Commissioning 101 – The Basics

When it comes to deploying new smart building technologies, system commissioning is by far the most overlooked construction phase. Moreover, system commissioning can pose some of the most challenging repercussions if done incorrectly. How is this possible? Well, in our experience, everyone thinks they can commission a system – it’s easy, simple as 1. 2. 3. Right?

Not so fast. Countless device installers can attest to this, I’m sure. Before we jump into the nitty-gritty of system commissioning, let’s first set the stage by explaining at a higher level what system commissioning is, exactly.

A 30,000-Foot View of Smart Building Commissioning

The term system commissioning isn’t without dispute. As those of you who live and breathe in this industry can attest, commissioning, in the traditional sense is a very different prospect from how the networked lighting control marketplace uses the term. To ensure we’re all on the same page in terms of what we mean by system commissioning, let’s discuss this a little further.

  • System Commissioning (Traditional Sense) – In the traditional sense, commissioning a project or system is the: “quality-oriented process for achieving, evaluating, and documenting that the performance of buildings, systems, and assemblies meet defined objectives and criteria…[ensuring] owners, programmers, designers, contractors, and operations and maintenance entities are fully accountable for the quality of their work.” (ASHRAE, Commissioning for Buildings and Systems).
  • System Commissioning (Smart Building Context) – While commissioning in the context of a smart building system involves evaluating and ensuring the performance of the system and quality of work performed, smart building system commissioning goes one step further to incorporate the physical act of programming and configuring system devices.

It’s the inclusion of these additional programming steps that differentiate smart building system commissioning from traditional building system commissioning. Therefore, when as we use the term system commissioning, here, we refer to the extended process of device programming.

Where Does Commissioning Fit into the Deployment Process?

When deploying a smart building system – in this case, let’s use the example of an advanced networked lighting control system – there are multiple construction phases and sub-phases. Device commissioning typically comes into play a bit later in the deployment process, but this shouldn’t be a hard-fast rule. This is explained further a bit later in the post.


Smart Building Deployment Process

  • Phase I – Pre-construction
  • Phase II – Construction
    • Sub-phase-I – Network Install
    • Sub-phase-II – Lighting Fixture Install
    • Sub-phase-II – Smart Device Install
  • Phase III – Device Commissioning
  • Phase IV – System Commissioning Finalized

As indicated above there are four main phases and three sub-phases of a smart building system deployment.  Each phase plays a critical role in the final operability of the smart building system. And while Phases III and IV are displayed later in the deployment process they are, in fact, rather important throughout the entire process.

What is System Commissioning?

System commissioning is the process of configuring each individual system device to determine three specific things 1) WHERE the device is located, 2) WHEN do you want the device to do something, and 3) WHAT do you want that device to do. In its simplest form, system commissioning is the task of creating communication lines between each system device.


So, that’s what system commissioning is, but how is it done, exactly? Let’s take a deeper look at the actual process of system commissioning and explore how this phase of a system deployment can present serious system operability challenges if completed incorrectly.

The Breakdown: Nuts and Bolts of Smart Building System Commissioning

The commissioning of a smart building system is broken into the following three phases:

System-Commissioning-PhasesSystem Commissioning Phases

  1. Network Configuration (i.e. standard for a wireless system)
  2. Fixture Device Configuration (i.e. internal fixture adapters and/or sensors)
  3. Controls Device Configuration (i.e. sensors/wall switches/thermostats/etc.)

Through each of these commissioning phases, it is the responsibility of the commissioning agent to integrate, configure, program, and commission each respective system device to 1) Define WHERE the device is located, 2) WHEN the device should do something, and 3) WHAT the device should do.

How’s this accomplished?

Depending on the smart building system platform (think a Daintree Networks, LG, Autani, or Enlighted systems), the commissioning process may vary. Often, though, an advanced networked lighting control system will have the same basic commissioning process no matter the platform: 1) Network configuration, 2) Fixture device configuration, and 3) Controls device configuration.

Below is an example of what the commissioning process of a single device looks like from a general perspective.


Commissioning Hurdles – Don’t Make a Mountain Out of a Mole Hill

It may seem as though the commissioning process is a no-brainer; not so fast. While this is generally true, there are a few system commissioning hurdles to be aware of. With that said, there’s really no reason to make a mountain out of a mole hill.

Let’s take a deeper look at some of these hurdles and how to overcome them.

System Commissioning Tips

  • Process, Process, Process: We cannot beat this drum enough. Having the right process from the get-go will save project stakeholders considerable time and frustration. Remember N.F.C.:
    1. Network Install and Configuration
    2. Fixture Device Install and Configuration
    3. Controls Device Install and Configuration


  • Parallel Commissioning: When commissioning system devices it is highly beneficial to commission devices in parallel with their installation. So, for example, let’s say the installing contractor is installing new fixture devices on Monday. If that’s the case, then the commissioning of those devices should be completed on Tuesday.


  • System Design: When it comes to commissioning a smart building system, the difference between operability and system failure is a fine line. Ensuring the system design is feasible from the get-go goes a long way in determining the ease of which the system can be commissioned. If your network can’t “talk” with system devices, it’s pretty tricky to get them into the system, configured, and commissioned.


  • Project Roles and Responsibilities: From the outset defining project roles and responsibilities is critical. Knowing the responsibilities of team members plays a massive role in the overall flow of a project. Knowing who to go to for particular project responsibilities helps to streamline the deployment process. Thereby avoiding timely bottlenecks or miscommunication.

Still in the Weeds? Seek Help!

Still in the weeds when it comes to system commissioning? That’s OK. While it seems an easy enough process, the technical requirement, know-how, and learning-curve is steep. Don’t let the technicalities get the better of you.  If you, your colleagues, installation contractors, or project managers are involved on a project with networked lighting controls and feel the water rising above your head, get some help! It’s far better to recruit some experienced help in commissioning a smart building system than going it alone. Successful smart building deployments are possible with the right help and process.