Big Data: Big opportunity for smart buildings

July 10, 2017 by Rachel Cooper, category marketing manager – field services with Schneider Electric
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Big Data: Big opportunity for smart buildings

The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of those buzz phrases that is constantly in the news. This is understandable given that it is forecasted that there will be tens of billions of connected devices. It has been predicted that the IoT sector will generate more than £7.5 trillion worth of economic activity worldwide. Indeed, according to McKinsey Global, the economic impact of IoT on factories, retail settings, work sites, offices and homes could total as much as £3.55 trillion by 2025.

Smart building is a key area where the IoT is driving development. As buildings are becoming increasingly complex they are generating vast quantities of data. In general, however, building management systems (BMS) are not leveraging this data as much as they could. They are therefore missing out on capturing data to make useful decisions. With 42 per cent of the world’s energy consumed by buildings, facility managers are facing increasing pressure for environmentally friendly, high-performance buildings that are efficient and sustainable. The data collected within buildings can help them to achieve this.
So how can time and resource pressed facility managers turn the flood of IoT and other sensor data they’re exposed to, into actionable insights?

Do more with less

Building owners have been forced to manage sophisticated building systems with fewer resources in recent years due to budget reductions. This means the facilities managers time is stretched, an issue further aggravated by older systems becoming inefficient over time. Even when sufficient budget is available, finding and retaining staff with the skills and knowledge to take advantage of BMS is a huge challenge.
Facility managers must also maintain existing equipment. Components break, fall out of calibration, and wear and tear often leads to a marked decline in a building’s operational efficiency. Changes in building use and occupancy can contribute to indoor air-quality problems, uncomfortable environments, and higher overall energy costs.
To counter these issues owners often undertake recommissioning projects to fine-tune their buildings and bring it back to its best possible operation level. However, recommissioning is a reactive measure, and traditional maintenance may not identify all areas of energy waste. Operational inefficiencies that are not obvious, or that do not result in occupant discomfort, may go undetected.

Upskilling

Over the past decade many tools have come onto the market designed to help employees get a better understanding of their facilities and assist them in their day-to-day operations and long-term planning. This can include anything from dashboards and automated analytics platforms to machine-learning optimisation engines. However, much like the sophisticated BMS, for each tool more investment in training is needed. Research shows that the lack of training is evident within this market, with roughly only 20 per cent of facility managers using 80 per cent of capabilities available to them within their BMS. The remaining 80 per cent use a very limited amount (20 per cent) of the potential functionality in their system.
With high personnel turnover and competing facility-management responsibilities, many facilities are left without staff that have time to learn the full capabilities of these tools. Of course, outsourcing different functions is one option, but even then vendors must be managed closely to ensure efficacy, and to ensure that outsourcing costs do not accrue significantly as third parties spend more time on-site.

In tech we trust

As BMS play an ever increasing role in how facility managers perform their jobs and operate buildings, technology has become a central part of building management. Newer technologies like data visualisation dashboards allow facility managers to view building performance metrics in a single window, helping them to spot trends and gather insights. By making data visual using graphs, charts, and conversion to different equivalents – for example, kWh to pound cost or kWh to carbon footprint, an experienced building operator can identify areas of concern for closer inspection.
While dashboards can be helpful in determining building behaviour, the data is often complex and therefore challenging to interpret. Even if building staff have the time and skills to review and understand the data, the dashboard data alone tells just part of the building performance story. It allows facility managers to identify where inefficiencies exist but not necessarily why. The why requires additional troubleshooting and investigation. Dashboards are therefore most effective when used for simple monitoring in environments where there are trained staff to perform troubleshooting and identify root causes of any issues.

Analytics is the answer

As a result of these complexities, in order to gain more insight from a BMS deployment, many facility managers are turning to data analytics software to interpret large volumes of BMS data. The best software automatically trends energy and equipment use, identifies faults, provides root-cause analysis, and prioritises opportunities for improvement based on cost, comfort and maintenance impact.
This software complements BMS dashboards because it takes the additional step of interpreting the data – not just showing where, but why inefficiencies occur. Engineers can then convert this intelligence into “actionable information” for troubleshooting and preventative maintenance, as well as using it to tackle more complicated operational challenges.
Using this software, facility managers can proactively optimise and commission building operations more effectively than with a BMS alone. It enables them to understand why a building is or isn’t operating efficiently so that they can introduce permanent solutions rather than temporary fixes.
For example, through the use of data analytics, facility managers can identify operational problems such as equipment that needs to be repaired or replaced. Moreover, the analytics programme can do this before critical failure, before it has an impact on the building occupants. Repairs can therefore be scheduled before an emergency arises, eliminating costly short-notice or out-of-hours replacement and avoiding failure and downtime. With this proactive approach, equipment becomes more reliable, the cost of replacement and repair can be much lower, and occupants are assured of optimal comfort. In fact, by following best practice, they can even reduce HVAC energy costs by up to 30 per cent.

The future

As smart buildings have developed the connected technologies now available within buildings have taken us beyond human ability to manage all of the data that comes from hundreds of thousands of data points in large buildings. Efficient operations require a proactive response.
Analytics solutions effectively manage the new state of information overload created by a digital world and filter out what’s not valuable, so that facilities managers can make the best use of their time and budgets. Data analytics can provide insight on how to fix problems when they are first observed, before total failure. This predictive maintenance approach means capital assets can be preserved and significant energy savings made.
The advent of IoT means that we must shift our approach to facility management in order to deliver against the financial, wellbeing and sustainability targets of today’s facilities. By investing in a sophisticated BMS, users can uncover which data actually needs their attention. After all, data for data’s sake is useless. Being able to use a building’s performance data to augment operational efficiency, increase occupant comfort, and improve overall energy consumption so that the financial well-being of buildings can be sustained, is vital.

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