Ever been stuck in a conference room (or office) where it was either too hot or too cold and adjusting the thermostat seemed completely ineffective? You’re probably not the only one. And it’s probably not an accident. In fact, it’s a good (but perhaps unintentional) example of the potential for the intersection of business rules and BPM.
Consider the owner of a building that has multiple HVAC (heating, ventilating, and cooling) units that help regulate airflow and temperature in different sections, but not down to the individual office designation. Allowing individual offices to control the cooling or heating would result in numerous (and often differing) signals being sent to the centralized HVAC units. (Didn’t you just know that those thermostats never did any good?) Instead, by centrally monitoring and controlling the heat or cooling requirements for sections of the building as a whole, the building owner can optimize heating and cooling patterns and potentially reduce costs. For example, the owner could configure the cooling system to compensate for the fact that the east side of the building will heat up more quickly in the morning because of the rising sun, while the west side of the building will heat up after lunch. In terms of efficiency, this can be a great solution—it lowers overall heating and cooling costs. But it does come at a cost — the comfort of the individual users or offices within the building? Since the air conditioning and heating are centrally controlled, they’re probably never exactly right for individual living or working spaces or people.
Now let’s compare that to a building where each office, room or apartment has its own air conditioner and heater, individually controlled by the thermostat in each room. People can adjust the airflow and temperature in each of their living or working spaces individually—but must do so manually. With this scenario, there’s no centralized way to allow for the standard daily fluctuations (such adjusting the heat and cooling for the overall effects of solar heating on one side of the building), or accommodating days when it’s overcast, or when there’s a severe heat or cold spell. Individuals must adjust their own HVAC systems—which works well (if not in a coordinated fashion) when they’re in the offices, but not so well if they’ve stepped out for a meeting. In that case, there may be a great many individual HVAC units set for conditions that have changed. For example, they may be belting out cold air to compensate for the warmth of the morning sun that is now on the other side of the building. Or, if we figure that 25% of the occupants are away from their office or apartment at any point, there’s a good chance that the heat or AC is set too high or too low for current conditions, and you have may end up with the heating units operating on one floor, and the air conditioning units operating on the next. In any case, a building with decentralized control over the temperature gives users a much more agreeable environment (they can control the temperature), but can significantly reduce the efficiency of the overall system — since you may have air conditioners or heating units cranking away in response to conditions that have long since changed, or because you have some units right next others vying to alter the temperature.