April 2011
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BAS Usability
Creating high quality graphics is only half of the picture to support system usability. 

Paul Ehrlich, Ira Goldschmidt & Angela Lewis
Building Intelligence Group

As published
Engineered Systems 
April Issue - Column

Our February column (Set it and forget it?  Forget it!) ended with a discussion of continuous commissioning – “the best continuous commissioning comes from a diligent operator who is using the BAS on a regular basis as a tool to optimize the facility.” Unfortunately we find many buildings engineers aren’t regularly using these systems.  There are many reasons for this, including challenges with training, time, focus, and the usability of systems.  This month we would like to look further at the challenges in delivering a usable BAS solution. 

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There is an entire industry focused on delivering usable software solutions from desktop software to web sites.  Software developers do analysis on user needs and conduct formal usability testing.  Web developers monitor usage to see how their sites are accessed.  Unfortunately we can’t say the same for BAS installations.  Most projects have few requirements provided for their user interface (i.e. graphics) and BAS engineers who may be more talented with installing controllers and programming sequences than in creating and linking graphic images, often create the graphical interface.  As a result the user interface for these critical systems comes together often more by convenience and less by design. 

Vendors have attempted to fix this problem by moving to web based interfaces, creating standard graphics libraries and tools to support easy replication.  We even see suppliers who provide graphics as part of their system, as well as independent graphics contractors who support owners and controls contractors. But in most cases, little time or attention is put into creating the graphics, reports, and trends. 

Control Solutions, Inc Graphics Standards
Creating high quality graphics is only half of the picture to support system usability.  For operators of multi-building organizations, it is important that there is a standard in place so that all BAS graphics look the same of each type of system and the same information is found in the same place on each graphic.  These standards include conventions for building, system, and point naming, how equipment and systems should be represented.  These standards can be created by the owner, systems integrator, or by specialized consultants.  Creating these standards allows an owner to have consistency even whey multiple suppliers and contractors are utilized.  

Have a graphics standard? Great, however, this does not necessarily mean your BAS graphics will comply with the standard.  It is one thing to create a standard, and another thing to implement it – not to mention implementing the standard accurately.

Tips for Improving System Usability
Here are a few tips for consultants, and facility management teams to development and successfully implement a usability standard.

What can consultants do?

What can consultants do?

What should owners and facility management teams do?

The expectation is that a BAS should be as intuitive and easy to use as commercially available web sites or software.  The development of standards and selection of high quality suppliers can make this a reality. 

Special thanks to our associate Angela Lewis for this month’s column. 



About the Authors

Paul and IraPaul and Ira first worked together on a series of ASHRAE projects including the BACnet committee and Guideline 13 – Specifying DDC Controls. The formation of Building Intelligence Group provided them the ability to work together professionally providing assistance to owners with the planning, design and development of Intelligent Building Systems. Building Intelligence Group provides services for clients worldwide including leading Universities, Corporations, and Developers. More information can be found at www.buildingintelligencegroup.com  We also invite you to contact us directly at Paul@buildingintelligencegroup.com or ira@buildingintelligencegroup.com


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