Editor's Letter

03/01/2015 | By Chris Olson

Big Data: Big Dud?

Chris Olson, Chief Content Director

Big buzzwords bring big hype. Where do “big data” and the related “Internet of things” and “analytics” stand on the hype-o-meter? And what real benefits, if any, will the emerging technology conveyed by these words bring to the buildings industry?

Big data was a top 10 contender on a list of clichés produced by the publisher of the Oxford dictionary. In a report on new technology, the research firm Gartner displayed a chart entitled "Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2014,” where Internet of things was at the peak of a steep upward curve of high expectations. Big data had already begun to plunge down an equally steep descent to the “trough of disillusionment.” In Gartner's view, Internet of things will soon follow big data down the slope of inflated expectations. However, this doesn't mean that the technology will offer no benefits, only that in the early stages, the expectations are too high.

Currently, the leaders in big data seem to be marketers using Google and the National Security Agency, which, Edward Snowden says, wants to turn us all into identifiable devices. Nevertheless, implementation in buildings is underway. Although there is no clear line that separates mere “data” from “big data," the stream from buildings is large. If, for example, a fan coil unit monitors four data points every 15 minutes, roughly 140,160 records are created annually. If a building has 10 fan coil units, 1.4 million records are created. If the building owner has 10 buildings with 10 fan coil units, 14 million records are generated each year from the fan coils alone. Of course, other HVAC components (chillers, boilers, ducts, pumps, cooling towers) and other building systems (security, life safety, electrical, lighting, plumbing) also create data.

Capturing data seems relatively simple compared to extracting insight. As energy expert Jack McGowan pointed out to me recently (see page 10 of the Energy Manager), you need people who know data and buildings to find gold needles in the data haystack. And the source of data can be breathing humans, not just building systems. Sensors under work surfaces and conference tables are delivering data on occupancy and space utilization, but they also pose privacy concerns (see “From Data to Dollars” on page 34).

I think that big data will also affect FM staffing. What kind of personnel will be required onsite at a facility versus at a remote operations center? What skills will be required for these positions? The answers to such questions will be clearer when big data sounds less like a buzzword and more like a mature technology in the market.

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