November 2005

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What is an Intelligent Building? Part 2: Intelligent Building Construction and Operation

What Is An Intelligent Building? Part 2
 Paul Ehrlich, P.E. Building Intelligence Group

 Building Automation Industry Cries for Valuation Tools
Thomas J. Lohner, P.E.,
Vice President, TENG Solutions

Content provided for November issue

In the first half of this series, (What Is An Intelligent Building? Part 1) we looked at the definition of an Intelligent Building and what was necessary in the design process to ensure that the intelligent attributes were incorporated. This article looks at what is involved in the crucial phases of construction and operation of an Intelligent Building.

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Project Negotiation and Value Engineering:
Once an Intelligent Building is designed, the first challenge is to make sure that the team remains committed to keeping it intelligent through construction. There are a lot of discussions about the best way to contract for an Intelligent Building. The traditional model is to hire an architect who, in turn, builds a team with a mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) consultant and they, in turn, create project documents. General contractors are then asked to bid on the construction documents and assemble a project price using their team of sub-contractors. Unfortunately during this process the desire to make a building intelligent is often lost in the confusion of keeping the project within the allocated budget.

Often we try to bring projects within budget through a process called “value engineering,” implying that we are enhancing the value of a project. In reality this process often removes areas of high value in a desperate attempt to keep the project under budget. It is important that the design and construction team agrees early on as to the importance and priority of the intelligent attributes and works to keep them in scope, even when project budgets become a challenge.

There are a few alternative construction models that may work better for Intelligent Buildings. The simplest is a design build process where the owner contracts with a design build contractor to provide a project with the desired features for a set price. Another alternative is to break out the Intelligent Building portion of the project. This can be as nominal as breaking it into a separate specification section (Division 17 has often been used and Division 25 is designated by the new CSI-2004). In many cases, the Intelligent Building portions may also be split out in a separate RFP or on the bid forms for a supplier decision directly by the owner. The most radical approach, which is being used on projects outside of North America, is to hire a firm to design the buildings technologies and they, in turn, hire an architect and the rest of the project team. These approaches have the same desired result: to focus on creating a better building and not be overcome by the challenges of budget and schedule.

Construction Processes:
On an intelligent project the design document files should readily extend into the construction process. The goal is to keep as much of the construction process as “paperless” as possible. Keeping updated electronic documentation is valuable, not just because it reduces cost during the construction process, but also because it forms the basis for continuous documentation of the project. In reality the mission of many buildings is constantly in flux, resulting in the construction process is never being totally done. Having accurate documentation of how the building is constructed and modified provides the ability to bring this information into operations.

From an environmental or green perspective we want to use construction processes that are sustainable. This means looking to minimize construction waste, utilize environmentally friendly materials, develop on brown field sites and recycle materials whenever possible.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Facility Operations:
At the heart of an Intelligent Building is the benefits and changes that will occur in operations. The reason that we look to implement intelligent attributes is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the operations staff. The operation of most commercial buildings today is a challenging and often frustrating task. Operations staff are bombarded with phone calls, meetings and other tasks that leave little time for planning and strategic operations. In addition many facility managers have received little, if any, formal training on how to successfully complete their complex and demanding jobs. As a result, the operation of a facility has become a craft, one that is often self taught, rarely well documented, and often, not repeatable. A facility with a strong operating engineer may run efficiently and have satisfied occupants, yet the building across the street with a less experienced staff may run poorly and be uncomfortable. Add in that these buildings are often poorly commissioned and have been constantly modified, and the result is many buildings that do not operate properly. Unfortunately for the business managers, owners, and investors of these buildings, there are no checks, balances, or controls in place today to let them know if their building is well operated or not.

One of the primary goals in an Intelligent Building is to provide the technology, tools, and processes to improve the operation of the facility. In many cases, these tools will be provided for the existing on-site operations staff. In other cases on site operations staff will be replaced or augmented with services from a centralized operations center or service.

Building Management Tools:
An Intelligent Building will typically have thousands of pieces of data available. The goal, however, is not to present all of this information to the facility operator. Rather, tools will be used to evaluate, and prioritize, presenting only the required information to the operator. Examples of these tools include:

Complete Integration:
System integration of all critical building systems including HVAC, Electrical, Fire Alarm, Security, Video Monitoring, and Digital Signage. All of these systems will be integrated on the building network and will share this infrastructure with other applications including data, voice, and video. This information will need to be secured and will travel on both the private and public networks. Open standards are at the heart of enabling the intelligent building as solutions including BACnet, LonTalk, oBIX, Modbus and other protocols used to enable integration.
Tenant Portals:
One critical element of an Intelligent Building is providing a method for the building occupants (tenants, employees, associates, students, patients, etc.) to interact with the building and building management. In the past, this has been done with phone calls, face to face meetings, and faxes. Today, it is most effectively done with an internal website called a portal. Tenant portals provide information about the facility, contact information, directories, energy efficiency, emergency preparedness and a central place to enter issues. Information from the portal can then be used to drive maintenance and operation requests. Since the portal is a two way communications channel, it can also be used to collect critical feedback on occupant satisfaction and comfort levels.
System Dashboards:
Like the dash of your car, a system dashboard provides a summary of critical building alarms, energy information and key maintenance items at a glance. The dashboard is responsible to summarize all of the critical building information and present it in the proper format for different members of the facility management team. For example, the operating engineer requires detailed information about specific mechanical systems, while the property manager needs a summary of energy and operating expenses over the last 4 weeks. The difference between a system dashboard and a typical user interface for an integrated building automation system is in focus. Dashboards are more focused on sorting and filtering data to provide the information needed to perform specific roles. Building automation systems tend to be much more generalized and designed for the operating engineer.
Next Generation Maintenance Management Programs:
Maintenance management systems typically track work orders and schedule repairs and preventative maintenance. In the future, these systems will be closely integrated with the building systems allowing for critical data evaluation from equipment, determining if it is operating properly and what maintenance is required. These systems will also be used to deliver requests from building occupants by integrating with the portal. Operating personnel, both in house and contractors, will automatically be dispatched using wireless communications to their cell phones and PDAs. This allows for more proactive operations and for increased efficiency.
Enterprise Energy Management:
Most energy management systems today are focused only on the operation of the building. This includes functions such as demand limiting, scheduling, and system optimization. Intelligent Buildings take this one step further by incorporating real time utility rate information and making energy management decisions not just for a single building but for groups of buildings. By managing energy in concert with the utility, there is the ability not to only reduce energy usage but more importantly, to dramatically decrease energy expenditure.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Operating Staff Efficiency:
Today most buildings have several operations groups. One group is charged with property management, a second with security, another with building maintenance, while staff or contractors are used for custodial, HVAC service, and fire protection. There can be significant improvements with the use of technology to allow the operating staff to do more with fewer resources. In some cases, this will mean providing tools to be more efficient. In other cases, it is a matter of centralizing certain services and providing them for groups of buildings. Here are a few examples:

Mobile Operations:
The operating personnel within an Intelligent Building will be equipped with wireless devices (cell phones, PDAs, laptops) that will allow them to readily access all building systems as well as receive and process work orders and tenant requests. This will allow the staff to be in the building responding to issues, dealing with maintenance tasks, and evaluating security issues all while “on line”. The result is less time spent looking at systems, ordering parts, finding drawings and building documentation and more time getting tasks accomplished.
Centralized Operations Center:
Major retailers, large school districts, and health care centers have worked for years to centralize their operations. Providing a centralized operations center (often called a Building Operations Center or BOC) provides the ability to consolidate functions across facilities. The BOC typically provides a central location with a call center and hosting for enterprise applications. In addition to the tools specialized staff members with in depth expertise on systems, energy, security and other systems work at this center. Using a centralized facility stretches the ability of these experts to impact all of the facilities. Since communications with the BOC uses Internet technology, the center can be virtual and be located anywhere in the world. For example one center might monitor operations during the day and a second one located on the other side of the world might provide similar functions at night and on weekends.
Virtual Concierge:
It is even possible to centralize “high touch” functions such as visitor management. Services are available that utilize video and voice over Internet communications to allow for real time interaction with visitors, allowing them to be greeted, present identification and receive building badges all from a centralized, often remote, location!

In the beginning of this series we defined an Intelligent Building as:

“Use of technology and process to create a building that is safer and more productive for its occupants and more operationally efficient for its owners.”

In simpler terms the goal is to provide a better building. The result is a facility that uses less energy, has dramatically lower operating expenses and provides an improved indoor environment and better responsiveness for the occupants. All of this provides a significant return on investment. As an industry, we know how to deliver on Intelligent Buildings. Many of the products and solutions are already readily available and understood within our industry. Others will be available within the next few years. The challenge that we face is to move forward together to start delivering on the truly Intelligent Building.


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