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BAS, BIM, and IPD: The Magical Trifecta

What do building automation systems, building information modeling, and integrated project delivery have in common? One AV consultant has an idea.

Why is it that acronyms seem to always come in threes? Think ABC, CBS, and NBC. Then there's BAS, BIM, and IPD. I've written before about that second trifecta (building automation system, building information modeling, and integrated project delivery) and the respective impacts of its individual components on our industry. Though easily cast off by some as technological jargon, these three have the potential to radically alter the pro AV business. Why? Because they feed on one another. While it's possible to examine each component separately and to think of it as adding arithmetically to the process of designing and integrating AV systems with the built environment, their combined potential impact is actually exponential. Therein lies crisis and opportunity.

The weakest link in the chain is presently the building automation system. It presents the largest challenge because it is the least understood by the commercial AV industry. The issues appear to be better understood by our compatriots in the home AV market. After all, the success stories most frequently told about BAS are almost all found in home automation or high-rise hotels (which are just another form of the home). However, building automation has yet to transfer to the commercial environment with the same level of success.

That doesn't mean efforts aren't under way—conversations are happening in many corners (including "The Building Management Mix" on page 40). But there are some roadblocks. For instance, clients want to know: Who among their peers has actually integrated a BAS plant with an AV control system? They can appreciate the advantages for property and energy monitoring, management, and maintenance, as well as the resultant monetary savings and improved public relations that potentially come from better corporate citizenship. Many get it. However, they're not willing to be on the bleeding edge.

Another major roadblock is cost of software development and commissioning. One of the questions I hear is, "How do I ensure that these systems will work together?" Admittedly, it won't be possible without careful design of the individual systems being integrated, as well as the software that will control and arbitrate between the various systems. The desire for simplicity and interoperability actually adds a layer of complexity to the process of connecting building systems with AV.

Stop me if you've heard this, but more than anything AV pros have worked on in the past, complete building automation—including automating everything from videowalls to conference room AV—can only be accomplished through careful systems design and coordination early in the process. As AV professionals, we're still fighting the battle for a seat at the project table earlier rather than later. (See "Meet You Future Partner," page 32, to read when architects say they consult with AV pros.) However, investing time and resources to master the two other legs of the trifecta—building information modeling and integrated project delivery—offers the potential to achieve that goal. Someone has to show the way. While the economic necessities of reducing waste are driving the use of BIM and IPD, more pressing realities, such as a stumbling economy, prevent AV pros from taking the first step and investing in the future. Here's a scary thought: For many, the cost to invest in BIM and IPD is more daunting than the idea of continuing to operate in silos when it comes to design, integration, and operations.

In a recent meeting I attended, the client made a decision not to move forward with integrating its building automation and AV systems because it had not heard a compelling enough reason for the move. When the client was presented with what a certain manufacturer and its partners could offer, the client's eyes glazed over. Who would be responsible not just for installing the systems, they wondered, but also programming and commissioning? And who would they call when a problem arose?

That's frustrating. The pieces of the puzzle are all there, but so far we're unable to put them together into a meaningful image that the client can see. It's like looking at a Magic Eye image, which at first appears to be a random assembly of dots, which then resolves into a beautiful picture if you look at it just right. If you don't, you get a headache. (This is much like the promise of 3D, but that's another story.)

I'm staunchly in favor of free-market economies and laissez-faire capitalism, but there are times when it's tempting to embrace European standards for building automation. It's simple, it makes sense, and it holds everyone to one standard. We in the U.S. tend to wait for the market to shake out a standard. I'm still waiting for the audio industry to create and abide by a standard for digital audio transportation and control. And it's been almost 30 years. Have we any reason to hope for anything better from this effort at integration? We must make it better.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." AV pros promise magic. BAS, BIM, and IPD are tools for creating this magic, but until we learn how to use them and how they change our business, they're of little use.

Building information modeling and integrated project delivery should make it easier to realize the magic of building automation systems and intelligent designs, which, after all, are what clients say they're looking for, even if they're still skeptical of current solutions. I recently heard that architects consider AV systems "a necessary evil." That probably has a lot to do with the fact that they invite us to the party so late. But if we don't get the trifecta of BAS, BIM, and IPD right, there's the risk that this perception could spread. The pro AV industry has to arrive with proven solutions instead of promises. I don't know about you, but I don't want to walk into a meeting and introduce myself as "the necessary evildoer."

Thom Mullins is a senior consultant with Affiliated Engineers NW in Seattle.

 


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