Cheers to 30!

Terry Sharp looks at the past, present and future of the BCIA as it celebrates 30 years in the business.

Many historical events are remembered in different ways the further along in time we get from them. Whether it’s marking the date when Neil Armstrong first stepped on to the moon, England winning the football World Cup (still waiting for a repeat) or in more recent times the London Olympics, we all enjoy reflecting on those ‘remember when’ moments.

Casting my mind back to 1991, some of the events of note included the breakdown of the former Soviet Union, Bryan Adams spent 16 weeks at number one with (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, and Alan Partridge (ahaaaa) made his first ever appearance on Radio 4. Important though all of these are, they obviously pale into insignificance compared to the formation of the BCIA, originally launched as the Building Controls Group (BCG) by Secretary of State for Energy John Wakeham in 1991.

In its earliest days there were just 11 members. That figure has since risen to around 120 as the BCIA has grown to become a single voice in the Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) sector. Before its inception many companies operating in the controls sector had felt for some time that there was no single focus for their efforts to strengthen and develop the technology. It was subsequently decided to set up a new group within the Energy Systems Trade Association (ESTA). The new group’s key objectives were to establish a professional Code of Conduct, and advance technical standards, contract conditions and training and marketing the benefits of controlling energy usage and making potential users aware of the technology available to them.


An industry worth celebrating

Thirty years later these core aims remain at the heart of the Association’s activity, and in 2007 it was decided that the innovative thinking and achievements in our industry were worth celebrating as the first ever BCIA Awards was held. The increasing popularity of this event is demonstrated by the record numbers of entries and attendees it now attracts, as well as the great variety of celebrity guest speakers in recent years.

There have been some very interesting industry developments since the BCIA’s inception. Soon after the Association started, a second group of control system specialists was formed amongst the then installers of BEMS. Back then, the market was dominated by the controls manufacturers and names like Satchwell, Honeywell, Landis & Gyr, Staefa and Tour & Andersen held the majority share. These days over three-quarters of controls installations and servicing is done by the independent sector and most controls manufacturers focus on product development and distribution.

Technological advancements have also changed the marketplace and perhaps most markedly is the emergence of affordable open communications standards that allow hybrid systems and brands to coexist within a BEMS. Gone are the traditional motor control centre (MCC) panels which housed the starter gear and large data gathering outstations of the early BEMS. These days smart plant, often with individual remote controllers, share operational data over IT networks or edge-technologies directly to the cloud.

In recent years the BCIA has been involved in the review of the proposed changes to Part L of the Building Regulations. We have also seen the launch of the BEMS Controls Engineer Apprenticeship Standard, in partnership with training provider Group Horizon, designed to address an industry wide shortage of BEMS Controls Engineers who will use the technical skills they learn on the Apprenticeship to keep the buildings of the future running efficiently.

Thirty years from now I hope and expect the core aims mentioned above to still be driving the BCIA forward, as the industry continues to evolve. Agility and flexibility of buildings are becoming increasingly important with potential frequent changes of use and occupancy needing to be responded to quickly and efficiently. The BCIA has played a crucial role in shaping our built environment up to this stage and I am proud to be able to oversee this significant landmark with the belief that the organisation will go from strength to strength in the next 30 years….and beyond!