“Open” for Business

“Open” for Business

An in-depth look into the meaning of having open building controls and a guide to purchasing a genuinely open solution

By: Ron Bernstein, Executive Director, LONMARK International

The term “open” has many connotations, in particular in the controls and automation market. In this industry, there are those who use this term to further their own proprietary technology, products, systems, or solutions. The facts around “open” can be easily misconstrued, misleading customers to believing that they are receiving a truly open solution that in reality is very much closed.

Open protocols, open systems, open distribution, and open bidding and procurement …all have different meanings. However, in general they follow the same idea: access. Access to different products, various providers, and to information. Below is a detailed break-down of the concepts of open:

Open Protocols – Typically, this refers to a communication protocol that allows various manufacturers’ products to actively and interoperably communicate information on a common bus or network. It defines the messaging methods, media types, and requirements for devices to “coexist” on the same wire without interfering. Often the use of the term “open protocol” is manipulated by the provider to mean one of several things:

  • a device can talk to other devices and share information.
  • a device can talk to other devices, without interfering with 3rd party devices.
  • a device will talk to the front-end on the same wire as other devices talking to the front-end.
  • a device will interoperate with other devices, other manufacturers’ devices, and any other front-end on the same wire, without requiring any custom engineering.

    It is this last definition that gets to the core of an open protocol—true interoperability at the device level. No games, no gimmicks, no half truths that can trap uneducated customers.

    Open Systems – This refers to more than just the protocol. It encompasses all aspects of the system. A good control system typically specifies five key elements:
  • Control Devices
  • Graphical User Interfaces (front-end)
  • Network Infrastructure
  • Enterprise Connectivity
  • Management and Analysis Tools

    A good open system will define the requirements for each of these aspects and will enable multiple bidders and multiple manufacturers’ products to fulfil the specification requirements for each of these elements of the system.

    Open Bidding – Also referred to as “open procurement”, open bidding refers to the contracting process of implementing a control solution. An open bid specification defines the functional requirements for each element of a system, not the features of the products. Contracting officers then put the specification out for bid. If the specification is developed with an open system definition, multiple bidders can bid on the project on a fair competitive basis. No one bidder has a better chance of winning based upon what the specification contains.

    An open specification leading to open bidding requires more upfront work by the system specifier. There needs to be more thought and design work done at the beginning to ensure the project scope, architecture, and functionality are completely and fairly defined. The extra work is significantly offset by the completive bid cost reduction in a true “apples to apples” bidding process.

    Open Distribution – The term refers to open availability of products and solutions in the open market. If a product is designed to meet the standards of an open protocol but is only available from a sole sourced supplier or only available under closed contract, the resulting system is a closed system. If a product is not directly replaceable by another product from a competitive company, the system and subsequently the customer becomes locked-in to that sole sourced supplier.

    Products are now more readily available from multiple sources in the market. One key differentiating point when evaluating a solution is where you can purchase spare parts and get service. If you have multiple options, you are more open. Sole sourced supply for replacement parts and service locks up the system and yields a higher cost for the ongoing maintenance as well as can limit the scope of the system.

    So how do you ensure that your system or solution is open? Ask questions. Have the devices been tested for interoperable compliance? Can I easily replace any device or software in my system with another brand? Is there more than one service and maintenance provider that I can choose from over the life of the system? Evaluate all aspects of the open model and develop a good strategy towards selecting not only an open system but an integrator who understands and follows the open philosophy.

    The sign of a good strategy is a future-proof system design. The foundation of the LONMARK Interoperability Guidelines (following ANSI/CEA 709.1 and related standards) is the requirement that devices from different vendors must work together. These devices are tested and certified to interoperate. Additionally, LONMARK provides specification examples and design guidelines which layout the foundation for a complete open system, including all elements mentioned above. As a not for profit organisation LONMARK embraces the tenet of complete open, integrated solutions, which provide energy efficiency through intelligent control.

    Truly open systems do more than just provide better products and solutions for the customer; they are an integral part of accessing information. Open systems allow access to the total facility, providing the resources building owners need to evaluate energy use and resource consumption. The result is better educated decisions about how to improve utilisation as well as reduce costs. Looking for guidance in taking advantage of open, integrated systems? The LONMARK website, www.lonmark.org, offers a wealth of information and educational tools.