August 2010

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Looking In On BACnet

Paths Through the BACnet Maze

Andy McMillan
Andy McMillan
President and GM
Philips Teletrol

BACnet International
Contributing Editor

Sorting through the maze of BACnet-related resources to find relevant information can be a challenge for many outsiders (by which I mean people who are not intimately involved in BACnet-related activity). 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 continues to work on building a set of resources that will give people more useful generally information about BACnet. Some recent results of this effort are the “Maximizing Your Controls Investment” webinar presented in collaboration with Building Operating Management magazine in June, the creation of a BACnet International presence on Facebook and the 2010 BACnet International Conference and Expo we are holding in conjunction with the Facility Decisions conference in October.

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There are plenty of opportunities to get lost in the maze of 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 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 to 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 focused on doing exactly that.

The Maximizing Your Controls Investment 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 reference to BACnet technical language (such as Objects, Properties, Services, BIBBs, PDUs and BBMD) 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 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 specific case studies that clarify the BACnet value proposition. The webinar is one path for getting through the maze of BACnet information.

Another path to get you started is the 2010 BACnet International Conference and Expo. It will be held in conjunction with Facility Decisions in Las Vegas, October 5-6. 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] Of course you don’t have to wait for the conference to effectively navigate BACnet information resources. To keep current on developments as we count down to the conference, join the Facility Decisions group on LinkedIn. In addition, BACnet International has assembled a series of success stories to help building owners and operators get started. There are already 25 case studies on BACnet projects available for review on the BACnet International website. You can also find current information and conversations regarding BACnet through the new BACnet International Facebook page.

In a prior column 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 help them find an appropriate path through the “BACnet maze.” We still have a long way to go, but I think 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 probably expect to see more BACnet International sponsored webinars in our future and a couple of print publications. In the meantime, outsiders can take a couple of easy steps toward BACnet by checking out the Maximizing Your Controls Investment webinar and joining us at the 2010 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



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