Alarmingly, less is more

This blog is by Mark Glitherow, Key Account Manager for UK Trend

Trend’s Key Account Manager, Mark Glitherow, explains why the generation of too many individual alarms is deterring end users from configuring a BEMS to undertake the monitoring of their key compliance needs.

When given the choice, most end users with a fully optimised BEMS opt for as many alarms to be configured as possible. On one level this is understandable, as it usually doesn’t cost them anymore and they might think that it’s better to be alerted to a potential issue than not be notified at all.

The reality leads to what can only be described as the ‘boy who cried wolf’ scenario, where so many alarms are generated that they are soon ignored and considered a nuisance. This was recently highlighted to me at a seminar of healthcare professionals, who all felt that in order to mitigate the risk of legionella they would rather manually check temperatures of tank held water than receiving alarm based notifications from a BEMS. The reason for this was purely down to the high levels of alarms that they already receive.

This situation is both worrying and frustrating, given that a BEMS should be a focal point in ensuring delivery of a compliant, resilient and sustainable built environment. A BEMS should support decision making but do so in a way that provides genuine value, rather than allowing generic, worthless alarms to complicate a user experience.

One answer to this conundrum is to reduce the volume of alarms and rationalise the amount that are set, so that the end user can gauge the importance of a notification. Alternatively, a graphical user interface (GUI) such as the Trend 963 Supervisor could be used to improve the presentation of valuable information so that users quickly recognise situations requiring their attention. The 963 Supervisor could create clear, relevant and succinct metrics – the premise being to create indicators that are just as effective as the actions they are intended to instigate.

These visual indicators can be configured to suit the exacting needs of the end user and be based upon an understanding of specific objectives, how they are to be achieved and who is going to action them. They could take the form of dashboards, ‘traffic light’ style devices or graphs.

A BEMS that issues alarms in a more structured, meaningful and discerning way is far more useful that one that simply bombards the end user with notifications that are ignored. Integrators and end users, therefore, need to work together to decide upon levels of importance for different events and configure the BEMS appropriately. It is simply a case of less being more.

For further information please call Trend Marketing on 01403 211888 or email

Should Building Managers worry about scary movies?

threatsBuilding managers thinking of films to see this winter may give some thought to a previously little known comedy largely set in North Korea.

The successful cyber-attacks on Sony, one of the world’s best known corporations, and which lives and breathes digital technology, resulted in the release of reams of sensitive information, and led  Sony to delay the opening of the film. All this may on the face of it have little to do with the nuts and bolts of building automation, but it does fire another warning shot across the industry’s bows.

We have known for some time that buildings are vulnerable to cyber-attack. Not only can they be major targets in themselves, but they often offer an easy “back” door” into an organisation’s wider IT network. The successful attack on Target stores in the USA gained access via the company’s HVAC system which in turn allowed them into the more lucrative customer data records. BSRIA research shows that, in the USA for example, over 90% of all larger buildings (i.e. those with more than half a million square feet of space – or c. 50,000 m2) have some kind of building automation and control system (BACS), and many are to some degree at risk.

What is striking is that in so many successful attacks on buildings or infrastructure the problem had less to do with the cyber-protection systems in place than with the way in which they were being maintained and operated. At Target, alerts were generated but not acted on until after much of the damage was done. The earlier attack on Google’s Australian offices in Sydney were linked to the fact that an older version of the Tridium platform was still in use.

Many organisations lack effective processes and procedures, which in turn is linked to the fact that, even within the same organisation, building services and IT tend still to work in separate, parallel worlds.

All of this is compounded by the fact that BACS systems increasingly have at least one foot in the Cloud, and often several. Almost all major suppliers of BACS and Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) offer at least the option of cloud based analytics, and the ability to access and manage multiple buildings remotely is seen as almost a “must-have” – outside of industries which have traditionally been hypersensitive about security. The cloud brings huge technical, social and financial benefits, but also greatly increases risk, as does the general spread of IT based functionality through buildings and devices, a process that the ‘internet of things’ is set to expand exponentially.

Major suppliers of BACS systems are talking publically about ways of addressing the challenge, and companies like Lynxspring are establishing a reputation in this area. In the UK the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) issued a Code of Practice for Cyber Security in the Built Environment in November 2014.

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

Cyber-attacks tend to be motivated by political, ideological, or financial motives, or by a combination of mischief and malice. On all these scores, major buildings remain vulnerable especially when they are associated with prominent organisations, whether private or public.

In the latest edition of BSRIA’s market briefing Threats / Opportunities for Building Automation Systems, we look further at the cyber threat and what is being done to counter it. The study also looks at other major trends that are changing the profile and prospects of building automation. These include the development of more intelligent HVAC systems, (whether Direct Expansion or VRF based), the growth of ‘smart homes’ solution which are also snapping at the heels of the BACS market at the “lower end” of commercial buildings, the growing importance of building analytics and big data, and the rise of potential new global players, especially in countries like China and India.

We will be following these and other emerging trends through the course of 2015. It should be as exciting anything that Hollywood has to offer, for rest assured: The cyber threat (and much else) is coming to a building near you soon.


Additional Sources:

The Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) guidelines.

Smartening up the City

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

There are some leaps in technology that seize the mind and imprint themselves indelibly on the memory. There can hardly be anyone over the age of 50 who doesn’t recall their grainy view of the first man on the Moon, and people who are quite a bit younger will remember when, say, paying a bill or booking a holiday online was still a novel experience.

There are other changes which, while they are already having far more impact on our lives than the Moon landings, seem to have crept up on us, almost by stealth. The advent of the Smart City looks very much like being one of the latter.

The Seminar Smart Cities and the Internet of Things, which BSRIA attended on 16th July, helped to flesh out some of these. One key factor is of course the sheer all-encompassing variety and complexity and scale of a modern city, as reflected in the technology required to support it. This was underlined by the presentations on the range of “smart” cities, from major building consultants, to companies working closely with utilities, to data analytics companies.

This points to a pluralistic approach where different companies collaborate, each contributing their own particular skills, rather than one where a mega-corporation tries to orchestrate everything.  As one speaker pointed out, the smart car alone is likely to involve motor manufacturers, battery and power specialists, grid utilities, digital IT specialists, and the advertising and public relations industry (interestingly, two of the three first people I spoke to represented public relations companies). And that is before one gets on to the subject of the role of city and national authorities.

While the seminar focussed, understandably, on the elements that comprise the “Internet of Things”, making up ‘the nuts and bolts’ of the smart city, it also convinced me that we need to pay more attention to the wider social, political and economic context.

What makes a city smart? Given the combination of complexity and subjectivity, that is always going to be a hard question to answer. Nonetheless a group of academic institutions did rank 75 smart cities across Europe based on the “smartness” of their approach to the economy, mobility, the environment, people, living and governance.

When I measured the ranking of smart cities in each country against that country’s average income, I was struck, but not that surprised, that there was an almost linear correlation between a country’s wealth, and the ranking of its ‘smartest’ city. Thus at one extreme Luxembourg, easily the richest country in Europe, and second richest in the world, was also judged to have the smartest city. Lowest ranked was Bulgaria, which also had the lowest per capita income of all the countries on the list. Most other countries were in a ‘logical’ position in between.

Smartening up the city

One can of course argue whether smart cities are mainly a cause or a consequence of a country’s wealth. Up until now I suspect it is mainly a matter of richer countries being able to afford more advanced technology, not least because the relative economic pecking order has not changed that much in the past 25 years, i.e.. since before the smart city era really got underway, indeed if anything the countries on the bottom right of our chart have been catching up economically, which could be why countries like Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia are doing better in the smart city stakes than their income might suggest.

Luxembourg is of course unusual in one other significant respect. In terms of size, and population, it is about the size of a city, and is politically and economically very much focussed on its eponymous capital city. This raises a question sometimes posed in other contexts: Is the “city state” making a comeback, and could this have a bearing on the development of the smart city? In this respect it surely speaks volumes that Singapore, probably the closest entity to a city state in the modern world is not only highly productive economically but frequently cited in the history of the smart city, going back to the days when it pioneered road pricing more than a generation ago, and one of the cities mentioned in this seminar.

If you are laying down the guidelines for a smart city then there are clearly advantages in having an authority with the resources and powers of a government, combined with the local knowledge and accessibility of a city.  But given that splitting up the world into hundreds if not thousands of new ‘city states’ does not look like a viable option, what can be done to create a framework in which smart cities can flourish in a way that is responsive to their citizens’ needs?

Even in larger countries, the Mayors of major cities are often heavyweight national figures, enjoying wide ranging  powers. This applies to cities like New York, Berlin, Paris and, more recently London. One of the most interesting developments in Britain is the growing recognition that while London is already in effect a global economic power, other cities have been struggling to keep up. While this problem long pre-dates the smart city, it speaks volumes that, with a general election due next year, all of the major parties are now committing to giving more powers to major cities outside of the capital, possibly with more directly elected mayors.

Given the nature of democratic politics there is still no guarantee that this will happen, especially given governments’ traditional reluctance to hand over power, but with Scotland likely to enjoy greater autonomy even if it votes to remain in the UK, the pressure to devolve more power to cities and regions in the rest of the UK will be that much greater.

Even this would not of itself promote smart cities, but it would mean that city mayors or leaders seeking to promote and coordinate smart city developments, and companies and interest groups looking for partners, would have much more powerful instruments within their grasp.

BSRIA’s Worldwide Market Intelligence team produces an annual report into Smart Technologies. To find out more go to our website

Buildings – Plugging the Performance Gap

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

What do The Titanic, London’s Millennium Bridge, and The Leaning Tower of Pisa have in common? One answer is that as structures they all failed to “perform” as expected. The Titanic, designed with the latest technology to achieve a success  rate of approximately 100% safe Atlantic  transits, actually achieved a disappointing 0%. The Millennium Bridge, fine and inspiring though it was, failed to take account the consequences of perfectly natural, if little understood, human behaviour – the tendency to walk in sync on a naturally moving structure – with potentially alarming consequences. It had to be radically re-engineered before reopening in 2002.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, which I was able to climb last month, failed in the most fundamental requirement of most buildings – staying permanently upright – though in some-ways of course this very failure was the secret of its long term success and certainly the main reason that people like me still pay good money to climb it more than 800 years after it first started leaning.

When buildings fail to deliver the intended results, we talk about a “performance gap”. While this can embrace many areas including cost, safety and comfort, we tend to talk about this particularly where energy performance is concerned. This reflects the fact that energy performance is at least ostensibly a goal of most of those involved in the design, construction and management of buildings, and that as energy prices rise and concerns over the impact of greenhouse gas emissions become more acute, the sense of urgency can only increase.

Some of the reasons for this are highlighted in a useful new book “How Much Energy Does Your Building Use?” by Liz Reason (Dō Sustainability) whose launch I attended in London last week. The book highlights examples of buildings initially hailed as energy efficient which spectacularly failed to live up to their reputation. It also shows how these failings can emerge at any stage of the building process from initial planning and design through construction, commissioning and occupation and operation, and considers how these problems and shortcomings can best  be addressed and avoided.

What I want to focus on here is one central question: How do we know how our building is actually performing, let alone how it is likely to perform in future? The key here is information, which needs to be collected and then analysed, not just to show us any obvious performance issues but also point to potential problems or just unusual patterns that deserve further investigation and explanation.

This points to a central role for Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS). These are offered by a wide range of suppliers, including most of the major Building Automation providers, and present wide ranging functionality. Central to almost all of them is the collection and analysis of data, sometimes in prodigious volumes. A well implemented BEMS enables you to keep track of what your building is actually doing, irrespective of what it was intended or expected to achieve.

'Performance gaps' in buildings are nothing new...

‘Performance gaps’ in buildings are nothing new…

Another way in which the performance gap points towards BEMS is that while the value of BEMS has been widely recognised for some time in the retrofit market, especially for the huge mass of buildings constructed in 1960 – 1990, there has sometimes been a tendency to assume that more recent buildings, being generally built to much higher standards, can, to a degree, “look after themselves”. If a building really is “zero energy” then what is there to manage, at least from an energy point of view?

However, if there are basic failings in the design itself, the way it has been implemented or commissioned, or the way the building is operated in relation to its actual usage, then the performance gap can loom up large and un-ecological as a fire-breathing dragon. Sometimes the failings can be obvious: a stiflingly uncomfortable office can jump up and hit you as much as a wildly wobbling bridge. But in other instances, energy wastage is less obvious. Real performance issues emerge only when the actual data is collected and analysed over time.

This month BSRIA publishes the latest update of the study “BEMS Market 2014 Q2 :Developments in Europe and the USA”, a study which, with its regular quarterly updates, helps you to keep up to speed with the newest developments in this exciting and important area.

Design Fine Tuning?


Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

BSRIA has been involved in many recent projects including an independent assessment of the realised performance of low energy / environmentally conscious buildings.  This includes projects associated with the Technology Strategy Board’s Building Performance Evaluation (BPE) programme.

The emerging results for more than 50 non-domestic buildings have now been analysed by BSRIA to look at what works well, and when things don’t, why this is the case.  It’s always difficult to generalise based on such a diverse building stock, ownership profile, procurement route, supply chain capabilities, and operational approach, but its clear that in many of the buildings there is a significant performance gap between design intent, and realised performance.  Analysis of such data is always a challenge.  How does one attribute, for instance, any shortfall in performance between the specification, design, construction, commissioning process, and to operational issues such as sub-optimal energy management and / or changes in operating regime such as an extension in occupancy hours.

However one lesson inferred from the analysis is that with some low carbon (and / or energy) buildings one of the unintended consequences is that sometimes the building has been finely “tuned” to minimise carbon (and / or energy), and capital costs at the expense of the building’s resilience in the face of, say, changing patterns of use or internal gains.  Put simply, if a building has been engineered to reduce energy and or carbon for a particular set of operating conditions, and one way of achieving this is to simply size ventilation, and air conditioning plant in line with those conditions, what happens if say internal gains increase as a result of higher occupancy loading?  In practice it is found that some environmental designs lack the flexibility to cope with changes in business use because of limitations built into their design.  This happens with more conventional buildings, with the difference for environmental buildings being more pronounced because the design in many cases is more finely “tuned” as we move ever closer to “near zero”, or “very low” energy / carbon buildings.

BSRIA’s experience identifies many of the good practices required to ensure environmental buildings work well, and also the impact of poor practice.  Overly sensitive design is one cause of poor performance in practice.  So the question is why do some clients and their design team include a sensitivity analysis to design services and size plant so as to ensure resilience, whereas others adopt an approach best characterised by “lowest capital, highest environmental ranking, never mind about actual performance in use”?  The likely answers are complex.  Those found by others like Latham and Egan come to mind for some instances: informed clients recruit supply chains who know their business, and both understand implications of design decisions; post-occupancy-evaluationanother is the chasm which can often occur between those who specify, procure, and lease buildings, and those who occupy and manage them.  Perhaps a third is that once a building has been occupied, too seldom is thought given to how the building will actually work in the face of changes in occupant requirements.

The question for BSRIA is how we can provide a steer and guidance to our members and the industry as to how best to ensure that we build the next generation of environmentally sensitive buildings to be even more resilient in the face of likely changes those buildings will face over their lifetime.  A building which has a very low carbon and / or energy design use, but which fails to provide a productive environment in the face of foreseeable changes in operating conditions can’t really be described as “sustainable”.

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Chief Executive, Julia Evans. For more information about BPE you can visit our website or visit the TSB’s BPE pages where you can look at case studies and methods of BPE (you may need to register to access these). 

Building Controls: Throwing a BRIC in the Works

Henry BlogThe BRIC countries; Brazil, Russia, India and China feature prominently in the news on an almost daily basis, for all sorts of reasons. While there have been concerns over a slowdown in growth, China, India and Brazil have all continued to grow through the recession at substantially faster rates than most of the developed world, and whilst the somewhat reduced growth rates may cause alarm in China and India, they would be cause for wild celebration in, say, much of Europe.

China, Brazil, Russia  and India all now rank in the World’s top 10 economies, and China is already second only to the USA, and is poised  to overtake it sometime in the next few years.

This economic development has naturally been associated with a lot of building development, including demand for such systems as HVAC and Building Automation. Nonetheless, in the BRICS countries the Building Controls markets have tended to lag behind their economic development.

Hence, according to BSRIA research, China’s Building Automating market was the world’s 5th largest in 2012, while Russia ranked 11th, India 16th and Brazil 18th.

What is more, the same research shows that the Chinese, Indian and Brazilian markets were dominated by the “Big 4” global suppliers: Siemens, Johnson Controls, Honeywell and Schneider Electric, even though the individual company shares varied reflecting local market conditions.

One thing that the history of the past 150 years has taught us is that as technologies mature and economies develop, industries tend to migrate to areas which offer the combination of lower costs and growing markets which China, India and Brazil are all in a position to do. This has been seen with the massive movement of manufacturing industry to China and of IT related industries and services to India. This in turn has created some new locally owned corporations with major industrial and financial clout, in a position to compete and invest on a global basis.

The latest update to BSRIA’s global study Challenges and Opportunities in the BACS Market , looks at a number of key trends, including the potential for new challengers to emerge in China, India and Brazil.

Unsurprisingly, the process appears to be most advanced in China. Spurred on by the wave of new construction, suppliers such as Techcon, SUPCON, Beston and RUNPAQ have started to make a real impact covering most of the main vertical markets, and including some high profile projects.

In India, where the overall market is significantly smaller, only Larsen and Toubrou, a major Indian-owned global corporation, stands out. There are however a host of Indian companies providing implementation and integration services.

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

In Brazil a major domestic supplier has yet to emerge, though as in India there are a range of local companies offering related services.

In Russia, local Champions such as Regin and Polar Bear have gained a significant national market share, but have yet to have much impact elsewhere.

Past experience in other industries suggest that these countries may well provide favourable conditions for local champions to emerge and that, as their national BACS markets grow and mature, so this could even provide a springboard to offer products and services on a regional or even a global basis. This is definitely an area that everyone with an interest in Building automation, be it as a supplier, customer or service provider, should continue to watch going forward.

Other subjects that we focus on in the latest update include Technical Infrastructure Support Providers, developments in cybersecurity for buildings, and new alliances and mergers.

To find out more about Challenges and Opportunities in the BACS Market please contact Steve Turner –

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