July 2011

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Simply BACnet
Demystifying the World’s Standard for Building Automation Networks

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

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BACnet can seem pretty complicated to an outsider (by which I mean people who are not intimately involved in BACnet-related activity) … or it can seem very simple.  The reality is that it is both complicated and simple, depending on how you look at it.  From a technical perspective it is complex because it has to address a wide range of communications issues across a very large set of circumstances.  From a business perspective, though, BACnet is not so complicated.  Unfortunately, most of the information available about BACnet is either addressed to a technical audience or reads like it should have been.  Recognizing this problem, BACnet International continues to work on building a set of resources that will give building owners and operators more generally useful information about BACnet.  Some recent results of this effort are the “BACnet Made Simple” webinar presented in collaboration with Building Operating Management magazine in June, the expansion of the BACnet International Journal and the 2011 BACnet International Conference and Expo to be held in conjunction with the October 11-12 Facility Decisions conference in Las Vegas. 

Communication Complexity

There are plenty of ways a person can get lost in the complexity of the technical information surrounding BACnet, and the biggest culprit is the specification itself.  And, I do mean “BIG.”  The document with all its components is huge.  Even more challenging is that it’s written by technical people for technical people.  The acronyms alone would make it incomprehensible to outsiders (and many insiders).   To make matters worse, outsiders usually ask technical people to explain BACnet – which can create more confusion than clarity.  It’s sort of like asking an automotive engineer to explain the difference between a five-speed transmission and a four-speed transmission.  They are likely to explain it in terms of torque, brake-horsepower and gear ratios when all you really need to know is that the five-speed will give the car more power at low speeds and better gas mileage at high speeds.  The solution to this problem is to leave the specification to technical folks and present BACnet to outsiders in terms of benefits, features, functions and concrete examples.   BACnet International is focused on doing exactly that.

BACnet Webinar

The “
BACnet Made Simple” webinar was designed to present the business case for BACnet to non-technical people in a way they can understand its value as well as its limitations.  The result is a presentation where any reference to BACnet technical language (such as Objects, Properties, Services, BIBBs, and PDUs) is largely to point out that it’s not necessary to learn them in order to grasp the essence of BACnet’s importance and application.  The webinar is focused instead on the value of using BACnet effectively.  It describes the difference between early (expensive) approaches to multivendor systems and the BACnet smart systems approach.  It explains the concept of smart systems and shows exactly how BACnet lowers the cost of system implementation.  Finally, the webinar includes an audience question and answer session.  The webinar is one path for getting to the basics of the BACnet business case. 

BACnet Business Case Resources

Another path to build understanding of the BACnet world is the 2011 BACnet International Conference and Expo.  It will be held in conjunction with Facility Decisions in Las Vegas, October 11-12.  Like the webinar, the conference has been designed to present BACnet to people who are more interested in building value for their organizations than getting involved in the technical details of the BACnet specification.  I have been asked to present the opening session at the conference and you can expect that open systems, the role of IT in connected buildings and the concrete benefits of BACnet solutions (all favorite topics of mine) will find their way into that presentation.  In addition, the conference will present a wealth of real-world application experience in a variety of presentations.   

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Of course you don’t have to wait for the conference to effectively navigate BACnet information resources – just visit the BACnet International website.  To keep current on developments as we count down to the conference you can also join the BACnet International group on LinkedIn.  Another option is to review the presentations from last year’s conference, including BACnet Fundamentals and BACnet puts the M in EMS.  In addition, BACnet International has assembled a series of success stories to help building owners and operators get started.  There are over 25 case studies on BACnet projects available for review.    


I am often asked how outsiders can successfully enter the world of BACnet.  I regularly point out that forcing outsiders to learn the insider world is slow, painful and likely to lead to misunderstandings.  Instead, we need to demystify BACnet.  We need to make is easy for people interested in the business of BACnet to learn what they need to know without becoming technical experts.  We still have a ways to go, but we have begun to address that need through focused resources and a lot of great volunteer effort.  And we will continue to work on it.  You can expect to see more BACnet International sponsored webinars in our future and a continued focus on electronic and print publications.  In the meantime, you can take a couple of easy steps by checking out the “
BACnet Made Simple” webinar and joining us at the 2011 BACnet International Conference and Expo.

If you have thoughts on the issues discussed in this column or ideas about other “outsider-focused” resources that would be useful, please
send me a note.

As always, the views expressed in this column are mine and do not necessarily reflect the position of BACnet International, Philips Teletrol, 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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