March 2011

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Can Specifications Lead the Advancement of Systems Integration?
Perhaps, but keep in mind that specifications in and of themselves do not dictate who does what.

Paul Ehrlich, Ira Goldschmidt & Angela Lewis
Building Intelligence Group

As published
Engineered Systems 
March Issue - Column

As building design professionals we are often asked to develop specifications that will elevate the controls contractor to a higher level within the contractor hierarchy.  The cause is noble – the owner’s goals for building automation (and, more importantly, systems integration) often times get lost in the food chain when the controls contractor is a subcontractor to the mechanical contractor (MC), which in turn is a subcontractor to the general contractor (GC), which may in turn be working for a Construction Manager….

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Prior to the not-so-recent revamping of the CSI’s specification guidelines (you know - the one that moved BAS to sections 26 09 xx, but with possibly some other requirements also in division 25…more on this later), there were many attempts to use Division 17 for the purpose of elevating the controls contractor’s status.  This sometimes worked and sometimes did not – why?  Well, there is a basic rule within the world of specifications that says that where something is specified does not dictate who does the work.  There is good reason for this: the design professional does not manage the contractors, so the design is supposed to be neutral concerning the “who does what” (and most specifications have language to this effect in Division 0, 1 and/or elsewhere).

This tradition of “who does what” neutrality has led to such language as “specified under Division 15” rather than the more obvious “the mechanical contractor takes care of this”, but we digress.  Just because controls are specified in a Division 17 doesn’t mean that the work will no longer be handled via a subcontract to the MC.  Instead, elevating the controls contractor to that of a sub to the GC probably requires explicit owner direction (along with a willing GC and MC).  We’ve seen this elevation occur even if controls are specified in Division 15.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Fast forward to the new CSI format where BAS (actually HVAC controls only in the eyes of the CSI) is specified in sections 26 09 xx.  Isn’t this just a new number for the same old Division 15 BAS specification? Perhaps, though not if you believe that the new Division 25 (better known as “Integrated Automation”) is what Division 17 was attempting to do without really knowing it, which is to create a “Systems Integration” contractor that is not a sub to the MC.  The good news is that the CSI has acknowledged this need within the industry (while under the old format Division 17 was really a rogue specification section that was not officially part of the CSI guidelines).

So will specifying integration requirements (i.e., between the HVAC controls, lighting, etc.., and with enterprise systems, etc.) in Division 25 create a separate “Systems Integration” contractor (one that is truly separate from that performing the HVAC controls work or at least not a sub to the MC)?  Perhaps, but keep in mind that specifications in and of themselves do not dictate who does what.  Instead, designers will need to define products and services in Division 25 (with associated manufacturers/contractors listed) that are clearly different from those listed in sections 26 09 xx.   If not then there is good reason to believe that this work will be assigned by the GC to the controls contractor as a sub to the MC. 

If we really want to have Division 25 lead the evolution of “Systems Integration” as both a design and construction discipline, then we have to take the time to research the unique products, services, and contractors involved, and then specify them.  But is that enough, and which came first – the chicken or the egg?


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