The drive for networked building controls aimed at lowering energy costs and boosting efficiency is changing the market for providers. Business is growing as companies become installers and service providers in this industry. According to Navigant Research, the value of networking equipment installed for commercial building automation systems (BASs) is expected to be $34.7 billion by 2021, up from $20.1 billion today. This is not only because there is a demand for integrated systems in new buildings but also a massive growth in use of Internet protocol (IP) technology with the capacity to bring data from control systems to the users. In addition, more devices come with their own software to make it easier for users to operate.

Open-standards organization LonMark International reported that it has enabled the connectivity and interoperability of millions of devices based on the ISO/IEC 14908 control-networking standard. As networks become more IP-based, LonMark is taking advantage by providing a means for a variety of products to communicate over IP networks. Therefore, a growing number of buildings and transportation systems can share information and interoperate in a standardized way.

Standards-making organizations are not the only ones benefiting from these trends. For the automation systems vendors, the goal is to bring existing buildings up to a standard of advanced control functions that enable data analysis and system management. The systems in most buildings still don’t share the same communications protocol, so, as the market is transitioning to networking multiple systems using open protocols, device vendors are responding with new technology. This also allows vendors to service systems for buildings, despite whether the systems are entirely made up of their own technology.

This is business for which contractors and integrators should be willing to compete. Key building controls manufacturers—including Honeywell International, Johnson Controls Inc., Schneider Electric, Siemens Building Technology, Trane (Ingersoll-Rand) and United Technologies Corps.—to varying degrees tend to contract out installation and maintenance to skilled firms that know the customer and understand the systems.

“Energy awareness has been driving the market for building automation systems,” said Larry Weber, building control system general manager for Honeywell International Environmental Combustion and Controls (ECC). “When the market turned downward and the number of new construction projects dropped significantly, the automation contractors needed to develop a model to sell the opportunity to retrofit and upgrade existing sites.”

Now the market is beginning to realize the benefits. The development of advanced dashboards and diagnostic and analytics functions enables facility managers to identify, view and report on conditions in real-time or after the fact, in one area of a building or across multiple facilities or campuses. Increasingly, the facility managers expect to accomplish this using a mobile device, and now they can.

Once trained, a facility’s staff members—such as information technology (IT) specialists or building managers—can manage the operation and maintenance of the BAS. However, that’s still the exception. In most systems, the dedicated controls contractors or systems integrators install and maintain the BAS. Those integrators or other subcontractors may come to the site through a contract with the mechanical contractor. In some cases, the mechanical contractor has a dedicated controls division. However, to compete, electrical contractors are increasingly establishing their own controls team or systems integration department to offer a holistic solution to the increasingly complex facilities they help construct and service.

These electrical construction companies can provide the installation and maintenance of systems provided by automation system vendors. Honeywell’s go-to-market strategy, for example, is conducted through multiple channels, Weber said.

A further shift in the installation landscape of such systems is coming from a building technology association, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). New guidelines, developed this year and currently open for comments, promise to change the building model for the entire construction project. These new guidelines include low-voltage installations, such as BASs, and contractors have an opportunity to adapt their own business model to meet changing needs in the market.

As part of the guidelines, ASHRAE’s Standard Guideline Project Committee (SGPC) has developed a multi-tier architectural model for specifying direct digital control systems. The model is already in use on some projects, to identify the specific roles of participants in the building of an integrated system. That means the way a job is specified and completed is changing, as are the roles of contractors.

LonMark’s chief ambassador Ron Bernstein is a member of the SGPC committee. He said the latest version of Guideline 13 was introduced to ASHRAE in June 2012, and the committee has been developing the guidelines from that version, which had not been updated since 2007. Under the new guidelines, there will be three tiers to a project: the enterprise front-end where the software database is developed; the second tier in which the BAS infrastructure is constructed with an IT focus and Ethernet connections are installed; and the third tier in which equipment—including heating, ventilating and air conditioning; subsystem lighting; and other peripherals—are installed.

Contractors’ roles will be in the second and third tiers, Bernstein said.

Now is the time, as the new model is being determined, that contractors could define their own roles. With a master system integrator serving at tier one, all other services may be open to enterprising contractors, and the EC may be far more qualified to take on the role than vendors who would otherwise offer their installation services.

“It’s a very large departure from where things have been,” Bernstein said. 

The three-tier concept comes from the views of people in the business including consulting engineers and contractors, LonMark and BACNET. ASHRAE has a goal of publishing the new model by the end of the year. Following that, it will hold a January meeting and series of workshops to educate industry players about the program.

He said it’s time for ECs to take a bigger role in each construction project.

Bernstein said, when speaking of IT professionals whose knowledge is more focused on servers and Internet-based networks, “folks currently doing this work have no business in building automation.”

Projects using this model include any Army Corps of Engineers construction, General Services Administration projects, university campuses, and state and local government buildings. Some use as many as seven distinct tiers.

Get ready: the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee and Smart Buildings Institute offer LonWorks training.