Making BMS end-user friendly

Gordon Fry, KNX Technical Specialist at The Wandsworth Group, discusses the practical considerations when specifying a BMS installation to ensure that it adds value for the end user as well as enhancing the building itself.

If there’s one statement that’s true across all sectors in the current economic climate it’s that customers expect more ‘bang for their buck’. In terms of specifying commercial buildings this means that there is still a market out there for high spec, corporate office spaces, but that marketplace is more demanding than ever and expects a building that is prestigious enough to provide a high quality environment while flexible enough to be tailored to the needs of individual companies.

All BMS systems need to be flexible to ensure that they accommodate the changing needs of the occupier, changes in occupier and even changes in the building’s use.  However, while this is often incorporated into the specification at an estates management level it is not always accommodated at an occupier level, which means that many BMS systems are not providing genuine flexibility for the end user or delivering the comfort, energy efficiency and running cost benefits they should.

Ease of operation

The key to the flexibility and, ultimately, the functionality of any BMS system at an operational level is the accessibility of the user interface, both in terms of physical availability and ease of use. This applies whether the building owner expects the BMS to be controlled only by the building management team or by the occupiers themselves, but it is worth remembering that for high specification corporate offices the occupier will expect a level of autonomy in the way controls are used.

One of the key benefits of a KNX building management system is that KNX can combine extremely advanced and complex technology at the back end with a front end user interface that is as intuitive and easy to use as a smart phone.  Indeed, the wall-mounted Jung Smart Room Controller recently launched by Wandsworth Group has been designed to look and function just like a smart phone, with touch screen sliders and an easy-to-navigate menu enabling users to access information and change settings as easily as they would make a call or send a text. In this way, while the building’s owner can set the BMS to provide levels of comfort, convenience and energy efficiency aligned to the occupiers’ requirements, the occupiers themselves can adjust the controls and select scenes to reflect actual usage of the building, day-to-day in real time.

Visualisation, monitoring and control are the three key areas of operation that are easily provided as a simple-to-operate user interface with a KNX BMS installation, and this means that the end user, be they estate manager or occupier, can assess changing needs and address any anomalies in energy consumption. For example, Wandsworth Group’s Jung Facility Pilot is a software-based tool that allows visualisation, monitoring and control from an easy-to-use touchscreen panel or any enabled PC.  This ensures that both the occupier and the building management team can access real time information about lighting, heating/cooling, a/v and blind controls, select scenes or alter settings, viewing the entire building or selected zone on screen. What’s more, the system collects data which provides valuable management information about the way in which the building is actually used so that settings can be adjusted to enhance functionality. Energy consumption can also be monitored to identify ways in which energy efficiency could be improved. The system can even be accessed remotely via a secure internet log in; enabling the end user to turn up the heating if there is a cold snap during the weekend or select a welcome scene if a lone worker is going back into the building during the night.

This type of functionality should be built into any BMS system because the purpose of a BMS should not be to restrict the use of building services but to enhance manual operation with automated controls.  The wow factor for occupiers with a KNX installation is not simply that they have an intelligent building but that they are able to communicate with the building, using tools that are simple to operate.

Flexible by design

So much for the KNX installation being easy to operate, but, as we have already discussed, the commercial world moves quickly, and occupiers change, add new departments or alter their working practices and all of this can impact on the suitability of the BMS.

Along with the suitability of the user interface, specifiers should also consider the importance of specifying a BMS that can adapt and grow as a building’s needs change. The commercial world is very dependent on technology and who knows where technology might take us next, so the ability to incorporate new controls for new building services and technologies is essential; So too is the ability to reconfigure the system quickly and simply should the interior space be reconfigured for a change of tenant or a change of use, along with the ability to re-programme the BMS with new scenes and settings to suit the needs of current or future occupiers.

On all these counts, KNX provides an ideal solution. The world’s only truly open intelligent buildings protocol, KNX offers over 7000 products manufactured by around 300 manufacturers worldwide ensuring that specifiers can select freely from a wide range of tools and controls without being tied to a single manufacturer. With more than 30,000 accredited KNX integrators across the world (a number that is constantly growing) any KNX installation can be altered or upgraded quickly and easily by a trained KNX professional simply by incorporating new controls and integrating them with the existing system.

That level of flexibility and adaptability not only makes a building more attractive to prospective tenants, it also makes it more sustainable. The essence of sustainability encompasses both the longevity of the building and its energy efficiency and a KNX installation can improve both these elements.  Indeed, research carried out by the University of Bremen has demonstrated that a KNX building management system can provide energy savings of 40% with shading control, 50% with individual room control, and 60% with lighting and ventilation control simply by avoiding energy wastage and aligning functions. When viewed alongside the flexibility of the protocol to incorporate changes in occupier and function, it is simple to see how the BMS can support a building’s sustainability objectives.

The capacity for mapping energy consumption offered by a KNX tool like the Facility Pilot is also significant in this regard. Where once an analysis of energy consumption was confined to fluctuations in energy bills, the Facility Pilot can offer real time information on energy consumption and can even identify the proportion of energy used from different sources in buildings where energy from renewable sources is used in conjunction with the grid.

Better buildings

When it comes to specifying BMS systems, the bottom line is that the system should be just as convenient for the end user as it is for the building operator/owner.  All too often the BMS involves a nuisance factor for the occupier with an over-regimented regime of automated control. By selecting a flexible solution like KNX with an easily operated user interface like the Facility Pilot and Smart Room Controller, specifiers can help the BMS return to its status as technology that enhances the occupier experience, not just the building.

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