Tapping into the gold mine of building data

The mass of data that is available from a building-management system is largely wasted. Rachel Cooper of Schneider Electric looks at how it can be put to good use.

The world’s largest taxi company owns no vehicles (Uber). The world’s most popular media owner creates no content (Facebook). The world’s most valuable retailer has no inventory (AliBaba). How we interact with the world and each other is changing and developing every day.

How we interact with ‘things’ is evolving. Information technology is revolutionising business. Standalone products, from our vehicles to our refrigerators, are now connected to the Internet and have smart technology built into them.

The Internet of things (IoT) goes far beyond smartphone-enabled refrigerators, though. In 2014, IDC reported about 9.1 billion IoT units were installed by the end of 2013, and estimated some astounding numbers for 2020 — no less than a projected 28.1 billion connected units and a market revenue of about £4.7 trillion.

Not only that, but more than eight million building-management systems will be integrated with some form of Internet-of-things platform, application or service by 2020 — according to an ABI Research report.

This explosion in the Internet of everything creates huge amounts of data — whether it be tracking where things are, or how they are performing or counting number of occupants in a building.

This can be a huge benefit in how we manage and operate buildings. Building-management systems have long connected many devices. The best managed buildings reflect usage and rhythm — so that lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning adjust to occupancy levels, external temperatures and lux levels.

A building-management system is a mass of data, and much of that data is currently wasted. Connected services are finally starting to utilise this untapped gold mine. Intelligent building-management systems are providing data to the ‘cloud’, and this data is analysed through software to identify problems and opportunities. This is when the human element comes in; engineers that understand the building and the customer’s needs can identify, quantify, prioritise and recommend improvements. Where possible, remote fixes can be made to the software or the system itself. However, human interaction is still needed to make physical adjustments and troubleshoot.

For example, a valve that is not operating correctly is identified as a potential maintenance and comfort issue, which is flagged remotely to a bureau or directly to a field service representative or maintenance person on site. They can investigate and solve the problem before the occupiers of the building can feel the resulting change in temperature. This preventative approach delivers operational efficiency and business value.

BMS, BEMS, control, Schneider Electric
Information from building analytics can be utilised to improve building operation and maintenance procedures.

Service technicians can remotely access building diagnostic information to use their time more effectively during on-site service calls to repair and troubleshoot any highlighted issues. The end result for a client is a better functioning building with measurable cost savings when operational and energy efficiency recommendations are implemented.

Understanding how a building operates and identifying and fixing operational issues before they become a cost or a comfort issue is possible by analysing the accumulation of data. This, combined with a deep understanding of the building and how it needs to operate, delivers significant cost savings and reduces risk for the building owner or operator.

There are challenges to be faced in this new world, such as cyber security. The near seamless integration of buildings with larger networks and the Internet of things means that virtually everyone has connectivity or access to multiple networks. This can pave the way for internal breaches — whether accidental or malicious. You can learn a lot about an organisation and the way it operates through its building information. Cyber security management is essential to ensure the safety of data and information.

Smarter buildings are one of the key facets of the future smart city. There has been an incredible rise in the number of smart cities around the world, with cities leveraging the power of the Internet and communications networks to enhance way of life for residents and businesses.

Smart buildings are part of this wider ecosystem that also includes traffic systems, parking meters and utilities such as Schneider Electric is currently doing in Madrid. Across the city, Schneider Electric has implemented an energy-management system for buildings, a real-time adaptive traffic control system for 739 intersections and an integrated platform that manages traffic control, the CCTV system, city access control and web-based traveller information.

The explosion in the number of connected devices and the growing Internet of things provides a full array of opportunities for buildings to save resources, both environmental and financial, and operate more effectively. Buildings should be taking full advantage of these measures to improve occupant comfort, manage maintenance better as well as significantly saving energy associated costs.

Rachel Cooper is category marketing manager — field services with Schneider Electric.

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