The term “analytics” is often thrown around in the context of smart buildings. Analytics is used to describe everything from enhanced visualization to fault detection and diagnostics, and to key performance indicators (KPIs) for ESG and carbon reporting. For years, building analytics carried the promise of providing a window into equipment operation with the hope of improving building operations. But even actionable insight isn’t enough to make a building smart.
Getting data from buildings and into algorithms can enable a deep level of intelligence that affects how and when building systems operate. When deployed in combination with an integrated building management platform (IBMP), the analytics and the insights can be turned into action in real-time by humans or machines. Their ability to effect change is magnified.
An IBMP is where the “smart” starts. On the surface, an IBMP is similar to a traditional building management system, but it goes beyond building systems to include cloud-based applications. It can also make available all disparate data from a single source for analysis and action.
Prospective or current smart building owners and operators selecting an IBMP should confirm it can perform the following five tasks.
1. Securely connect to building systems and cloud applications for read-only and writable data.
Step one for any integrated system is always to address cybersecurity. Networks present risks even if they’re not sending data out to a cloud environment. An IBMP built with end-to-end security will help keep IT departments on board with the program. The ability to securely read and write back to equipment kicks the IBMP up a notch by enabling remote management of building systems, as well as optimization algorithms that make setpoint changes automatically. For example, if an owner went directly from the cloud to an on-site supervisor published on the open internet or an API that doesn’t require access tokens, bad actors can easily interrupt that communication and find a keyhole into the network.
2. Integrate, tag, and model the data uniformly to normalize it across systems.
Anyone who has evaluated proposals for smart building deliveries will likely noticed that the bulk of fees are tied up in integration efforts. These typically manual processes involve one-to-one and one-to-many mapping of equipment, systems, and associated data. The time contractors estimate spending to tag and model is baked into those fees, but this work will make the data useful to the machines running the analytics. Ultimately, if the IBMP is deployed to its fullest potential, this work will also enable the optimization algorithms to actualize the energy efficiencies identified by the analytics.
Advanced IBMPs offer tools that expedite and automate the integration and data modeling processes for the contractors deploying them. This reduces the time needed to manually sift through and redefine mountains of controller IDs and obscure, inconsistent point names. A contractor that can streamline this process can also afford to charge less for the integration effort, enhance the end result, and avoid cutting corners. Most importantly, a clean, consistent, and machine-driven integration and data modeling process leads to a precise and digital-ready building management platform at turnover.
3. Aggregate data from disparate sources for side-by-side analysis across systems, equipment types, floors, buildings, and portfolios.
Integration is all about bringing data together from disparate sources. In Chicago, at the 800 Fulton Market smart building project developed by Thor Equities, Buildings IOT integrated seven building systems and three cloud APIs through its middleware platform IOT Jetstream and onto its IBMP user interface, onPoint. Thor Equities’ use cases included the desire for operators, property managers, and tenants to use indoor air quality data to inform ventilation strategies; cross-checking meter data against utility data for after-hours billing; and informing conference room booking and gym utilization strategies with occupancy data.
When data from separate building systems is brought into the common IBMP, with a standard data model and access framework, the analysis of disjointed segments becomes possible. That relationship model—the thing that tells machines that a particular variable air volume unit is supplied by this particular air handling unit, or that a particular heat pump serves this space—grounds the IBMP in the physical world of the building and creates the digital twin that provides a deeper level of understanding to the algorithms.
4. Provide out-of-the-box and user-configurable portfolio-level KPIs and dashboarding.
Buildings may not move, but they’re constantly changing. Occupants come and go, equipment starts and stops, and spaces are bought and sold. The system that manages and operates a building should be dynamic too. All IBMPs provide standard visualizations, dashboards, and reports to ease building management and connect it with the systems operating within a building.
But some IBMPs bring data straight to the people who make decisions about building operations, allowing them to track the metrics that matter most and to configure the reports necessary for showing progress to stakeholders. Data, made standard and securely available, is the key value proposition of an IBMP.
To pick a platform that offers the level of data accessibility needed to run a building like the living machine it is, owners should ask early in the procurement process how data across the disparate systems will be made available for the analyses in which their stakeholders are interested. If they require customizations in the KPIs and dashboarding, owners should request the timetables for development and the costs associated with their specific requests.
5. Automate scheduling, demand response, and equipment optimization.
Autonomy is the ultimate destination for smart buildings: the ability for the IBMP to take all the inputs, including the spatial and relationship model, and make decisions about how and when to operate equipment. While this technology may be available in parts and pieces now, owners should begin their IBMP deployment with the end in mind.
An autonomous building starts with an IBMP and ends with building operations that are data-driven and adaptable to the dynamic environment within each building and to owner goals and responsibilities. Owners should take time to build out their use cases to ensure they get the smart building they want. Then they should evaluate the proposed building technologies—from controllers and IOT devices to cloud-hosted user interfaces—against those use cases to ensure each piece is able to support their vision.
Many solutions are available that check off some aspects of these five criteria. Few solutions check all the boxes, but even if an owner can’t find one solution to address all their goals, they can create consortiums of solutions that get their smart building to where they want it to be.
When considering an IBMP and the ways it can enable smarter building management, owners should focus on what can be delivered today and how it can scale smarter in the future. If they push the limits of what’s possible now, they will be in a better place to capitalize on the promise of autonomous buildings sooner.
What are your must-haves for a smart building?