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Where to Find Big Data for Improving Occupant Experience



In many cases, the data you need to analyze and improve occupant experience already exists in your building. The challenges are extracting it and making it actionable.


By Matt Ernst   Building Automation

OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: How to Use Big Data to Improve Occupant Experience Pt. 2: This Page

Most solutions involve collecting and analyzing a lot of data. Useful data likely exists from systems within your building; however, some new physical and digital systems may need to be installed. In either case, data is gathered within the building and passed through a communication infrastructure, eventually presented to you in a useful way on your computer. You take these insights and make changes to existing operations and measure the results.

The most common physical building asset sources of data are:

• Building automation systems (BAS), primarily for HVAC and energy metering

• Lighting control systems

•Occupancy/presence/location sensing systems (sensors, Wifi, beacons)

• Audio-visual systems

• Security/access control/CCTV systems

• Fire/life safety systems

• Elevator/escalators

The most common digital sources of useful information are:

• Computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS)

• Conference room wayfinding, hot desking, and space utilization systems

• Mobile apps for occupants

• Corporate IT systems such as customer relationship management (CRM), project management, payroll, and many more

• External Sources (weather, transit)

• Building Information Models (BIM)

In many cases, the data that you need already exists somewhere. The challenge is gathering the data in a consistent format that can be analyzed to obtain useful insights.

The primary engineering challenge of designing a smart building system is collecting data from multiple disparate systems and presenting that data in a way that is useful.

To solve this challenge, the role of the systems integrator has evolved beyond the traditional HVAC/BAS market into what has been termed the master system integrator (MSI). Master system integrators install the hardware and software to provide a common view of many systems or data sources within a building, campus, or enterprise. These master system integrators have specialized skills in operational technology and information technology. 

Operational technology is typically defined as the control systems for the physical assets mentioned earlier (BAS, lighting, A/V, access control, fire/life safety, etc.). Information technology systems within buildings usually refer to the networks, routers, switches, servers, communication protocols, and databases that pass information. Buildings tend to have many separate networks, protocols, and databases that have never been connected to one another. Each operational technology system usually has a different variation of database structure and means of communication, which is where the expertise of an MSI becomes extremely beneficial.

As you can imagine, there are infinite ways to organize the data from operational technology systems. There are several efforts to standardize this process which should be noted. The ASHRAE BACnet committee, Project Haystack, and the Brick initiative are collaborating to integrate Haystack tagging and Brick data modeling concepts into the new proposed ASHRAE Standard 223P. The Brick initiative is an open-source development effort to create a uniform schema for representing metadata in buildings. Project Haystack is also an open source initiative to streamline working with data from the Internet of Things.

An additional consideration is that most automation and operational technology systems are vulnerable to cyber attacks. It is common for network architectures and communications protocols that are ubiquitous in buildings to have minimal cyber security protections. Engaging a technology partner that understands the importance of cyber security is critical to any smart building project.

Data from separate systems must be aggregated to a central place. The software that integrates these data streams and provides a digital location to store this data is typically referred to as a software platform. There are many available software options to choose from; however, each one tends to require a knowledge of a unique programming language. Thus, master system integrators tend to specialize in one platform. It benefits the facility management team to evaluate both contractors and platforms separately. Some master system integrators may provide high quality work but the software platform may not meet the facility’s long-term needs.

Analysis and visualization can be handled by the software platform performing the system integration and data aggregation, or it can be handled by separate software. It may be beneficial to build one piece of software that ingests the data and maintains the data quality and tagging, while other software can connect to it to perform specialized analytics and visualization functions. This allows for future flexibility in adding or removing software without having to completely redo the systems integration and database piece.

Taking action

Connecting to different data sources and bringing that data to analytic and visualization software will require most of the contracted work of a smart building project. However, the majority of the value is only derived after change is made to facility operations. Insights from data are only valuable when acted upon. Thus, it is important to put together a process for identifying insights from software, directing action, and verifying the desired outcome has occurred. The facility management team should have a detailed workflow, with defined roles and responsibilities, agreed upon by the entire team. It may be beneficial to review findings at regularly scheduled meetings for further discussion and planning.

New technology has enabled facility management teams to align directly with the outcome of their customers. The closer facility management can get to making occupants more successful or profitable, the more valuable facility management is. Smart building facility managers define the outcome of their work as the business or organizational outcome of creating a physical environment that enhances the occupant experience. With careful stakeholder engagement, planning, engineering, and execution, smart building solutions that provide provable value can be brought to reality.

Matt Ernst (mrernst@burnsmcd.com), 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.


Continue Reading: Big Data

How to Use Big Data to Improve Occupant Experience

Where to Find Big Data for Improving Occupant Experience



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  posted on 5/21/2019   Article Use Policy

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