April 2004

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Control Solutions, Inc. - Minnesota

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Entering The Enterprise Through The Office

Ken Sinclair, AutomatedBuildings.com

As published

April issue

As purveyors of dynamic data in our newly defined building automation industry, we are constantly exploring the best methods of bringing our wares to our client's enterprise. The general acceptance and industry familiarity with the Microsoft Office Suite of programs makes this a natural conduit to pipe our real-time data to the enterprise. The power and inter-workability of this family of programs has made them a global de facto standard for most corporate enterprises.

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As our industry's web based building automation unfolds, strongly based on using Microsoft's Explorer, we find ourselves closer to our goal of being part of the enterprise than we thought. As we re-examine and better understand the interactive power and mesh-ability of the office backbone of most company enterprises we see evolving standards with simplified presentation.

The best new presentation standard is always the one we presently understand. Microsoft Office has penetrated deeply into most corporate enterprises and in most cases has become inseparable from the enterprise itself. The use of Word, Spreadsheet, Database, and Power Point etc has become the tools for user interface. The only non-Microsoft product that has a giant presence is the Portable Document Format or pdf file made by Acrobat. The advantage of this product of course is its ability to be printed to like a hardware device. This allows many non-standard software programs to be presented in this standard form. The ability to scan paper source documents into pdf format allows an easy method of connecting paper-based data.

So why am I telling you what you already know? The understanding of these concepts helps us set the pattern for a seamless, non-confrontational and well received entry into our client enterprise.

The ability of Office 2003 files to interact and be saved as XML documents without loss of content adds a new dimension to these already powerful applications. This allows us as an industry to breath life into the familiar static documents with our real-time data. Much of our existing documentation is in Microsoft Office and the connection, launching, and presentation of Word, Excel Spreadsheet, PowerPoint, and Access Database files are handled well with the Microsoft Explorer browser.

In a project that I am presently involved with we have created a web site for the Building. The web site is home for project information such as ISO policy and procedure for the project, team contact information, minutes of all meetings, project spreadsheets, chat forums, etc. Posting electronic documents prepared by team players allows for quick communication and management of the project including justification documentation, budget information, and variance reports.

Reliable Controls Now that we have the onsite BAS web server working we are able to link to the real-time information plus build graphical displays. The building web site provides a staging area for the real-time BAS web server allowing verbose descriptions and explanations as well as generally preparing management for some of their first views of real-time data. We are presently exploring the best ways to link existing static data and dynamic data, while documenting operating philosophies. We found that the preventive maintenance program onsite is a series of Word files that we are able to link to for fan and pump specification information. No conversion was necessary. Spreadsheets analyzing past energy performance were easily linked. We are also working on a graphical presentation of operating sequences that uses a cartoon type speech bubble to link information to dynamic graphs.

These new presentation mediums are great but the reality of bringing a 20 to 30 year old building on to the web is that we are tied to a lot of paper documentation. This actually presents a great opportunity as critical paper documentation can be quickly and economically scanned into very manageable pdf files. These files behave well in both html presentation and when printed. In fact in these turbulent days of downsizing, outsourcing, and rapid change, scanning irreplaceable paper documents into manageable pdf files is one of your better investments.

Our project is looking forward to the evolving xml standards. These standards will provide patterns for us to follow in making our connected documents dynamic. While we wait for these standards we will explore how to best proceed with the tools that we now have. One of our project's first applications will be the auto creation of a daily energy spreadsheet that will dynamically monitor and report.

I am constantly amazed by the amplification effect we achieve by connecting to existing documents and procedures. I think that you will agree that exploring how to best bring real-time data to the enterprise's office is an excellent investment.

Reliable Controls
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