Commissioning for End-User Productivity – Part 1: Programming and Design Review

by Bob Eastman and Jeff Yirak, P.E., CPMP, LEED AP BD+C, O+M

This article is part of Wood Harbinger’s newsletter series.

Clients across many market sectors now recognize the value and benefit of the commissioning process. The value is an impartial review of the programming, design, and documentation of installed building systems. The benefit is the result—an integrated and fine-tuned system optimized for peak performance.

Commissioning providers have often focused on the “behind the scenes” systems that primarily affect building maintenance and energy consumption (and therefore cost). The infrastructure for these systems resides behind walls, above ceilings, or in areas of the building not frequented by end-user staff. Many of these systems require a network for signal transport and an operating system for device programming, operation, sequence of operation integration, reporting, and management. In the Construction Specification Institute (CSI) realm, most of these systems are covered in Divisions 22-26 and include:

  • Indoor building environment
  • Water consumption
  • Domestic water heating
  • Lighting control and management
  • Energy management
  • Building management
  • Building envelope (this one is actually in Division 08)

As important as these infrastructure systems are to the success of a building’s operation, they aren’t typically associated with directly supporting a building’s end-users’ workflow and the day-to-day operation of a business. The business systems—those in front of the wall, below the ceiling, on top of the desks, and in the pockets and backpacks—are the daily systems “on stage.” We group these systems under the heading of Information and Communication Technology, or ICT. In the CSI realm, they include Division 27 (Communications) and Division 28 (Electronic Safety and Security) systems. In most cases, these systems still require a physical infrastructure to support end-user devices as well as system software that defines and supports workflow. It’s all interconnected, therefore the whole ICT package—infrastructure, systems, devices, and software can (and should) be commissioned in our view.

Common ICT Systems

Let’s identify a few common ICT systems deployed in an office, school, laboratory, or hospital—these are the systems we’ll be talking about in this article. The list is expansive, including:

  • Wireless (Wi-Fi) networks support the transmission of information from both independent and integrated systems, sensors, and mobile communication devices.
  • Audiovisual systems support teleconferencing, telehealth, distance learning, room presentation, and presentation/lecture capture/playback.
  • Nurse call/code blue systems support the communication between patient and staff, and between staff and staff; and integrate with real-time location systems (RTLS), electronic health record (EHR) systems, admission, transfer and discharge (ADT) systems, environment service systems, patient transport systems, mobile communication devices (phones and pagers), patient entertainment/education systems, and ‘smart’ beds and ‘smart’ rooms.
  • RTLS support the tagging, tracking, control, and protection of assets, staff, patients, rooms, and workflow processes.
  • Credentialed access control (CAC) systems allow the authorized movement of staff, vendors, students, visitors, and first responders into and around a building; and integrate with elevator control systems, fire alarm systems, parking control systems, video surveillance systems, visitor management systems, and duress and alarm systems.
  • Infant protection and patient elopement systems allow the authorized movement of infant and patients around a hospital and are integrated with RFID and wireless networks, video surveillance systems, credentialed access control systems, and elevator control systems.
  • Video surveillance systems support/assist in securing spaces, people, and processes; and in deterring undesirable behavior.
  • Mass notification systems convey pre-programmed and live directives and messages across an area, building, or campus; and integrate with fire alarm systems, email systems, text messaging systems, and digital display systems.
  • Specialized control systems support the management, distribution, and performance of audiovisual and other room-level components and devices.

These systems directly support end-user operations and are also heavily integrated with other systems over a common network. They are controlled by operating systems and have databases integrated with other databases and systems, often as part of a platform of offerings. Their selection and design are driven by end-user requirements. The level of end-user knowledge, experience, and perception of these systems can be significantly influenced by system vendors’ marketing, along with the opinions of existing system maintenance staff/integrator staff. Source funding is often limited and potentially influenced by the perceived benefit of a system feature or function and its related ability to positively support workflow, such as doing more (better-faster-more accurately) with fewer resources (less time-cost-waste).

Formal policies and procedures are required to operate these systems effectively. They cover everything from end-user training, daily workflows, management, reporting, and governance to emergency response when faced with adverse conditions or events. Each of the various systems has an independent useful life cycle that dictates system/device upgrades and refresh considerations, so change is also an inherent and ongoing demand on resources.

The Business Case for Commissioning ICT Systems

In the case of a new system deployment, mission statements and system requirements are captured during the programming phase, with all system features, functions, and end-user requirements documented in the Owner Project Requirements (OPR). A complete OPR references and captures the owner’s vision for the project, with a brief narrative of the story this system/project/building is supposed to tell; the basic project objectives, including size, function, and system life; the project’s budget, schedule, funding sources, or funding requirements; and sustainability objectives, such as LEED certification or specific energy use index (EUI) targets. Note that the OPR is a living document and is/should be updated whenever requirements are added, changed, or deleted.

Getting a commissioning provider involved during the project’s programming phase for a new deployment can ensure that:

  • Appropriate stakeholders are assembled.
  • Questions are methodically asked.
  • System and device capabilities are identified.
  • Levels of system integration are identified.
  • Expected sequences of operation are identified.
  • Capital expenses and operational expenses are identified.
  • The OPR is recorded and approved.

In the case of an existing system, a commissioning provider can evaluate if the system is performing as it should, based on industry standards/best practices or an existing OPR. They can also develop a Current Facilities Requirements (CFR) document that identifies the “current state” and outlines any needed changes/improvements to bring a system back into expected operation. Getting a commissioning provider involved during the project’s programming phase for an existing system replacement/upgrade will ensure that:

  • Appropriate stakeholders are assembled.
  • Policies and procedures are reviewed.
  • Requirements are captured and compared to the existing OPR.
  • If the OPR is no longer accurate, it is updated or replaced.
  • If an OPR is not available, a CFR is created.
  • Staff are interviewed to determine how they are using a system, what works and what does not, what they would like to be changed or modified, and how they have been trained.
  • Available system upgrades are identified.

These efforts will be documented along with recommendations and associated opinions-of-probable-costs. Upon sign off by the organization, the information will create the baseline for the system for subsequent testing and optimization efforts.

Organizations invest a lot of resources into deploying information and communication technology systems to meet their business objectives and their workflows. The commissioning process will help the organization realize a higher rate of return on their investments and return on information in the form of higher productivity.

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