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IoT, data analytics and a smarter future for buildings

Have you recently asked your building what it can do for you? It’s not a trick question. While we’re not yet at the point where our buildings can, say, do our taxes or drive the kids to soccer practice, buildings are capable of contributing to achieve certain organizational outcomes in more ways than ever before. As previously examined, the concept of the internet of things has introduced deeper levels of connectivity into today’s buildings. This, in turn, is driving deeper levels of building intelligence and the ways in which buildings can contribute to organizational missions.

Central to these contributions are how smarter buildings can shape occupant experiences, from helping occupants experience greater levels of comfort to enabling time-saving benefits through features like individual navigation and wayfinding. And given the constant evolution of technology, the pace and degree to which buildings can serve as bottom-line contributors is only increasing. With the right technology infrastructure and building connectivity in place, a building’s potential is virtually limitless.

When it comes to infrastructure, consider how far we’ve come in just over 100 years. The switch from oil-powered lamps to electricity, the introduction of air conditioning and the installation of elevators are just a few examples of building developments that have changed the world. Now, add the ubiquity of Wi-Fi to the mix, and building transformation has only accelerated.

That brings us to today, and how smart buildings can prepare for sustained success in the future. With the concept of IoT as a driver of digital transformation, the future is boundless for smart buildings. In particular, let’s examine what’s possible with data analytics from all angles — energy efficiency, security, comfort — along with what we can expect from buildings in the future, and how organizations can prepare to reap the benefits.

Key questions for data analytics

The term data analytics covers a broad range of concepts and techniques that organizations can apply across a range of IoT-enabled systems, including commercial buildings. Applying analytics requires a number of considerations, including how to connect to buildings in order to collect data from them — and how to do that in an effective way. Organizations must also tackle the fact that data is not all uniform, and often comes in disparate data formats and messaging protocols. Then, there’s the issue of determining how to store and manage data, along with determining the right analytics tools and techniques to apply to data to get the most out of it, including how to develop business-relevant insights from that data.

Organizations can use analytics to derive business-relevant insights and outcomes from building data by tackling six simple questions, as outlined in the book, Analytics at Work: Smarter Decisions, Better Results (HBR Publishing Corporation, 2010):

  1. What happened (reporting)?
  2. What’s happening now (alerts)?
  3. What will happen (extrapolation)?
  4. How and why did it happen (modeling)?
  5. What’s the next best action (recommendation)?
  6. What’s the best/worst that can happen (prediction/simulation)?

Actionable insights

With these questions in mind, organizations can apply data analytics efforts that cut across technologies, including energy and security systems, to shape occupant experiences and create additional value for an organization.

Examples of where data analytics can create significant business value in practice today include:

  • Predictive maintenance — Answering all of the data analytics questions detailed above can help optimize building performance. The right models and data management tools create an environment for collecting and analyzing data. Applying rules and learning-based techniques on that collected data then creates the ability to predict faults and make recommendations for early corrective actions. Correlating these actions with reports and alerts generated by the system then demonstrates value over a period of time.
    For instance, expert rules and regression techniques applied on heating, ventilation and air conditioning system data can uncover equipment misconfigurations and fault symptoms with effective predictive maintenance measures that can help lead to improved equipment life and system performance. This approach can uncover improvement opportunities to drive energy savings as well as operational and comfort improvements — while helping save time and money.
  • Occupant experience — The experience of building occupants can be ever-changing — and so can their feedback to what they’re experiencing and how they move throughout a facility. Smart building technology that helps capture this data — including mobile applications — creates a significant resource for organizations to tap into to drive better experiences if the right data analytics are in place. For example, combining analytics with mobile applications that enable occupants to indicate if they’re too hot or too cold can help organizations understand patterns associated with temperature and comfort and occupant preference so they can quickly and easily make the needed adjustments to keep occupants happy and comfortable.
  • Space utilization — How an organization uses its space can impact a range of things, from energy costs to security needs, along with broader outcomes, ranging from how to situate employees for optimal experiences to determining available space for leasing by commercial properties. Applying data analytics to data from sensors deployed across a building — including motion, asset and temperature sensors — can generate reports on overall space and asset utilization. These insights can alert organizations to spaces available for collaboration and provide models of occupant collaboration, among other useful insights.

As IoT solutions become more common in buildings, the resulting increase in available data creates a significant opportunity for organizations to fine-tune their operations and improve occupant experiences, among other benefits. Data analytics is the key to unlocking value from this data and enabling organizations to truly put their buildings to work.

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