May 2008

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Computer applications that integrate information more effectively are giving building managers new tools to manage their energy use.

Ken Sinclair,

As published
Energy Management Canada

May Issue

Several authors are singing the virtues of virtual services in the greening of our buildings. This is all developing quickly, and you do not want to be left out when the true value of software as a service’s virtual presence is felt.

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Software as a service (SaaS) is a software application delivery model through which a software vendor develops a software application and hosts and operates (either independently or through a third-party) the application for use by its customers over the Internet. Customers do not pay to own the software itself but rather to use it.

Service oriented architecture (SOA) is a systems architecture for creating and using business processes, packaged as services, throughout their lifecycle. SOA is set up to allow different computer applications to exchange data and coordinate activities between them.

Similar technology is the way you bank, book airline tickets and hotels on the web. It’s all converging in building systems.

The service-oriented building
Toby Considine, my newest columnist at, wrote about service-oriented buildings, or SOBs, in a recent column. Considine is a systems specialist, facility services, at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

“Building inhabitants see building systems as invisible and uncontrollable, and so they pay them no mind,” suggests Considine. “Money spent on building systems is an instant expense, to be minimized, rather than an investment to be optimized.”

But he notes that “capital assets are receiving new attention, driven by the imperative of (business) sustainability. Owners are demanding Building Information Models rather than lines on paper (CAD blueprints) to get better built buildings at lower cost.”

Building Information Models (BIMs) track all the information about the design, construction, acquisition, and operation of a building. A good BIM starts with the earliest design intents and continues through the decommissioning of the building. BuildingSmart is an information model standard in the U.S. and has developed an international following (

Because of the public concern with sustainability, Considine notes, new buildings are sold based on energy models. But today’s energy models may have almost nothing to do with the actual building. Designers create an energy model, but in some cases value engineering makes it irrelevant. What is installed doesn’t reflect the design, and may even be over-sized to make sure there are no complaints. The building is commissioned to the traditional standard. Finally, little usable information is passed to operations in the form of a large bookshelf.

“How can we build energy systems to the standards of the energy model?,” asks Considine. “How can we make the energy model the basis for commissioning? How are we going to use energy models to instrument actual building performance? How are we going to provide the confusing mass of sensors and actuators as surface that is meaningful to Enterprise systems and functions?”

Considine suggests that BuildingSmart can be the source of the structure and meaning for information about building systems.

“Fitting building controls into BIM would fill in missing parts of the model while lending coherence to and standard descriptions to control systems,” he notes. “BIM defines energy models during design, models that are not much use during operations. BIM describes assets and provides a framework for defining the interaction between those assets.” He suggests that this comes quite close to defining the parameters of a service oriented architecture (SOA).

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Virtual building ops
In a recent article, George B. Huettel, president of Cyrus Technologies, Inc. tackled the issue from a slightly different perspective. He discussed how  IT platforms can be leveraged to improve operating costs.

“The idea of virtual that we are discussing is that of equipment, software, and talent needed to manage an enterprise building control system, whether it be for commercial, governmental, institutional or other use,” he explains. “I believe that as open systems progress and the value of data from these systems is disseminated to wider audiences within the enterprise, the criticality of the system increases.

“A virtual building operations centre (VBOC) approach to building controls is not only more user friendly for the average tenant or consumer, but it is kept up and running by the outsourced supplier,” he continues. “This helps a facilities department maintain their focus in their proper disciplines. VBOCs are created and maintained by professional IT people focused on the concept of Software as a service (SaaS).”

In other words, now that you have all of your data collected all the time, when you run a report to answer a question, and that same report generates new questions, you know that you already have the data available to find those answers. “It’s very empowering, and the only way to capture that last 15-20 per cent of energy waste,” says Huettel.

“The VBOC is not intended to replace the functions of a well designed and implemented control system at the building level,” he continues. “It is designed specifically to normalize data using the IT standards of various building control technologies. Once normalized, a standard set of tools for scheduling, alarm management, data trending and reporting are used to permit aggregation of digital assets, not just physical assets. And since these tools are based in the IT space, they are more readily understood and managed.

“The top end of the system for a multiple facility portfolio is truly opened up, not only for integration of various building system technologies, but also for sharing data with other enterprise-based systems. The effectiveness and usefulness of data typically ‘trapped’ within a conventional building control system is enhanced tremendously, and we have only scratched the surface of what can be accomplished with the technology platform.”

There are many technologies that can help make automated systems more effective. The key is in their implementation. The systems that Huettel and Considine describe are a useful place to start.

Ken Sinclair ( is a long-time observer of the building automation and energy management systems industries. You can visit his website at  


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