Size is not all that matters
As technology advances, we are now able to obtain more information than ever before from Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS). However, as Steve Browning of Trend Control Systems argues that before thinking about collecting data, it is important to plan ahead and consider what it will be used for and what it will help to achieve.
Used to describe the exponential growth and availability of information, big data has become one of the most discussed technology topics of recent years. The amount of digital information is growing at an exponential rate, and IBM claims that every day we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data; according to the US definition that’s one followed by 18 zeros. To put that huge number into perspective, it equates to filling up 57.5 billion 32 GB Apple iPads.
It is estimated that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. According to the EMC and IDC Digital Universe study, by 2020 about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet. This will be aided and abetted by the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), which will see almost all electronic devices being capable of collecting data. The question is what are we going to do with it?
At the moment we’re not doing much with it at all. In fact, IDC claims that only 0.5% of all data is ever analysed, which suggests that much of this information is just taking up storage space in data centres. This is an issue of widespread concern, and Patrick Wolfe, executive director of the University College of London’s Big Data Institute, stated, ‘The trick here is to turn these massive data streams from a liability into a strength.’
Some building owners and managers simply feel that because the ability to collect huge amounts of data is there, then they must do it — just in case they need it in the future. All too often it seems that data is collected from a BEMS without any real thought about why it is being gathered and what will be done with it.
Although there is the potential to acquire lots of data via a BEMS, collecting it merely for the sake of it is a pointless exercise — ultimately, it’s what you do with it that counts. As EMC and IDC point out, organisations need to hone in on high-value, 'target-rich' data that is easy to access, available in real time, has a large footprint and can effect meaningful change if it is given the appropriate analysis and follow-up action.
In most cases, data gathered from a BEMS will be used to configure ways to reduce energy use, so thought needs to given to the amount and type of data that needs to be collected. A good starting point is to monitor energy consumption by sensors, metering and sub-metering. Then analytical software should be utilised to collate, decipher and present the information in a meaningful format that will allow appropriate action to be taken with confidence.
A failure to use the right kind of equipment could mean that any collected data is flawed; this is where an audit is a good idea. A well structured, thorough and professionally conducted audit will ask probing questions, drill down to the finer details and provide guidance about implementing the types of technologies — including analytical software and best practices that can help make a real difference.
It is vital to have an end game in mind and work backwards, not the other way around, and much depends upon what the building owner or manager is trying to achieve.
Should the data feed into the finance department to show how and where energy is being consumed? Should the facilities manager use information to make decisions about the purchase and maintenance of plant? Or should figures feed back to staff so that they can act to reduce energy consumption and enhance comfort conditions?
Statistics are just numbers unless they are acted upon, and the good news is that this message seems to be getting through.
A study by Accenture and General Electric found that 73% of companies questioned are already investing more than 20% of their technology budgets in big-data analytics. It also found that predictive maintenance as a result of targeted information gathering could generate savings of up to 12% over scheduled repairs, leading to a 30% reduction in maintenance costs and a 70% cut in downtime from equipment breakdowns.
Big data has a vital role to play in modern building management. If collected and used with a defined purpose, it can help reduce operational costs, lower carbon emissions and increase energy savings.
At the end of the day it’s not big data, it's right data.
Steve Browning is with Trend Control Systems.