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Article - June 2002
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What it takes to become a true building system integrator in today's world.

White Paper
as published on Staefa Website

Will Podgorski, 
Product Manager, Siemens Building Technologies, Inc., HVP Division, Staefa Control System


The trend toward integration of disparate control products within modern buildings is changing forever the way facilities are operated, managed, serviced, and budgeted. Owners now have much greater expectations, particularly when they are involved in fiercely competitive businesses. As a result, the system integrator (SI) is assuming new responsibilities that have greater impact on the success of the finished project. Here is what owners will expect out of a leading-edge system integrator, and what system integrators must do to measure up to the new challenge.

What is "Open". 
An "open system" is one that uses different standards and technologies to provide communication and data exchange among all systems in a facility. As LonMark defines the term, it is one that "provides capabilities that enable properly implemented applications to run on a variety of platforms from multiple vendors, interoperate with other applications, and present a consistent style of interaction with the user."

The Institute of Electrical/Electronic Engineers (IEEE) defines an open LonWorks system as one that uses LonMark-compliant products from multiple vendors. IEEE's definition stresses "horizontal functionality over proprietary vertical sub-system implementations" and does not require the use of gateways except to interact with legacy systems or as required by codes.

In essence, an open system must incorporate a variety of standards from a variety of industries to support owner needs in an information-overloaded world. The higher the degree of openness, the greater the owner's freedom to work with any system supplier they choose at any time.

If all building automation systems (BASs) and control products were the same, system integration would be a relatively simple task. However as users and manufacturers are aware, these technologies did not develop linearly over the last several decades. In fact, virtually all BAS platforms were originally designed as proprietary systems. More recently, however, there has been a torrent of open or "common" communication protocols introduced to the industry, followed closely by new manufacturer claims of "open" systems (see sidebar). Confusion ensued -- and still exists to some extent -- over the true meaning of the word "open".

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Meanwhile, the significance of the system integrator (SI) as a key delivery agent for total integrated building solutions has escalated dramatically. There is now an acute demand for professionals who understand the protocols, the various technologies, and most important, how to apply integration strategies effectively in an open building controls system.

By today's definition, an SI is essentially responsible for specifying, installing, designing and maintaining the functionality - trends, alarms and schedules -- of a BAS created on a network communication protocol, such as LonTalk. Unlike a traditional product integrator, who is responsible only for integrating an individual product or subsystem into the building automation scheme, a system integrator's responsibilities surpass all others in this class. An SI must be able to assemble various manufacturers' components to create a cohesive system that satisfies the building owner's objectives.

Owners, therefore, should expect the responsibility of the SI to include the installation of a solid, stable platform or system to build upon from one manufacturer, rather than simply adding different products and components onto the system. A true system integrator must therefore be able to provide a single-seat, site-wide BAS interface, which building owners are now demanding.

An SI's responsibilities also extend beyond a network integrator, who also has responsibility for the specification, design, installation, and maintenance of open control systems. However, the network integrator does not typically integrate third party components and products onto a solid, consistent platform. An important distinction to remember is that, the SI is the only one responsible for assuring that the system is truly an "open" system that provides full HVAC functionality.

An important distinction to remember is that, the system integrator is the only one responsible for assuring that the system is truly an "open" system that provides full HVAC functionality.

The Ideal System Integrator (SI) Model 
To understand the true significance of today's system integrator role, let's create a role "model", or Ideal SI.

The predominant qualification for a successful system integrator is the use of leading-edge technology. The Ideal SI must have a highly advanced BAS architecture as a backbone upon which to build. Typically, the "backbone" comprises all of the vital components of the BAS architecture, including the workstation, controllers, tools, peripheral devices, and manufacturer-supplied training. The backbone must offer the level of openness necessary for effective integration of any system in any facility and application. The proper mix of technologies must also exist in order to provide a reliable platform, to generate useful information for the users, and to communicate effectively with complementary, competitive systems.

Knowledge is also an important qualification of the Ideal SI. In addition to the appropriate standards and technology tools, the SI must have a thorough understanding of how to properly apply these tools and solutions. Certainly, experience is required to understand the owners' objectives so that the right protocol and technologies are used to meet these objectives. The key for success is not just knowledge and experience but the ability to apply this to attain the best overall solution.

Likewise, owners should be fully aware of the day-to-day benefits they will receive as a result of the SI's solutions prior to investing in any technology. Most technologies, such as LonTalk, are communication media that operate "invisibly" to the end user, while the actual benefits are typically user-interactive.

CatNet Systems Once the protocol and technologies are matched with the owner's objectives and anticipated benefits, the Ideal SI must have the capabilities to implement and complete the project. Here, the SI must provide the hardware installation, the tools to configure and commission the system, and the necessary training for operators.

Because the owner's needs for open systems go well beyond architecture and software, the Ideal SI must also be able to provide the long-term technical support for the system. This skill comprises higher-level services, such as operator and system training and education. By committing to continuous support, the Ideal SI forms a partnership with the owner and helps to meet financial objectives of investment protection and return on investment.

Education is Key 
Education of all the involved parties in the controls industry has long been a major issue, from designers and users, to manufacturers, operators and engineers. It is vital that owners, too, have not only a basic education in HVAC, but also a solid understanding of how environmental requirements of their building affect operation. Most obvious are the positive effects of improvements on productivity, employee morale and building efficiency.

Owners must understand the new technologies in terms of what is realistically possible, and what is not. Architects must understand how the building's design and integrated systems affect overall efficiency and cost for the owner. System designers have the primary responsibility of keeping up with new technologies and designing systems that meet the owner's current as well as anticipated needs.

System managers, however, will require more education than ever before in terms of BAS operation, networking and controls technology in general. They will need a higher level of understanding in order to tap the powerful new capabilities of integrated systems and to help owners realize the return they expect on their investments. This is why manufacturer-supplied training is very important. The SI will become pivotal in explaining to the managers how their roles will change and in educating them on what the impacts will be of their adjustments and corrections. Likewise, training to learn new skills today is just as important as continuous training and education in the future to keep up with system integration issues.

The good news is that the daily operator will be protected. The day-to-day person making schedule changes or set point changes will need to be trained on only one interface as all the work is done behind the scenes.

The SI will become pivotal in explaining to the operators how their roles will change and in educating them on what the impacts will be of their adjustments and corrections.

Focus on Foundation 
Experience shows that effective, long-term relationships between the SI and the owner can be traced to productive communication in the early stages. Well-founded relationships begin with a thorough understanding of the owners' needs and their facilities. At the outset, considerable attention should be focused on defining the goals of the project, as well as addressing all of the owner's concerns and questions. As a result, the SI will have the best chance of matching expectations with realities.

Early on, the SI is responsible for establishing the realistic limits of what can be achieved by system integration and for outlining the schedules and costs required to deliver the finished project. The SI must also assume responsibility for proper wording of all specifications for the project, including functional and detailed descriptions, scope of work, testing and procedures, support services, and documentation. Here, the SI must determine if the owner has any preferences, such as a favored manufacturer for chillers or lighting. These details must be uncovered early and factored into the specification.

The astute SI also understands that working closely with other vendors in the early project stages will pave the way for a smoother implementation and proper commissioning later on. This approach creates a win-win attitude among the team players and demonstrates the SI's professionalism at the outset.

To improve their odds for success, system integrators will also need to embrace methodologies that represent the best practices of the industry. This will help to improve their project management skills, encourage open communication and facilitate team efficiency, from inception to customer acceptance. The end result will be a fully documented system that performs to specifications and delivers on its objectives.

Single Source of Accountability 
The deciding factor for many owners can often be the SI's ability to function as the single source of accountability for the project. Many owners regard this quality as highly desirable and beneficial because it avoids wasted time and expense while allowing the owners to focus on their core business. As the sole source of responsibility for the project, the SI serves as the single point of contact when a problem arises.

This can be a tall order for some because there is often "finger-pointing" by various parties whenever problems arise, either during the commissioning phase or with the finished BAS project. When owners choose an SI who assumes this responsibility, they expect to rely on only one entity for answers, information and resolutions. To meet this need, the SI must have the experience in pulling all of the pieces together, from design and installation through commissioning and customer turnover.

The deciding factor for many owners can often be the SI's ability to function as the single source of accountability for the project.

Conclusion 
Owners now have high expectations for integrated system projects in their facilities. To meet the new challenges, the SI must accept new responsibilities that positively impact the success of the finished project. This means more training and education, early communication and increased attention with the owner, higher quality project management skills and the assumption of single-source responsibility.

Achieving these new qualifications will strongly position the SI as a top professional and a powerful competitor in the "new world order" of open systems.


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