Babel Buster Network Gateways: Big Features. Small Price.
How an improved building process can lead to better buildings
There's a simple way to produce buildings with lower first cost and greater long-term value to the customer: Involve a technology provider up front as an integral part of the process.
Imagine that you go to buy a new car and the dealer only sells you the car body. Now it's your task to hire someone to put the seats in, someone else to build the engine, others to install the dashboard, brakes, air bags, seat belts, stereo, heater, air conditioning.
Of course, that's absurd. It's slow, inefficient, inconvenient, expensive, and in the end, would the car run right?
And yet, that's basically how we build buildings today. We design a shell. Then we bid out the plumbing, electrical, HVAC, security, and communications. Everyone goes to work. Many schedule conflicts, time extensions, change orders and retrofits later, we have a building. It looks great inside and out. Functionally, it does the job.
But how much better might it have been if built as a functional whole - not as a series of inter-connected systems? And how much less might it have cost to build as well as to own and operate?
All of us who own, design and construct buildings should be striving together to integrate technology - to deliver the most intelligent, most efficient, highest-performing buildings for the people who live and work inside them.
In today's information age, those are more than just rhetorical questions. Technology makes it possible to do more with buildings than ever before - provided the technology is used to integrate the many devices, systems and functions within the brick and mortar.
All of us who own, design and construct buildings should be striving together to integrate technology - to deliver the most intelligent, most efficient, highest-performing buildings for the people who live and work inside them. And, not incidentally, to do that at the lowest possible first cost.
When we fail to integrate, we fail the customer.
The reality is that we rarely integrate technology in buildings. We have technology in buildings. But we do not have the best technology, and we do not integrate that technology to maximize total building performance. At our best, we deploy technology to enhance the performance of individual systems.
In key respects, we're like the consumer who buys a computer with more power than the ones that guided the first Apollo moon landings - then uses it to send e-mail, write letters and balance the checkbook. Ninety-five percent of the technology sits idle.
Similarly, when we deploy technology in buildings, we use only a fraction of its power - and we deliver far less performance than the customer has a right to expect.
Here's an example: A modern chiller comes with a digital control panel that allows a trained technician to tune hundreds of variables and operating parameters to assure the most efficient operation. In a large building, there may be two or three large chillers, each with its own digital controls, and each tuned to deliver top efficiency under specified operating conditions.
Now we bring in a higher order of technology. We hard-wire the building automation system (BAS) to several points on each chiller to coordinate their operations and to notify building operators of alarm conditions.
The BAS knows the on-off status of each chiller. It has a flow sensor to ensure that when the chiller says it's on, chilled water is actually flowing. And it has sensors to make sure the water temperature is within tolerance at appropriate points in the system.
But in this common scenario, the individual chillers are already optimized by their own digital controls. So the BAS - that superior technological brain - is used more or less as an expensive and redundant monitoring system. At best, the BAS contributes to energy savings by calculating the optimal time to start or stop a second or third chiller. It is being used to maximize the performance of individual devices. Nothing new is accomplished, as we could do that same kind of thing with pneumatic controls 50 years ago.
To make things worse, we don't stop at under-utilizing one system. We buy a separate computer for lighting. We buy one for power management. We buy one for fire alarms. We buy one for security. We end up with half a dozen subsystems, all working at a fraction of their potential and all in isolation. We have sensors and panels and computers hanging all over the building - but they're not integrated.
Imagine what could happen if we applied technology across the spectrum of equipment - if we took advantage of computing power and data available from practically every power-consuming device to maximize the total performance of the building. And imagine the cost savings if we planned all that technology before we broke ground.
What's wrong with this picture? What's wrong is the process.
There are many reasons for our inability to integrate technology in buildings - no single "bad guy" is to blame. A combination of factors keeps us from realizing the potential of technology.
We are limited because of the way we think about buildings. We are limited because technology is changing so quickly that the construction industry has trouble keeping up. Most of all, we are limited because the construction process itself tends to emphasize brick and mortar, and the owner and technology provider seldom meet until the project is being commissioned, when there may be too little time or money left to consider the best options.
More to the point, the traditional piecemeal procurement process inhibits providers' ability to offer technology - and nearly precludes its integration.
In important ways, we're stuck in the same kind of model that got many corporations into trouble two decades ago. The typical business was run in a top-down manner. The marketing, manufacturing, accounting and sales departments were like stovepipes - separate entities, rarely communicating, sometimes at cross purposes. Along the way, these companies forgot who was really important: the customer.
Now, think about how we build buildings. Typically, the party in charge of the brick and mortar is calling the shots. Underneath come the subcontractors and the various consultants - electrical, mechanical, security. They're all separate companies with their own aims, objectives and expertise.
What happens is that each participant tries to maximize the efficiency of their own system. If I have a system and you have a system, and they are separate, but they touch each other, I will try to maximize my scorecard by providing the best system I can - even to the detriment of your system. It's not a matter of people being selfish. It's just the way the process is set up. People work to maximize the value of what they are trying to deliver. And nobody looks at things across systems - unless the customer has the foresight to do it.
Why do we do it this way? Because this is the way we do it.
This is how we've operating for years. As a result, the really smart technology is still being bought as a commodity. The best we have been able to achieve is specific integration organized around HVAC or electrical systems. And we need to ask: Is that the smartest way to build buildings?
So, why do we keep doing it this way? There is an old story about the wife who always cut off the end of the ham before she put it into the oven. One day her husband asked her why she did that. She replied, "It's just how my mother did it."
The next time his mother-in-law came for a visit, the husband asked her about the practice. Her reply: "It's just how my mother did it."
Finally, the grandmother came for a visit, and the husband asked her, "Why did you always cut off the end of the ham?"
The grandmother replied, "So it would fit inside my oven."
What's our rationale for the way we continue to build buildings? In all likelihood, it isn't any stronger. We need to change from our stovepipe methodology - and instead look at leveraging technology and processes across systems. We need to step back and re-evaluate where we can use technology to create value for the customer.
A truly integrated approach would consider the process from the design of a building through ongoing operation. Most of the potential to save time and money involves integrating the procurement process, the project management function, the installation methods and schedules, the software interfaces and the hardware.
What can tie the process together? In a word: The customer's needs.
How can the construction industry break out of its old habits? By doing what corporations did two decades ago: Renewing their focus on customers and their needs. Construction will always involve general contractors and multiple subcontractors and consultants with their own specialties, aims and motivations. But all readily understand that everyone is best off when the customer is happy and their needs satisfied.
Our brick-and-mortar contractors build very nice, modern structures, and they do a great job of delivering what customers say they want. But for the most part, the customer wants to talk about how big, how much, and when will it be finished. Questions about technology may not even come up - yet technology may decide in the long run how well the customer likes the result.
At present, the construction process can insulate the customer from the people best able to offer technology solutions. How will the people who have the answers get together with the people who have the problems when they are three tiers removed in the project hierarchy?
If the customer does raise technology questions, the brick-and-mortar contractor needs to have good answers. Mechanical, electrical or security consultants can address the issues - but each mainly from a single viewpoint. The customer needs to understand the potential to solve problems through technology and the importance of integration across multiple functions.
Some customers have the foresight to push for integration, and some architects do. But they are exceptions. What the process really needs is a new component: A technology provider who not only understands construction but can translate the customer's desires into a seamless technology solution. With that provider in place, all parties to the process will be better able to work together to deliver buildings at their fullest technological capability and power - buildings that truly serve customers.
Why a technology provider? It's all about value.
At its core, the role of the technology provider is simple: Satisfy and support the customer by reducing first cost and adding long-term value to the building. But how is this new provider different from the controls contractor, who already is part of the team?
The difference is subtle, but significant: The controls contractor usually ends up working to optimize the HVAC equipment - instead of working to optimize the building. The technology provider would still optimize the HVAC, along with other subsystems, but would also optimize the construction and procurement processes, the networks, and a great deal more.
The obvious question is: will the general contractors who lead the process invite this new player to the table? They will if they are convinced that the function adds real value and increases customer satisfaction. Right from the start, a technology provider properly positioned in the process can reduce first cost, and in multiple ways. For example:
More value enters the equation when the customer occupies the building and experiences the full impact of a safe, comfortable, productive workplace that is energy efficient.
Today's technology costs less. As a result, the value equation works.
If we change the construction paradigm - if we allow a technology provider to integrate the technology project management process - we get economies of scale in the contracting process, economies of scale in the design process, and savings throughout the project management process.
Furthermore, if we change the paradigm, all of a sudden we will not be installing half a dozen under-utilized systems. Instead, we will have one system - or at most, in certain cases, a couple of systems.
One reason that integration has been slow to catch on is that the technology is perceived as expensive: It does impressive things, but where is the financial payback? It is time for that perception to change.
Twenty years ago, it may have been true: The cost of technology was so high that the benefits weren't there. But the cost of computing power - the cost of intelligent building management - has dropped significantly. Where price and value are concerned, the lines have crossed. In fact, they crossed some time ago, and every year the value equation looks better.
There is lots of hard evidence today that the value equation works. Many of the high-end buildings going in today are going in integrated. We also see evidence that the equation works - and that people understand the value proposition - when we see consolidation happening in the controls industry.
But if an integrated solution is going to be successful, it has to go beyond the technology, to include the selling process, the procurement process, all the way back to the design process. And it has to lead to a single system.
Otherwise, our industry will continue to be sub-optimal, with multiple sales forces, multiple methods of procurement, multiple project management functions and, in the end, multiple, separate systems. What good does that do for the customer? None.
The customer or the general contractor needs to be able to write one check to one company that takes responsibility for an Integrated Solution. And that check needs to be for significantly less than the multiple separate checks would have been. If we change the paradigm, we can deliver that result.
To view the article on Johnson Controls' website http://www.jci.com/metasys/articles/IntegratedSolutions.PDF
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