Article - January 2003
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Improving Occupancy Integration with Web Technology

Ken Sinclair, Editor/Owner

It is all about a 
better interface with the end-user.

In an article on our web site written by contributing editor Tom Hartman Moving Forward! Are We? Will We Soon, or Ever? 

Tom predicts: a very strong movement to "occupant integrated" HVAC controls within the next decade. His prediction is that by the second decade of this century, most class "A" office spaces will be required to offer individual control of thermal and lighting levels. This integration will most likely be Internet based. Also in the same time span, He can see much building operations and maintenance will also become Internet based with fewer operations personnel in individual buildings. Such personnel will be come more specialized and perform a smaller scope of services in many more buildings. 

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Tom also states: Building occupants will demand connection to their comfort systems so that they can set thermal and lighting preferences just as they set preferences for much of the other equipment and systems with which they work every day. From a worker performance perspective it is extremely wasteful that we are not more aggressive in pursuing such individual comfort control connections. From an occupant satisfaction/retention perspective, it is inevitable that we will soon be required to do so. 

So, my answer to the question of whether we will implement "connected" HVAC systems is an emphatic "Yes!" But such an answer begs answers to the questions "When?" and "How?" 

Tom wraps up the article with: Although for years building owners and occupants have been pushing for a higher level of building comfort, the industry has been, and continues to be, very slow to respond. The manufacturers in this industry are very risk adverse and the engineering community is not only extremely fragmented, but also tends to be "heavy equipment" oriented, more interested in chillers and boilers than human comfort. It seems increasingly clear that a major impetus for these predicted changes will come from outside our industry. Individual comfort delivery and accounting may become another application for the Internet that is provided by a revived industry. If so, it's a good place to start since one thing we have learned over the last few years (and we all hope California is relearning now), operating building comfort systems effectively in the 21st century has at least as much to do with communicating timely information over a network as it does the transmission of energy! 

In several discussions with owners, occupants and automation vendors there seems to be an incredible circle that is fed with "What comes first - the chicken or the egg relationship? Owners want new interfaces but do not know what is available; occupants want improved control and cannot understand why we say it is so difficult; and vendors and contractors maintain that they provide what their clients request. The circle must be broken to allow new thought and approaches.

How do we break this circle?

We need to reset the hinges of our conventional thoughts and think in freer terms. Much of our wisdom is based on many years of applying hardware limitations to our complex human interface applications. Our prior interface patterns are a collection of compromises to achieve an acceptable human machine interface. We now have new tools and can do better. We need to revisit our reason for reason and work as a new team of Occupant, Owner and Vendor because we are now freer in structure, with tools that are softer and more pliable than ever. Together we can do a better job of Occupancy Integration.

We need occupants and their coordinators to re-ask, "What is the best interface for my client questions?" We need to think bigger thoughts as how to use the new interface tools to provide a better occupant interface. 

By demonstrating concepts, such as the effect of closing blinds, with a multimedia presentation, you can educate your occupant to help themselves by doing everything possible before registering a can educate your occupant to help themselves by doing everything possible before registering a complaint.

Consider some of the following facts when conceiving "occupant integrated" HVAC controls:

As the "DDC Revolution" exposed the complex relationship between controls and equipment the "Net Revolution" will expose our lack of understanding of the complex human interface issues of today's buildings. This will cause us to economically invest in the need for increased knowledge to allow us to achieve occupant integration.

There is much work to be done at this level and this is likely the closest we will ever get to the ultimate interface with the end users of our building automation systems.

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