June 2011

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BACnet Barbeque
A Summer Holiday Perspective

Andy McMillanAndy McMillan
President and GM
Philips Teletrol
BACnet International
Contributing Editor

As I write this column on the holiday weekend, I’m looking out the window where I can see my grill sitting on the deck.  We pulled it out of the garage yesterday and cleaned it up.  Later this afternoon I’ll fire it up to initiate the first barbeque of the season.  And that has me thinking that in some ways, a BACnet project is kind of like a holiday barbeque.  Now, that might not have been your first thought, but stick with me for a bit and perhaps by the time we’re done you’ll see what I mean. 

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From a Few Ribs to a Huge Party
Wander around on a summer holiday and you’re likely to find barbeques all over the place.  Following the unmistakable aroma wafting through a park you can expect to stumble upon everything from simple family cookouts to elaborate corporate blowouts.  Barbeques are practically ubiquitous and are appropriate in all sizes … much like BACnet is becoming ubiquitous and is appropriate for all sizes of projects.  From huge campus integration programs to small office automation efforts - projects come in all sizes and BACnet brings important benefits to all of them.  If you want to get a closer look at a broad range of BACnet projects check out the Success Stories on the BACnet International website (www.BACnetInternational.com). 

The Secret Sauce
Another interesting aspect to the traditional barbeque is the wide range of sauces people use.  Some make their own from scratch – occasionally referencing secret recipes.  Others take an off-the-shelf product (perhaps doctoring it up a bit) while another group is constantly trying new sauces in hopes of someday finding the perfect one.  Whatever the source of the sauce, a successful barbeque is dependent on the sauce matching the preference(s) of the diners. 

In one frame of reference, the secret sauce in a BACnet project is the project specification.  Finding the right balance of constraints and creative freedom is an important decision, much like getting the right balance between sweet and spicy in the barbeque sauce.  There are those who suggest there should be a single “correct” specification document to guide all BACnet projects but I would not include myself in that group.  I believe the approach to specifying BACnet is best tailored to match the needs of the project and the nature of the team executing it.

Did you know that there is such a thing as a Certified Pitmaster?  It turns out that it’s true!  Professional barbeque training is available and (presumably) having a trained pitmaster lead your barbeque produces a better result.  Now, I can’t say from personal experience whether that’s actually true for a barbeque, but I can say from personal experience that it’s true for BACnet projects.  Having a trained design and integration partner lead your BACnet project will certainly produce a better result.  And, hopefully before too long you’ll even be able to look for a certified BACnet integrator as BACnet International works to put a training and certification program in place.  

BBQ Mania
I tried to barbeque an entire meal once … but only once.  It didn’t work out all that well.  It seems that some foods are better without barbeque sauce and a hot grill.  But, I got caught up in the event and forgot that the barbeque itself is only a means to an end.  The real point was to create a great meal for our guests and that works better when key dishes are barbequed but some others are not.  It’s easy to make the same kind of mistake with a BACnet project.  Too much focus on BACnet can lead to “tunnel vision” that puts the technology rather than user requirements at the center.  This can lead to poor decisions with a kind of “techno-religion” substituting for solid value engineering. 

The truth is that as users become more familiar with BACnet, they ought to become less interested in it.  We are approaching the point where users can safely devote little mindshare to the details of BACnet itself and focus instead on the functionality of the system they need.  They can choose BACnet products on the basis of their user-relevant features rather than the specifics of their BACnet implementation.  An array of BACnet products at various price-points with “good, better and best” feature/function sets provides users with the flexibility they need. 

The Weather
contemporary At first glance it would seem that clear weather makes for a better barbeque experience.  But that might not always be the case.  Sometimes a little cloud cover cuts down on the heat during the late afternoon.  It can also create a far more spectacular sunset to accompany a barbeque.  So, I think we would have to say that clear and cloudy both serve well for a barbeque.  Surprisingly, the same is true for a BACnet project. 

A BACnet project can do fine with or without a cloud … or maybe I should say, “the” cloud.  The latest technology buzz in our industry seems to be around cloud computing.  Somehow the idea of centralized computing resources appears to be a brand new idea to a lot of people.  But, to those of us who have been around awhile, it’s not a new idea … just a new incarnation of an old idea.  An idea, by the way, that has both pros and cons (which could be the subject of a future column).

Ring the (Dinner) Bell
Let’s summarize this discussion by comparing our BACnet project with a barbeque:

                                         BACnet Project                    Barbeque
Importance of Size         Not at all                                        Not at all
Key to the Sauce            Match to the Project & Team      Match to the Group
Training                           Critical                                           Useful
Main Focus                     Core Elements                             Key Dishes
Cloud(s)                          Take it or Leave it                        Take ‘em or Leave ‘em

So, perhaps a BACnet project is kind of like a barbeque after all ... 

As always, the views expressed in this column are mine and do not necessarily reflect the position of BACnet International, Teletrol Systems, Philips, ASHRAE, or any other organization.  If you want to send comments to me directly, feel free to email me at andysview@arborcoast.com.


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