By Jack Wang
INTRODUCTION TO BUILDING MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
Have you ever wondered what works behind the scenes to make the environments where we live, work and play pleasant? A Building Management System (BMS) is the answer.
So, what is a BMS? The term refers to a centralised control system commonly used in today’s buildings to create and maintain an energy-efficient, cost-effective, environmentally comfortable, and safe space for occupants. Systems that are centrally controlled or monitored by the BMS often include air-conditioning and ventilation; lighting; power; fire; and communications. Simply put, the BMS achieves this by gathering information from connected building systems into a common data environment, and then applying algorithms and analytical techniques to generate insights that help make appropriate decisions to operate all the building systems in order to achieve its goals.
The BMS also assists facility operations and maintenance management personnel by raising real-time alerts about malfunctions; learning from historical data and trends; and producing data visualisation reports that show key building performance metrics and ways to make improvements.
CONVENTIONAL BUILDING MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
Most BMS today use on-premises physical servers. The implementation is simple, but it has significant upfront capital expenditure. Also, keeping these systems up-to-date is manpower intensive and costly when real estate developers have to manage various properties scattered across many locations. To achieve an acceptable response time, dedicated site staff with domain knowledge of BMS and information technology (IT) are often required to be stationed at each site.
Furthermore, as BMS manufacturers will continue to advance their software, regular technological updates of on-premises physical servers are needed. It is also challenging to adopt standard practices in buildings with varying ages, which often have different functional capabilities and technical specifications.
BUILDING MANAGEMENT AS A SERVICE
Thanks to recent advancements in cloud technologies as well as increased service provider bandwidth and network stability, BMS servers can now be hosted remotely in the cloud to help overcome challenges associated with on-premises physical servers. Cloud technology refers to the outsourcing of local system applications, processes and data storage via the internet to third parties who provide, operate and manage physical infrastructure, platforms and software services.
This is usually sold as a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, similar to the streaming services we use today, such as Spotify or Netflix. Building owners subscribe to the vendors’ services and pay a pre-determined fee. Seeing an increased interest by progressive real estate developers in this new approach, Beca is currently implementing a Cloud Hosted Building Management System for a large digital business park in Singapore.
Several significant benefits can be achieved by using this approach, including:
- Enhanced capabilities
Building owners can subscribe to a range of additional premium services, such as powerful artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics tools, which can identify opportunities of energy savings, fault prediction and process optimisation. Cloud technology also provides limitless performance data storage and processing power for building owners, rather than being limited by the capabilities of their on-site servers.
- Reduced cost through scale
As large real estate owners bring a number of projects onto a single cloud platform, they can often save part of the subscription fees, which is more economical when compared to their traditional single site, on-premises licensing. The cloud host can benefit from economies of scale in data storage and delivery, resulting in savings that can be passed on to the owners.
- A more focused workforce
The outsourced vendors with BMS and IT domain expertise can ensure that the system firmware, security and other requirements are up to standard. Facility operations and maintenance staff can, on the other hand, focus on their core responsibilities—delighting tenants and visitors.
- Improved flexibility and visibility
The BMS is managed in a common cloud environment, regardless of the location or age of the building. Facility managers can monitor faults, alarms and performance of their buildings anywhere and anytime using tablets or other mobile devices. Changes to spaces, systems and buildings can be easily managed to reflect the most recent modifications across their portfolio of real estate. This enables standardisation and benchmarking of building performance, which is particularly favourable for building owners with a large and diverse portfolio of buildings.
The use of cloud technology potentially increases cybersecurity risks. If they are not addressed in the design and planning stages, there could be data loss, service interruption, and even reputational and financial losses. Building owners must engage reliable design partners, vendors and solutions providers to develop and implement a comprehensive cyber security plan as well as appropriate security architecture and information management frameworks. With robust mitigation and system response plans in place, building owners can enjoy the benefits of cloud-hosted BMS while managing their risk exposures. —Construction+ Online
In 2021, Jack was named the Young Consulting Engineer of the Year by the Association of Consulting Engineers Singapore. He has extensive expertise of delivering technically complicated engineering solutions for large-scale projects and is a rising industry leader in the Asia Pacific smart building engineering consultancy business. Jack is an Associate Director at Beca who specialises in digital infrastructure and smart building technologies.