July  2004

Innovations in Comfort, Efficiency, and Safety Solutions.

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Procurement of the latest and greatest

The request for proposal approach allows active solicitation of the innovative approach.


Ken Sinclair, AutomatedBuildings.com

As published

July Issue - Column

If you follow my ramblings in AutomatedBuildings.com and Engineered Systems you will understand that the concepts and approaches to applying the new open networked building controls with connection to the enterprise are extremely varied. For example, comparing a wireless system to a wired system or a purchased solution that includes a web services approach can radically change the total design concept, its cost, and the necessary support infrastructure. With all these dynamics how do we insure procurement of the latest and greatest in Building Automation features that provide our client with the greatest value?

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We solved this problem over 20 years ago when the Direct Digital System started to replace pneumatic controls. The problem then was that old ways were hard to change and to reap the benefit of these new technologies the traditional design needed to be retrofitted as soon as the system was installed. To really capture the power of DDC a new approach was needed. The control part of a building represented a small fraction of the total cost and assembly was left to a fragmented group with no concept or care to how the building owner may wish to use the system. The solution was to follow the IT industry procurement model and to buy the building controls much the same as an owner would buy his IT enterprise system. In purchasing IT systems the fact that it all fit together and worked was more important than the lowest cost. Feature, functionality and fit ruled the procurement process.

To follow this model the conventional controls contract was removed from the various fragmented building contracts.  A Request for Proposal document that included the owner’s mandatory requirements and the mandatory control points as defined by the building design team, was prepared by the owner/user and his specialized automation consultant. Removing this work from the plan and spec world had many advantages. One of the biggest was the purchase of current capabilities. The design time for a large project from inception to completion is often several years, allowing mammoth changes in automation capabilities and reach as well as the building owner’s requirements. Just in time automation procurement insured the latest and greatest at the lowest cost.

This approach worked extremely well for our consulting firm in providing fresh systems that were well suited to clients’ requirements. Total automation costs dropped substantially as a result of the clearly stated mandatory requirements that included a detailed list of mandatory connected points. This approach added clarity to this complex equation. Another advantage was that vendors were encouraged to provide innovation as part of their proposals. This allowed us to provide leapfrog type technological advancements as we harnessed the complete capabilities of all the proposal teams. If a great concept was accepted and proven in one project it became a mandatory requirement in the next.  This provided constant update of our documents. The time from start to finish of the automation application was amazingly quick as the building was completed and previous unknowns, i.e. manufacturer of chillier, adjustable speed drives, plus actual client interface and interaction requirements were now known. 

The great progress made in open standards in the last few years will allow the task of separating the hard building stuff (chillers, fans, lights etc) from the soft stuff (interfaces and integration) easier.  A tight spec using one of the major protocols which will become part of an integration request for proposal, will allow equipment to be purchased with controls including well-documented global strategies.

I believe that using the approach of separating the hard stuff in buildings from the soft stuff will lead to insuring the procurement of the latest and greatest “just in time” technologies. Innovation will flow and the industry will feed on each new idea and application. Imagine being able to accurately compare a wireless approach with a wired one. Imagine an approach where the complete global integration control of the building is provided by a vendor as a web service for a monthly charge? The request for proposal approach allows active solicitation of the innovative approach.

Removing the scope of the final Building Automation interface from the traditional plan spec approach allows multi-discipline coordination problems to be addressed. The economics of sharing computers, servers, networks, and existing IT infrastructures are clearly seen and well managed while coordination is inherit and occurs at a new level.

Use the Request for Proposal approach to insure procurement of the latest and greatest at the lowest cost.



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