Tech Talk: Commissioning Technology

An all-too-common situation: A technology vendor says it has completed all work according to plans and specifications. You revel in the glow of having cutting-edge systems for your school. However, the faculty, staff and technical-support team soon discover that the systems don't meet performance specifications. Perhaps the signs of trouble come when the data network doesn't function properly or teachers are unable to control the audiovisual equipment from their classroom.

Today, this scene is played out much too frequently. While administrators struggle to understand what went wrong, teachers and technical support teams try to obtain the performance that was promised.

Enter technology commissioning. Commissioning certainly isn't new; ships and aircraft have been commissioned for years. Today, procedures are being developed for commissioning various facility systems.

Unfortunately, schools often find out too late that their contracts don't require a vendor to test all hardware, software and integrated systems. Nor have they required vendors to demonstrate the functionality of all systems before accepting the work as complete.

Astute owners are beginning to ask their technology team to establish commissioning standards. This process can help ensure that technology systems are installed and tested properly.

Defining commissioning

Technology commissioning is a process for verifying and documenting that the installation and performance of systems meet the needs of a school and its staff. Commissioning begins during project planning and continues through at least the first year of operation.

Commissioning should ensure that:

  • All technology systems, subsystems, equipment, controls and components interface with each other, and other building systems are installed properly.

  • A system complies with a contract and is within the scope of design and installation requirements.

  • All technical-support personnel, faculty and staff are instructed properly to operate and maintain technology systems efficiently.

  • All required training, manuals and documentation regarding the systems installed have been received.

Plan requirements

A commissioning outline should be included in bid documents. The requirements should include a commissioning plan prepared and submitted by the vendor; a list of team members who will represent the vendor in the functional performance testing; all checklist and test forms to be used; the testing schedule; training and education expectations for the technical support team and faculty; all warranties and guarantees by vendor and manufacturers; and a final report containing all commissioning checklists and functional test reports.

Functional performance testing shall cover every item within the technology package — all hardware, software, wiring and interfaces shall be tested and evaluated to determine if they are consistent with performance data in the contract documents.

Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Bloomington, Ind., a firm specialized in educational facilities and technology planning. He can be reached at [email protected].

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