Editor's Letter

12/01/2010 | By Chris Olson

Piloting Your Building via a New Generation of Dashboards

Chris Olson

Chris Olson - Chief Content Director

As I studied monitor displays from several exhibitors at last month’s GreenBuild 2010 conference in Chicago, I was struck by the connection between a well-designed graphic display and a facility professional’s ability to operate a high-performance building. In the near future, your building’s productivity will increasingly rely on the design of dashboards that display information in new and powerful ways.

Think of a conventional spreadsheet – lots of numbers but little if any interpretation of the data. The newer, real-time dashboards emphasize anomalies and operate from rules and inferences that allow a user to quickly detect conditions needing attention.

This is not a matter of displaying all of the information that sensors on every conceivable piece of equipment might provide. Our digital world produces enormous amounts of data; for 2010 that mass of data has been estimated at 1.2 zettabytes or 1.2 trillion gigabytes, representing a stack of DVDs tall enough to reach the moon and back. Fortunately, your building accounts for only an infinitesimal sliver of that mass; nonetheless, the data you already have may be more than you can easily act on.

The building dashboards draw attention to anomalies and inferences rather than to data. Are the toilets on a floor flushing at the expected frequency for the time of day yet the sinks are not being used at all? This is the kind of connect-the-dots information that a display brings to the operator’s notice.

The importance of dashboard design reminded me of reading The Visual Display of Quantitative Data, a classic book by Yale economist Edward Tufte. The book examines how data can be displayed in ways that help – or hinder – the viewer’s ability to connect the dots. A striking example involves the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, which was doomed by an O-ring failure. The manufacturer’s tests of the O-ring during its design had produced data showing a possible link between temperature and performance, and ultimately cool outdoor temperature was proven to be a major cause of the disaster. In the book Tufte shows how this link can be more or less evident to the viewer depending on the graphic display of the same test data.

Dashboards that enable operators to focus on the key conclusions from building data are an exciting frontier. We’ve come a long way from time-clock controls and spreadsheets.

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