What is a Building System Integrator?
If all of the building automation (bas) and control products were the same, system integration would be a reasonably easy process. However, over the last few decades, these technologies have not been linearly developed. In reality, nearly all of the base platforms were originally developed as proprietary systems.
More recently, however, a torrent of free or “common” communication protocols has been introduced to the market, closely followed by new vendor claims for “open systems”. Confusion arose—and still persists to some extent—about the true sense of the word “open.”
Meanwhile the role of the system integrator (SI) as a main delivery agent for overall integrated building solutions has significantly increased. There is now an urgent need for practitioners who understand protocols, different technologies and most significantly, how to successfully execute integration strategies in an open building control system.
By today’s concept, the SI is basically responsible for specifying, installing, designing, and maintaining the functionality—trends, alerts, and schedules—of a network communication protocol basis, such as LonTalk®. Unlike the conventional product integrator, who is responsible only for incorporating an individual product or subsystem into the building automation scheme, the responsibility of the device integrator exceeds that of all those in this class. The SI must be able to assemble the components of the different suppliers in order to construct a coherent structure that meets the objectives of the building owner.
Owners should also expect the SI’s duty to include the construction of a solid, stable platform or framework to be installed on by one manufacturer, rather than merely adding various items and components to the system. As a result, a true system integrator must be able to provide a single-seat, site-wide bass interface that building owners are now requesting.
The SI’s duties also extend beyond the network integrator, which is also responsible for the specification, design, implementation and maintenance of open control systems. However the network integrator does not usually incorporate third-party components and products into a solid, stable platform. An significant difference to note is that the SI is the only one responsible for ensuring that the system is completely accessible and fully functional.
Education is the Key
Training of all stakeholders in the control industry has long been a major issue, from designers and consumers to suppliers, operators and engineers. It is vital for owners, too, not only to have basic education in hvac, but also to have a strong understanding of how the environmental requirements of their buildings affect their operation. Most evident are the positive effects of improvements on productivity, employee morale and building efficiency.
System managers need more education than ever before in terms of low-level operation, networking and technology controls in general. They need a higher level of understanding to tap into the powerful new capabilities of integrated systems and help owners realize the return they expect from their investments. That’s why the training provided by the manufacturer is important.
The SI is crucial in explaining to managers how their roles will change and in educating them on the impact of their adjustments and corrections. Likewise, training to learn new skills today is just as important as continuing education and training in the future to keep up with the problems of system integration.
Experience shows that effective, long-term relationships between the SI and the owner can be traced back to productive communication at an early stage. Well-founded relationships begin with a thorough understanding of the needs of owners and their facilities.
Early on the SI is responsible for setting realistic limits on what can be achieved by system integration and outlining the schedules and costs for the completion of the project. The SI shall also be responsible for the correct wording of all project specifications, including functional and detailed descriptions, scope of work, testing and procedures, support services and documentation.
The astute SI also understands that working closely with other vendors at the early stage of the project will pave the way for smoother implementation and proper commissioning later on. This approach creates a win-win attitude among team players and at the outset demonstrates the professionalism of the SI.
In order to improve their chances of success, SIs will also need to adopt methodologies that represent the best practices of the industry. This will help to improve their project management skills, encourage open communication and facilitate team efficiency from start-up to customer acceptance.