September 2009

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BACnet … from the Outside In

Clues to the BACnet Puzzle

Andy McMillanAndy McMillan
President and CEO
Teletrol Systems Inc.

now a part of Phillips

BACnet International
Contributing Editor

A year ago I wrote a column lamenting the fact that many outsiders (by which I mean people who are not intimately involved in BACnet-related activity) find BACnet to be something of a puzzle.  Since this group includes most building owners, operators, system integrators, consultants, facilities management executives and regulators this lack of understanding can be a significant obstacle to adoption.  Recognizing this, BACnet International is working to build a set of resources that will give these people more useful information about BACnet.  Some of the first results of this effort are the “BACnet to the Futurewebinar presented in collaboration with Building Operating Management magazine in June and the 2009 BACnet International Conference and Expo we are holding in conjunction with the Facility Decisions conference in September.   

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There are a number of sources of confusion around BACnet and the first is the specification itself.  It’s written for technical people and the acronyms alone would make it incomprehensible to outsiders (and many insiders).   Even Bill Swan, former chair of the ASHRAE BACnet committee said, “When I first got involved with BACnet I read the specification from beginning to end several times and the process gave me headaches for weeks.”  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 explain the difference between a five-speed transmission and a four-speed transmission to the average driver.  They are likely to explain it in terms of torque, brake-horsepower and gear ratios when the average person just needs to know 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 setting out to do exactly that. 

The BACnet to the Future webinar was designed to present BACnet to non-technical people in a way they can understand its value as well as its limitations.  The result is a presentation where the only use of BACnet technical language (such as Objects, Properties, Services, BIBBs, PDUs and BBMD) is 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 three levels of integration that BACnet enables through descriptions of device-level integration, functional integration and application integration.  It then goes on to explain the role of the community in BACnet’s development and continued growth.  Finally, the webinar presents three specific case studies that clarify the BACnet value proposition.  The webinar is a powerful tool for getting a quick look at BACnet “from the outside in.” 

Another great tool for getting started with BACnet “from the outside in” is the 2009 BACnet International Conference and Expo.  It will be held in conjunction with Facility Decisions in Las Vegas, September 22-23.  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.  You can expect that open systems, the power of standards and the role of IT in connected buildings (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] One very interesting session will focus on BACnet’s role in the newly renovated ASHRAE headquarters building.  We will learn how dedicated outdoor air systems, variable air flow systems, variable refrigerant flow systems, heat pumps, indoor air monitoring, lighting, photovoltaics, and more were all brought together and harmonized via BACnet.  In this application we will see how BACnet can provide a common structure for integrating data from multiple systems and understand how different vendors’ equipment using different BACnet media can be integrated into a unified system.  Other conference sessions will address BACnet’s role in enterprise information integration, lighting control systems and continuous commissioning.  There will also be sessions dealing with BACnet in the context of system migration, green buildings and emerging wireless applications. And of course, there will be plenty of application success stories presented by people who can answer your questions about what it takes to get a project specified, delivered and commissioned with BACnet.


 A year ago I asked, “So, what can we do for outsiders?”  As I pointed out then, forcing them to learn the insider world is slow, painful and likely to lead to misunderstandings.  Instead, we need to provide a way for them to approach BACnet “from the outside in.”  We have a long way to go, but I think we have begun to address that need through focused resources.  And we will continue to work on it.  You can probably expect to see more BACnet International sponsored webinars in our future and perhaps even a printed publication of some sort.  In the meantime, outsiders can take a couple of easy steps toward BACnet by checking out the BACnet to the Future webinar and joining us at the 2009 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, Teletrol Systems, ASHRAE, or any other organization.  If you want to send comments to me directly, feel free to email me at


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