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“Folks — it’s time to stop being so entrenched in our beliefs about what a BMS is or should be. It’s time to learn from the group across the aisle — the consumer sector — that is out-innovating us,” stated Varun Nagaraj, president and CEO of Sierra Monitor Corp.

Nagaraj recounted a story of his 12-year-old nephew “who set up his mother’s Alexa and essentially created his home building management system (BMS) in less than an hour.” So if it so easy for a 12 year old then why is it that 80% of buildings still don’t have any form of BMS installed?

A BMS is a computer-based control system that controls and monitors a building’s mechanical and electrical equipment such as HVAC / climate control, lighting, power systems, fire and security systems. While generally designed for larger commercial buildings a BMS can be adapted for smaller commercial buildings and even homes.

In our article back in July we highlighted that “smart makeovers” are still only feasible for buildings over 100,000 square feet, meaning huge energy saving potential and building automation business opportunities remain in the field of small to medium sized commercial spaces. There should be a rethink of the cost structure within smart building automation for smaller spaces.

Is it reasonable to expect that the same systems being designed for homeowners will be the ones adapted for the small commercial building market? Wherever the development comes from, it is time for the small commercial building automation market to evolve.

However, creating a functional and cost-effective BMS for smaller spaces is not all that easy. In fact creating BMS for larger commercial buildings isn’t all that easy either. BMS data, for example, is generally locked away, making it difficult for the wide variety of system manufacturers and integrators who need that data in real-time to run their specific systems effectively.

Each system, be it smart locks, lights, even washing machines, all have their own applications and importantly their own “cloud point-of-presence.” This can also be made true of hidden primary systems such as boilers, pumps or fire safety. Suggesting that a facility manager could insist that all electro-mechanical devices can have a cloud presence and therefore be brought into a BMS, for the benefit of the occupants, tenants, device vendors and the building as a whole.

“For devices that are already installed and are pre-cloud, the facility manager should implement a common facility device cloud that automatically discovers all the automation and control devices in the facility (for example, all the BACnet-based devices in the building) and creates a virtual cloud instance for each device,” explains Nagaraj.

So what about small buildings and homes that do not had dedicated facility managers to set up their BMS? Say hello to voice activated smart assistants, which are playing the role of remote control, facility manager, security guard, DJ and even mother sometimes. These smart assistants over home and mobile platforms are learning our behavior and adapting systems to suit our lives, as described in more depth in our article in August.

Be it Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or another smart assistant, we are creating an interface between our smart connected systems and us. This appears to be the perfect platform to create a new form of BMS for smaller buildings and homes, where occupants and tenants can control and optimize the systems around them while interacting in a human way. Once all devices and systems are connected to the cloud it is just a case of access.

In the future, might this also be true of large commercial buildings? Why not. An advanced enough smart assistant may have the capacity to coordinate large-scale building systems while also providing a personal interface with hundreds or even thousands of building occupants. In fact it would take an unrealistically big facility management team to respond to all the requests from all the occupants promptly with answers and action, while optimizing systems to suit all those requests, plus utility information, weather and so on.

Critics may point towards standardization of data models but many systems, such as Alexa, do not require standard models and are much more flexible than people assume. Critics may also bring up security, which demands significant investment in larger buildings.

What this discussion tells us is that there is a need for BMS systems designed for smaller buildings and homes. It also sets out the opportunity for buildings of any size to consider the potential of smart assistant enabled BMS to takeover and improve upon the role of the facility manager in efficiently and effectively running a building. BMS is fundamental but maybe it needs to evolve to suit the needs of all kinds of building.

Nagaraj asks, “am I going out on a limb to make a point? Of course. If that’s what it takes to get what I want for the New Year … having our community think about reinventing the BMS.”

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