Why the critics of BMS have got it wrong

Building management systems continue to attract criticism from some quarters for their supposed lack of user friendliness. It is argued that any system providing sophisticated control is effectively out of bounds to all but the experts. Indeed, to hear some people talk you would think that without a team of specialists in constant attendance, the average BMS is doomed to become an expensive white elephant. This is patently nonsense.

The truth is that there is absolutely no reason why even the most complex BMS should be inaccessible to the non-technical, or even technophobic, user. It is simply a matter of ensuring that the different skills and informational needs of potential users are taken into account at the system design stage. Once these requirements have been defined, appropriate operator interfaces can be selected and set up to suit.

Trend’s principal system supervisor - the ‘963’ - is a prime example of just how straightforward it is to create a truly user friendly BMS. Like previous Trend supervisors, this latest model can be set up to present live data on easy-to-understand, custom-designed plant schematics and floor layouts. Crucially, the 963 can also be tailored to satisfy a full range of user needs.

This is an especially important feature for those who have no experience of building management systems and may be reluctant to gain any. Typically this might be a security guard or caretaker, who may only need to interface with the BMS to view (and then report) alarms and turn lighting/heating on and off. All they would need for this are one or two simple screen pages. By tailoring their access rights in this way, they are spared the potential confusion of having to navigate through irrelevant displays and being distracted by extraneous details. Similarly, a boiler maintenance contractor could be provided with just a single display that gives key performance data and system adjustments relating only to the boilers.

In certain buildings it might be judged desirable to give large numbers of people the facility to view and adjust conditions in their workspace via the BMS. Fortunately, this can be achieved without each person needing to have supervisory software on his or her PC – which would obviously be expensive. On a Trend system all they would require is a web browser like Internet Explorer. This is because of the 963’s client/server structure.

Owing to the universal use of browsers, the 963 will have a familiar feel to most BMS novices. This does not of course imply that training can be ignored. Even with a product that is more or less intuitive (such as Trend’s IQView touch-screen interface) some instruction should still be given.

Time spent establishing operators’ needs and providing them with training will always pay dividends. It will help ensure that a BMS’s considerable potential is fully exploited.

Critics of BMS would do well to remember how building services were controlled in the past. The simple controls that used to be the norm – such as timeclocks and thermostats – were often either never adjusted or they were subject to unauthorised tampering, resulting in huge amounts of energy being wasted. What solved the problem was the introduction of building management systems. This is one reason why such systems are now the dominant form of HVAC control in non-domestic buildings.

Casey Wells