Guest column: Embrace the BMS

A Building Management System (BMS) is often seen as too complex and an area of control beyond the remit of AV integrators. For Richard Caton, managing director of Janus Technology, it should instead be seen as a business opportunity and here’s why.

Historically, there has been much trepidation from AV integrators when faced with the challenge of integrating HVAC control in the form of a BMS into their projects.

In large homes with a complex design, the HVAC engineering team will typically select an off the shelf solution or, worse, copy and paste a BMS design specification from a previous scheme without taking the time to understand the bespoke nuances of the home in question, or its occupants. The specification might say that the BMS has to integrate with the smart home system but that’s often as explicit as it will get. Frequently, the result is that the two control systems operate side by side in silos, with the HVAC system programmed by a BMS controls specialist, who has no interest in working with the AV integrator on how it can interface or integrate with the Control4 or Crestron system used elsewhere in the house.

There’s a gulf between the two professions and this lack of joined-up thinking can have a detrimental effect on the experience for the end user. And surely, in our industry, a great client experience is the most important goal on any project.

Regrettably, on far too many occasions, little consideration is given to the end users and how they are actually going to use the system once it is installed. One of the major issues is that those from a BMS background treat the home like a commercial building. However, a residential property, no matter how large, is not a commercial building nor do people live in it like one.

One problem area is time scheduling and the considerations that need to be taken into account to make this work to the satisfaction of the client and their family. Where is the scheduling controlled from? Is it in the BMS plant or the smart home control platform? Does the client want to adjust it themselves and, if so, how can they do that? What about optimum start and stop times? The BMS learns when it needs to turn on to get up to temperature. However, a smart home system will typically specify a time when it needs to be at a certain temperature, without any concept of switching on earlier in order to reach that temperature at the desired time.

The BMS installer is probably accustomed to commercial buildings that typically run to achieve a certain temperature (heating and cooling as required), whereas in the residential world the homeowner may have other requirements, for example, the ability to separately switch the heating and AC cooling off. This can be further complicated with two-pipe AC systems, where all units must be either in heating mode or cooling mode. Two-pipe systems are cheaper to install but have limitations which must be explained to the client in advance. For example, in a recent project where the only source of heating/cooling in a room (used for Yoga) was the AC units, the client was puzzled as to why he couldn’t heat the Yoga room and cool the bedroom at the same time.

It’s on areas like these where BMS and home technology integrators need to communicate and collaborate more effectively with each other. Otherwise, conflicts and complications can arise which seriously impact on the client’s experience.

As everybody knows, the client’s experience is also affected not only when things go wrong but also by how they’re fixed. If and when there’s a problem, the client frequently turns to the AV integrator for help as the first port of call, even if the fault lies elsewhere. This is definitely the case for issues with the heating and cooling of the home, where the set up and programming was carried out by another trade and there’s no or very little integration with the smart home platform. You’ve all been there!

The nature of our industry is that we build long-term relationships with our clients, often underpinned by service contracts, whereas other trades walk away when their installation job is done. It’s easy to be annoyed when the client calls and tempting to say that the HVAC control is not your problem but it’s much better to look at such calls – inevitable as they very often are – as a business opportunity.

What these calls tell us is that the client wants the smart home integrator to take more interest and ownership of the BMS. If you’re tuned into that opportunity from the start and are clear with the client that you can be a solution, then they will be willing to pay for it.

Working with a consultancy that’s experienced with AV and BMS integration, such as Janus Technology, allows installers to guarantee that the BMS and its operation is truly integrated with the smart home and provides the best possible solution for the client. We agree that understanding BMS demands expertise and, often, resources that some integrators either just don’t have or don’t have the freedom to deploy. We are well versed in the language and topology needed to integrate a building, whether a simple HVAC interface or a complete smart building infrastructure. With our know-how, we can be part of your team, and help you from the very start of a project to make sure the key decisions are made, that the BMS is programmed correctly and that it can be properly integrated via the smart home platform you’re using. We can integrate alarms from the BMS into the smart home platform, so that if there is a fault, notifications can be sent to appropriate people – thus the smart home is proactive, identifying problems and starting resolution even before the homeowner has noticed a problem. Further, we can also help you access advanced BMS monitoring and reporting features for your client to make the experience even richer.

Getting BMS control and integration right will deliver a better client experience and, ultimately, make the job easier, rather than more of a headache. As with so many other areas of a project, custom installers are best placed to provide the technical glue that can make this happen and build a long-lasting and valuable relationship with your client.

Main image: Richard Caton, managing director of Janus Technology

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