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How to Use Big Data to Improve Occupant Experience

Using smart technology to improve occupant experience is the next wave of facility management. Here is how to get started.

By Matt Ernst  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: This PagePt. 2: Where to Find Big Data for Improving Occupant Experience

What makes a building “smart” or “intelligent” could be different for different types of buildings. To define what makes a building “smart,” you have to know the desired outcome or purpose of that building.

The traditional answer to a building’s purpose is that a building should be a clean, safe, comfortable space. What’s the goal of a facility manager? For a long time, that answer was that facility management ran the operations of a building, from keeping the lights on to sweeping the floors, and everything in between. Today, new entrants and forward thinkers in facility management would have a completely different answer to these fundamental questions. When asked about the goal of a facility manager, a smart-building manager might respond as follows, depending on the building involved:

• In an office, the goal might be to improve worker productivity and job satisfaction 10 percent over average.

• In a school, the goal might be to transfer knowledge to students at a higher than average rate.

• In a retail or commercial seting, the goal might be to improve the customer experience.

The focus is no longer on the built environment, it’s on the occupants.

Existing buildings may already accomplish these things, but it’s not measured, quantified, or understood on a granular level. Do you know how productive the workers are in your commercial office building? Do you know what environmental conditions affect their productivity? Temperature, lighting, conference room availability, etc.? How much? To whom? When? Where?

Smart technology has opened the door to start measuring outcomes and using this data to provide insights to improve the occupant experience. With data to show that the environment is providing value to the occupants, the facility management team can claim credit for having created that environment.

The conversation around the “smart building” is so captivating because it brings the facility management industry back to its fundamental question. Why do we do what we do? The answer is changing to be more occupant-focused.

Let’s assume you would like to implement technology to provide more detail on the occupant experience within your building. What’s next?

1. Gather an internal team. This group should include the decision makers for both the facility management group and the core occupant groups. Preliminary discussion should focus on identifying what the owner/tenant/occupant’s goals are (revenue, productivity, workplace or customer satisfaction, etc.). How are these goals being measured? Which facility management services affect these goals? If the core facility management services are improved, how does this affect the occupants’ ability to reach their goals?

2. Engage stakeholders. Ask occupants how their environment and experience affect their ability to meet their goals. This may look similar to a post-occupancy evaluation or survey.

3. Define the core need and purpose of the project. After sufficient information is gathered, the team drafts a brief document summarizing the goals and needs for the project. It’s important that this document detail the outcomes required to consider the project a success.

4. Consider different execution strategies and current pool of consultants, contractors, and vendors. To build a smart building system, it may be beneficial to follow a similar process your organization might use for other large facility projects. After identifying your goals and needs, diagram existing systems, design new ones required, and procure the solution.

How the system is designed and built is heavily dependent on what you are trying to measure and how you are going to use that information. Bringing in trusted experts who are familiar with designing complex projects early in the planning phase can be beneficial. In new construction, the planning and specifying of more complex building automation systems and software is usually completed within Construction Specifications Institute’s MasterFormat Division 25, “Integrated Automation.” To better understand the level of complexity involved, consider downloading one of the many publicly available 25 00 00 specs available online, especially from large U.S. universities.

Matt Ernst (, P.E., CEM, LEED AP, is a commissioning engineer with Burns & McDonnell. He manages and executes existing facility commissioning and new construction commissioning projects and has led over 100 building optimization and energy efficiency projects.


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  posted on 5/14/2019   Article Use Policy

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