Technology Refresh Part 1

In a two-part blog, Graeme Rees, Vice-President of the Building Controls Industry Association (BCIA), looks at the progress made in technology over the last few decades and explains why modern, adaptable systems are the way forward, particularly when it comes to building controls.


Take a moment to reminisce, to think back to the days when the television was the huge piece of furniture in the corner of the room, when Mum or Dad would call out to “turn it over – put the other side on” or “turn it up” and someone, usually the youngest, would have to walk over to action a button or a knob to answer the request. Similarly, recollect the summer day trips in cars with vinyl seats that would get blisteringly hot, the only form of air-conditioning achieved by manually winding down a window and most of the journey praying you didn’t get stuck in traffic for fear of the car overheating by the roadside.

Technology has advanced at such a rate it is hard to imagine how basic the every day was just 20 or 30 years ago. I appreciate a good number of readers will have little appreciation of the scenarios I describe. My own children have little concept of CDs and no understanding of the vinyl single. As to phones, the idea of actually “dialling” is totally lost on them.

Move forward to just the most recent 10 to 15 years, and when we think back to these slightly more recent times we will still reminisce and smile at the simplicity of the technology around us, in our homes and cars. Anti-lock brakes, air conditioning and electric windows were pretty standard and the TV in the corner had probably been replaced with a giant Sony or Panasonic rear projection monster.

In our commercial buildings the control systems that were installed in the days of the Ford Cortina, Vauxhall Viva and the rented 19-inch Baird from Radio Rentals have long been replaced with the early BMS systems of the era of the Vauxhall Vectra and plasma flat screens. Many are still in use today, reliably controlling the environmental conditions in our buildings, and a good number of building owners, occupiers and facility managers are happy with the service being provided. So good are many systems of the era I reflect on it is hard to make the comparisons with those I describe. The old saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” certainly springs to mind.

However, the technology upon which these systems were built is the technology of the 1990s and early 2000s. The older the system the less likely it will be able to monitor and manage your building’s equipment efficiently. So on the rare occasion that an item may fail it is often requested to find a spare, or fashion a repair, and challenge the quoted costs for doing so, “that’s more than a new one!”

This kind of reaction would be unthinkable if applied to the similar technologies in our lives.. would we spend thousands repairing our Vauxhall Vectra when there’s an Insignia available for the same money, complete with inbuilt Sat Nav, DAB Radio, cruise control and lane correction features, not to mention superb improvement in fuel efficiency – maybe even go all electric? Would I look for a replacement plasma if that started to dim or would I buy a super flatscreen 4K smart TV upon which I could stream directly almost anything at anytime?

I describe these comparisons, not as a car or TV salesman, but to illustrate in the simplest terms the degree of progress and technological advances in our building systems today compared to previous generations. I will go into this in more detail in the second part of this blog next week.

Graeme Rees

BCIA Vice-President


Look out for the second part of Graeme’s blog, which will discuss the advantages of upgrading a building’s BMS.