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Review of a Real-World RFP Document for a Building Management System Purchase

By Andrew Erickson

September 17, 2023

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A reliable Building Management System (BMS) is essential for streamlined and efficient facility operations, no matter what type of operation you run.

I'll give you a quick tutorial on some basic BMS concepts and concerns in this article. These are particularly useful if you're planning a BMS project.

It's always easier to learn from real-world examples, so I have one here for you. I recently came across a detailed bid document titled: "Supply and Install a Fully Integrated Building Management System (BMS) at the Emergency Operation and Communication Center". This document provides a comprehensive look into the requirements and specifications of a modern BMS, as told by the government agency seeking price quotes for a new system.

I've omitted the specific agency's name to make this content more digestible and helpful. It really doesn't matter which agency put out this document. My only goal here is to offer a straightforward guide while you're planning, evaluating, or purchasing BMS solutions.

Whether you're a facility manager, an engineer, or a decision-maker hoping to understand more about BMS, this review will highlight crucial aspects and considerations.

Let's dive into some specifics of this bid document and unpack its insights to clarify the technical and purchasing aspects of BMS systems.

Enhancing Alarm Monitoring & Reporting in Modern Building Management Systems

Section 8.1 of this bid document focuses on a crucial component for the future Building Management System (BMS) - Alarm Monitoring and Reporting. As we move towards an era where our infrastructure is rapidly becoming "smart" (interconnected), it's essential to truly grasp why such a system is indispensable for modern structures.

Buildings today have transformed into intricate systems, with HVAC mechanisms and communication tools operating in tandem. The bid specs state:

"New controllers shall be mapped to the new Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) controllers in phases to maintain control of the entire system throughout the installation."

This detail ensures that as one system upgrades, another remains functional, guaranteeing no lapse in security or functionality.

At DPS Telecom, I routinely emphasize the relevance of an integrated, responsive, and multifaceted alarm notification system in any remote monitoring context.

Also, Section 8.1 of the bid document states:

"The new BMS system shall determine the action needed to be taken in the event of an alarm."

The outlined actions include directing the alarm to the appropriate workstation, initiating programs, and showcasing custom messages. This tailored notification approach ensures that the correct individuals are informed swiftly, allowing for a more efficient response.

Although I've been on this job for 17 years, some parts remain the same. In particular, every monitoring device in any BMS system must help you understand what response is needed. At the most basic level, alarms are sorted into Critical, Major, Minor, and Status severities.

After alarm detection, the bid doc lists the diverse means of communication an alarm reporter can use:

"The new BMS system shall dial out to the following devices in the event of an alarm: Remote service PC workstations, Cell phone text messaging, Email."

In our constantly evolving work landscapes, this adaptability ensures that alerts reach their intended recipients in real-time, irrespective of location.

An essential feature that can't be overlooked is the graphical representation. According to the bid:

"Color labeling/graphics showing the building floor plan shall be developed and installed."

These graphics, ranging from exhaust fans to energy management visuals, provide a clear, accessible visual cue, helping building managers swiftly pinpoint issues.

At DPS, our T/Mon alarm management platform has evolved over the last three decades to include custom images as backdrops on a GIS-style map display. This would deliver the type of BMS function described above.

Section 8.1 and surrounding clauses emphasize the importance of an advanced alarm monitoring and reporting system in modern building management. It is not just about being updated but ensuring that every alert is actionable and precise.

The guidelines provided in the bid shine a light on best practices and echo what I've been advocating - a solid blend of precision, efficiency, and adaptability in infrastructure management.

Web Browser Capabilities in Modern Building Management Systems

Section 8.2 of the bid documentation zooms in on the integral role of web browser capabilities in today's Building Management Systems (BMS). With the world turning to digital interfaces and their benefits, the emphasis on robust and user-friendly web capabilities is relevant and timely.

A primary takeaway from the bid specification states that "the system shall support unlimited clients using a standard Web Browser."

Gone are the days of begging your IT department for permission to install new software. User-count restrictions are still around, but some companies take an "all you can eat approach." At DPS, for example, our T/Mon alarm management platform does not place an artificial limit on how many simultaneous users can access the web interface.

With web interfaces, there's no need for additional software to be installed on client machines. This approach not only aids in easy adoption but also ensures compatibility across multiple user endpoints.

Such a seamless user experience without added layers of complication aligns with our DPS philosophy: to offer straightforward solutions that are both advanced and user-friendly.

Another notable highlight in this bid is the attention to security. The bid specs say:

"If an unauthorized user attempts to access, a blank web page shall be displayed ... Java authentication techniques to prevent unauthorized access."

I've seen TLS 1.2 become an increasingly common requirement for HTTPS connections to web interfaces in recent years. Along with SNMPv3, it's now one of the most common requests I get among new DPS clients and long-term clients who want to upgrade their older NetGuardian RTUs using our 30% RTU trade-in program.

Graphical consistency across platforms is vital for an intuitive user experience. As the bid indicates:

"Graphical screens shall be the same screens used for the Web Browser client."

There is no desire to have one set of screens for one user and an entirely other group of screens for another. As we've learned while developing our interfaces, any UI design change is a hurdle for users. The UI should be designed correctly from the beginning and seldom changed.

The emphasis on user-specific features also stands out. The bid specifies that users, based on their privileges, should be able to command, view data, adjust parameters, and even acknowledge alarms. Furthermore, there's a thoughtful addition:

"The system shall provide the capability to specify a user's home page."

The fact that users can also be restricted to their home page with links to other system views showcases the balance between customization and user-level access rights that promote security and system integrity.

Section 8.2 and its emphasis on web browser capabilities reflect the trajectory of modern infrastructure management tools.

I'll Help You With Your BMS Project

Are you working on a project that requires a BMS? You might be doing early planning, working on your bid specification for an RFP, or something else.

Whatever questions you have, give me a call at 1-800-693-0351. You can also send a quick email to sales@dpstele.com

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Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 17 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and opt...