A New EMS for the Next Era in Building Automation and Control

A single, integrated engineering team should collaborate on all software programming and optimization tasks — controls, analytics and workflow management — during design and construction. The resulting data platform can evolve into a building energy management system that will serve the building’s on-going commissioning needs through its useful life.

In the new data-driven life cycle of modern commercial buildings, building automation and controls services can be an effective bridge between design, construction and operation. Gone are the days when building controls functionality was locked within a construction subcontract and squeezed into the chaotic final days of construction and initial occupancy. Open network architecture and employment of a connected building commissioning (CBCx) approach have opened a new landscape.

Today, optimal operating sequences and relationships can be built into the “smarts” of a building, and performance requirements can be made software-enforceable. However, these software aspects need to be considered early and repeatedly throughout the design/construction cycle by a multidisciplinary project team. In effect, the team is defining a software data platform that will extend into the normal operations phases of the building’s life. Done correctly, it will serve as the building’s next-generation energy management system (EMS) and will adapt to the needs of the owner and occupants over time without costly hardware changes or massive software overhauls. It will put the most useful and valuable information at the fingertips of the building managers and operators and empower occupants and the facilities staff to get the most out of their building.

NewEMS-Altura Energy Manage

The path to this vision for a next-generation EMS does require new approaches to project delivery for new construction and retrofits. According to Smart Building Research firm Memoori, the traditional supply chain for building automation system (BAS) services is in the midst of a major restructuring. The critical piece of this restructuring is the separation of the contracts for hardware installation from the contracts for software, including controls, analytics and workflow management.

This separation enables building owners to take advantage of the explosion in software services that mine building data to reduce energy costs, improve occupant comfort, streamline operations workflow and automate corporate environmental reporting. No single company or product category can drive the full potential of this industry shift. Instead, it will be built on top of open network architectures, where a variety of innovative service providers can easily leverage the data from the myriad connected devices throughout a building.

You might be thinking, “This sounds great, but are you telling me I now have to manage even more subcontracts and spend more money?” I’m happy to report that the answer is “No.” There are a range of strategies to control complexity and costs as you progress toward this new EMS vision. Here are a few key recommendations:

Managing Complexity:

  • Start your O&M controls service contract in the design phase.With this approach, the same firm helps to define performance requirements, supervise (or implement) software programming, test the systems and maintain and optimize the systems over time. This scope can be fulfilled by a wide range of companies, including energy management firms, systems integrators, integrated engineering firms and new category-busting service providers.
  • Use a commissioning firm to manage the process of delivering high performance building controls. This approach sends a strong message of accountability to the entire team. The Cx firm takes a leadership role in facilitating a detailed and customized sequence of operations, coordinating test plans to verify installation of the hardware and software to accomplish the established sequences/automation, and ongoing testing and optimization of the controls programming during building operations.
  • Put the hardware contract under the general contractor or MEP subcontractor and manage the software/analytics contract direct-to-owner. As we elevate our expectations of the functionality and performance of whole building automation and energy management, it is necessary to think in terms of a building ecosystem with different types of specialized software utilizing a common database that is fed by the various hardware deployed in the HVAC, lighting and other systems. The team does not need to be limited by the software that lives on a particular device or supervisory controller within one of those systems.

Managing Cost:

  • Competitively bid the hardware and software/analytics with discrete acceptance criteria and performance benchmarks.
  • Look for consolidation opportunities. For example, evaluate whether multiple systems can run on a common network or whether software-based virtual metering can be used to minimize the number of energy submeters required.
  • Reduce soft costs by integrating the scopes for controls sequence development, start-up/acceptance testing, commissioning functional testing, automation programming, and operational tuning/optimizationA single, integrated engineering team can collaborate on all software programming and optimization.

A common theme in these recommendations is the need for simple and continuous lines of accountability. For example, the simple step of separating controls hardware procurement from the software programming, optimization and maintenance creates powerful opportunities, but these opportunities can be destroyed if the responsibilities are handed off between parties throughout the process.

Greg Shank is a founding principal of Irvine, California-based Altura Associates. He is a proven leader in managing complex design, construction and operations projects with a focus on measuring performance and building team capacity. He has 21 years of experience in environmental science and engineering and building performance analysis, including eight years in a corporate setting and 11 years in consulting. His clients have included MGM Resorts International, The Walt Disney Company, the US Green Building Council, the US General Services Administration and the State of California.


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One thought on “A New EMS for the Next Era in Building Automation and Control

  1. This is a great article and well points out how an energy management system is not a stand alone product. At Geli ( we provide a platform for the design, automation, and long-term operations of energy storage systems, microgrids, and energy projects in general. Having a workflow process that connects design to financing to automation to reporting & asset management is key to scalable and rapid deployment & management of distributed energy projects.

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