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I've thought a lot lately about the convergence of IT and BAS and the rapidity at which new products and offerings are proliferating the market. I said to myself, if I was an owner, what would be the top 5 questions I would want my BAS consultant to be able to answer.  The list that I created was not created in any particular order, but rather it is a semi-legible consolidation of my ramblings as those of you who have read my blogs in the past seem to enjoy (why else do I keep getting readership :-D ).


Question 1: What level of security is built into the products that are approved for this project?

Security is top of my mind lately, many of our BAS systems are sitting on a proverbial powder keg in Death Valley surrounded by chain smokers during the middle of summer. Ok, I may have a bit of a flair for the dramatic but when I can spend 3 minutes and find an Airport with its BAS exposed to the internet and the default login/password still in the system that might be something a end-user should be concerned about.

So then the first question that comes to mind with my potential consultant is how are you building security into my project? Can someone plug into one of my devices directly and access my network? Can someone hack the Zigbee, Z-Wave, or 802.11 network that my wireless sensors sit on and use it to send packets upstream into my "secure" network? Does having multiple protocols or multiple vendors expose me to a security risk?

Unfortunately, if you don't live and breathe this stuff everyday then you don't know to ask those questions. It would be akin to me evaluating water treatment solutions for a condenser water system. It's simply something I don't get exposed to so I don't even know what questions to ask. (It is ok, to ask why the Biocide is hooked up to the potable water intake though, as occupants tend to frown on drinking chemicals made for cooling tower treatment....)


Question 2: How will patching and software updates be handled after year one?

Thanks for the purchase, by the way version xyz comes out in 2014 and that is a 5k upgrade plus the time to have the technician upgrade the software. Man doesn't it suck when you finally convince procurement to replace the old wax valve thermostat with a DDC system only to find out that next year your system is being upgraded?

I mean seriously, shouldn't someone know that? Or what if each time a software upgrade comes out you need to download the update and reset your BAS? That might pose a minor problem if you are working in a Level for CDC lab or Tier 4 data center..

It still amazes me to this day that BAS software can't self-update like my anti-virus or Evernote does. Really, you mean to tell me when can have UAV's, self-driving cars, and robotic surgery but we can't figure out how to make a BAS auto-update? Even if you weren't exposed to the outside world, you could still have software that when installed auto-updates the system.

Ok, Phil, get back on track... Sorry for my segue, I promise to stay focused.

So, what's the answer, well step 1 is for your consultant to work with you on a life-cycle plan. Most control systems last 10 years before the vendor replaces the product line. Now with enhanced technology that gap is shrinking (I don't think we will be like Windows with a new OS every 2 years).

Your consultant must help you cost how much an upgrade is both in manpower, downtime, and dollars (and whether this is funded through CAPx or OPx depends on your organization). Once you have this information you need to build this in upfront. There are simply to many areas where a patch is critical to the security of your system.


Question 3: What is the Life Cycle Cost of My Building and Can You Help Me Reduce It?

What I am not implying with this question is that your BAS consultant is creating your Building Models. A BAS consultant has to much on his/her plate already to be conducting Option D M&V models. What this question really gets to the heart of is, after everything is said and done and the GC is a distant memory how do I manage my building? How do I ensure systems operate effectively? What safeguards do I have in place to keep from suffering the death of 1000 cuts.

For those of you who may not have been in our industry for a while it is common for a building to operate just fine the first decade or so. Despite the horror stories you may hear the majority of construction projects execute within a week or so of the deadline, occupancy and safety inspections are passed, and people move in.

However, beneath the surface something much more insidious remains. Over the course of the first 18 months, through deferred PM's and overrides the energy model of the building shifts. This unfortunately (especially in the commercial real estate world) coincides with a building becoming 90-100% occupied. Because of this simultaneous occurrence the fact that a building is operating inefficiently is often lost. Arguments are made that the life cycle costs are being manipulated through plug loads and unpredictable space utilization.

While the tenants are happy the spaces are 72 degrees +/- 2 degrees and humidity tends to stay around 50-60% RH, the operations of the unit's tell a different story. During the first 18 months the maintenance mechanic accidentally replaced the filters with a higher MERV rated filter dramatically impacting airflow. In order to fix this issue another mechanic adjusted the minimum OA setting from 10% to 30%. All the sudden your cooling coil now having to deal with this increase in humidity is working harder and your central plant is now running less efficiently and more often.

All of these minor changes and adjustments snowball into an abominable snowman of inefficiency.

However, if your consultant is on his/her game most of this could be avoided. First, the documentation and setup of periodic (annual) sequence checks could be established. Effective fault detection systems could be deployed and automated reporting could be sent to a dashboard. A M&V plan with the appropriate regression metrics could be setup to ensure proper energy performance. All of these are quite simple in themselves but they require an expert who is versed in the design and aware of their existence to suggest them in the first place.


Question 4: How Should I Train My Staff to Self-Execute?

Let's face it most 40 hour training sessions included within a projects Scope of Work suck. Maybe that isn't the most professional way to say it but let's call a spade a spade and a turd a turd. When take into account that there are multiple trades on a project and that each trade is trying to cram a set agenda of knowledge into a group of guys/gals you end up with an operational team that is functionally comatose by the end of the first week.

The traditional system of training and knowledge sharing doesn't work. So what is an owner to do?

I will tell you the successes I have seen and let you make your own decisions.

Method 1: Have a Wiki- There is a School District, name not to be disclosed, that literally hosts all MEP, Sequence of Operations, Training Videos, and Procedures on an internal based wiki. This allows each employee to access via there laptop or mobile device any information they may need. Furthermore this school district uses discussion boards to allow supervisors and peers to collaborate around issues that may have in the past required an outside vendor.

Method 2: Train Last- Instead of cramming 40 hours of mind numbing sessions into your team break the training into two or three sessions. Have session one be a basic familiarity session where the team learns just enough to be functional. Provide web or phone support in the interim. At or around month 6 have another 8 hour session to answer any questions that may have arisen. At 12 months, have a 16 hour session to close any gaps and answer advanced level questions.

Method 3: Train the trainer or higher the Vendors Tech- Both approaches work equally well depending on the person you are working with. In the train the trainer approach you have one of your employees learn everything there is about the installed product in order to become the training and go to resource for your team. In the second approach, you literally hire one of the vendor's technicians and have him and all associated knowledge within your organization. These methods work best if you have adopted this vendor's product as your standard.


Question 5: Can you Help Me Standardize My Organization?

Imagine if you had 10 different payroll systems or 15 different e-mail platforms. What if you were a regional vice president and every time you went to a different office you needed to use a different laptop and different email system? That seems pretty inefficient yet company's do this all the time with their control systems, often taking the lowest bid in hopes of reducing the project cost with no regard to how this will affect their operating expenses for the next several decades.

The problem is that very few organizations are going to willingly rip out all their control systems and start over with a fresh new system. The logical solution would seem to find a system's integrator who could pull each system into a central device and call it day. However, the problem still remains that each site needs to stock a different set of controllers and each site needs a technician or local resource trained on their particular system.

Your consultant should be proficient enough in BAS systems that he/she can sit down with you and build up a 10 year plan towards standardization and self-execution, if that aligns with your business goals.



My brain is tired as are my fingers so I am just about done with this list.

Before I go, I want to ask you my readers, what does your list look like?

What do you like about your consultants, what do you wish they knew?

Share your horror stories and your successes in the comments below.

Phil Zito

Written by Phil Zito

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