
Stay away from the first one and incorporate the others into your BMS.
This entails waiting for components to fail, then repairing or replacing them. Reactive maintenance is the most expensive because it can lead to catastrophic failures and costly repairs. Nevertheless, 55% of all companies in the US rely on reactive maintenance.
Preventative maintenance is akin to purchasing a car and bringing it in for periodic maintenance, an oil change every 5,000 miles, and maintenance on larger items at perhaps 30,000 miles, 60,000 miles, and 100,000 miles. Thirty-one percent of companies in the US use preventative maintenance, saving 12% to 18% over reactive maintenance.
Only about 12% of companies in the US use predictive maintenance, but according to a report by Deloitte, “predictive maintenance increases productivity by 25%, reduces breakdowns by 70%, and lowers maintenance costs by 25%.” Predictive maintenance is based on real-world conditions. Exterior intake filters on the HVAC system require changing at regular intervals, but a succession of mild seasons may prolong the life of those filters. BMS can monitor that. As a facility manager, you’ve saved the cost of a new filter and the people power needed to replace it.
Conversely, as pointed out in a blog post by Schneider Electric, your BMS “doesn’t know it’s on a schedule. A part may fail before the schedule says it should, potentially resulting in downtime.” A BMS programmed for predictive maintenance collects and analyzes system data and detects when a component shows characteristics that are not within norms, possibly indicating an imminent failure.
Reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) recognizes that not all equipment or subsystems in a BMS facility are equally vital. This is important for budgeting and decision-making and where to allocate resources. For instance, that external intake filter might require replacement, but your BMS also shows irregularities in the power that goes to a tenant‘s in-house data center. The data center is a much more vital system and should take priority. RCM works on the principle that some systems can fail before replacement without sacrificing performance, while others need immediate attention.
The most advanced BMS employs the principles of predictive maintenance and reliability-centered maintenance.
How do you choose the right BMS partner?
Compared to the systems of just a few years ago, BMS has made significant strides, and there is more room for future potential. Still, there are only so many hours in the day and not enough time to update yourself on all the developments in BMS. Smart facility managers ally themselves with knowledgeable sources. Here are some things you should consider when looking for a BMS partner.
Capable staff. Modern BMS is a multi-disciplined approach. Besides the various mechanical systems involved, experts need to have considerable IT experience.
A proven track record. Your BMS partner should be a veteran of the industry with a number of systems they can point to as successful projects.
Industry certifications. As you research BMS, you will come across the same names: Schneider Electric, Honeywell, and Johnson Controls. Make sure the partner you are evaluating is certified in various technologies produced by these companies.
Strong in service. Look for a partner with a service staff of experts available 24/7. The service department is often the delineating factor between a good BMS partner and a great BMS partner. An expansive service department says your BMS partner is committed to supporting the product they sell and install. FICO has a dedicated service department and we also offer maintenance agreements so that the systems we design for our clients are always operating at peak capacity and have the latest updates.
They are teachers. They share vital knowledge with your staff to maintain your building’s BMS.
They are not afraid to work themselves out of a job. If they are any good, chances are they won’t.
They should know what ASHRAE is. ASHRAE was formerly known as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. It is a professional organization of those involved in the disciplines that comprise BMS. ASHRAE does many things, including setting industry standards and training.
You can offset the cost of BMS
There are an endless number of incentive programs available to help offset the cost of upgrading your BMS. Most of these are at the state, county, and municipal level. Utilities have programs. Before you embark on any upgrades of your BMS, conduct thorough research on the availability of these programs. Many have specific requirements that pose little challenge if you know them as you begin planning.
For programs from utilities, check with UtilityGenius.com. At the state level, do a Google search using your state and a term such as “government rebates for BMS.”
What does all this mean for facility managers?
The past several decades have seen amazing strides in technology. We are only on the cusp of unlocking the possibilities of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Those technologies will affect every part of our lives, including BMS. As a facilities manager, you don’t have to know every minute detail of these technologies, but you should appreciate the opportunities they represent. If you are not a member of ASHRAE, you need to join. Get acquainted with the local chapter of IFMA (International Facility Managers Association) and attend meetings. Ask for a budget for you and members of your department to go to symposiums and conventions. Research and subscribe to magazines and periodicals.
Cultivate the knowledge that will allow you to assemble the best BMS, and you will become a hero.
Contact FICO for a Free Assessment
FICO is an industry leader in designing, installing, and servicing building management systems. Our systems feature the latest technology and capabilities. We invite you to look at our portfolio. Call us for a free estimate or visit our website.