Achieving openness for building automation controls is a vision shared by many – from owners and designers to the professionals installing the systems and the building engineers who are responsible for their operation. With the singular goal of reducing costs, time and difficulties during design and construction, we frequently advise our clients to consider selecting a freely distributed, openly licensed, open system. By presenting a clear picture of the short-term and far-reaching impacts of systems selection, GHT works with developers and building managers to build the system that achieves the design intent while ensuring long-term flexibility in maintenance.
Defining an Open System
Our clients ask our project teams, how do I know my system will be truly open? We judge the openness of the system on three key criteria:
- Is it accessible, supported and competed within the free market?
- Is both the product and platform designed to communicate with other systems via open protocols and standards?
- Once deployed, can it be supported and maintained by the free market without unreasonable encumbrance?
It is important to dispel long-held myths that product openness directly correlates to a lack of security hardness. These two attributes must be evaluated independently and controls security should be included in early design discussions with your MEP engineer.
Overcoming Proprietary Supplier Barriers
The system’s ability to be accessible and competed within the free market is a fundamental requirement to ensuring the client receives an open system. During the last several decades of development in these systems, the market has come to bear products which are only sold and serviced by a single group or entity; limitations can also be placed by the manufacturer on the region to reduce the number of service providers. While unintentional, this results in real consequences for building owners seeking a non-proprietary system, whether it be a delay in accessing a skilled technician or price increases on necessary maintenance parts.
In the case of a truly open system, our clients are empowered to select the contractor who is best suited to provide the optimal result, through a determination based on qualifications, price and proposed solutions which achieve design intent. The client and end user are also free to select service providers as they see fit, allowing systems to be easily and affordably serviced, repaired and modified by parts readily available in the free market.
Open Communication Matters Too
Dating back to the creation of DDC controls, owners and building managers have struggled with the dilemma of installing building systems which aren’t able to talk to each other. Prevailing academic authorities and the engineering community hoped to overcome these challenges through the creation of BACnet and the ASHRAE 135 standard; however, suppliers and installers who wished to secure their market share circumvented these standards by developing creative distribution licensing and service models, regional contract agreements and proprietary software tools. The end result for building owners? Products which possess the ability to speak a common language (protocol) but are forbidden, through either manufacturer fiat or legalese, resulting in limited interoperability. As client demands increase for truly open systems, the market is now responding with high quality, powerful open control platforms which overcome current proprietary controls.
Open Systems Drive Need for Open Maintenance
Accessing competitive service and maintenance agreements following construction is also high on our clients’ list of wants when considering a controls and monitoring system. Larger commercial BAS manufacturers and distributors have developed exclusionary licensing agreements which seek to restrict which systems can be serviced by their technicians. With some of these restrictions remaining in effect for the lifecycle of the product, it is critical that owners closely evaluate products during the design phase to consider first whether their performance goals will be achieved and second to verify the long-term ease of use and affordability of the system’s maintenance.
In some circumstances, such as client properties located in rural areas, our GHT team may recommend a less open product which still provides access to the best service providers in the region – however, we find these instances are growing increasingly rare as the market responds to changing owner preferences.
Forecasting the Future
The call for open protocol monitoring & controls systems is definitively trending upwards, as developers, owners and end users seek a system which suits their needs while ensuring an open, competitive environment is maintained among suppliers and service providers. For our clients, asking the right questions will ensure that the market responds with powerful, secure and well-featured open-platform control solutions.
If you would like to learn more about specifying open-platform systems on your next project, please contact the GHT team today.
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Matt Pastore is an accomplished director, engineer, and team builder with a proven track record of innovation and leadership. With 19 years of commercial, industrial, and manufacturing design and construction experience, he brings a broad market and technology awareness to every project. Matt specializes in the coordination of modern DDC controls and technologies with modern construction practices, and places a heavy emphasis on coordination and integration. Having recognized the demand for market resources which can provide an integrated and inclusive approach to delivering design, construction, and DDC controls, Matt has been an industry leader in developing the master controls integration (MCI) solution. He uses the MCI model to ensure owners receive a well-designed and constructed project which is intuitive and easily maintained.