Find Your “Constellation” Of Data

GovLoop’s online social cast, Your Building Data is the Source of New Savings and Efficiencies for Energy, Operations & Space Management, sought to understand the ins and outs of smart buildings with an expert panel:

  • Steve Sakach, Assistant Commissioner, Office of Facilities Management, Public Buildings Service, General Services Administration
  • Don Coffelt, Associate Vice President for Facilities Management Services, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Joe Phillips, Director, IBM Smarter Building Services

After listening to the robust discussion, four steps were made clear:

Step 1: Define your data and mission

The first step in creating smarter buildings is to ask yourself: what data do you have from existing sources and what business problem can I solve with this data?

Phillips said to make buildings smarter, it is all about “making these buildings support the mission of an enterprise.” To do this, you have to identify crucial data and apply analytics in a way that optimizes both the building and processes so that regulations can be better informed.

For GSA it was about generating energy efficiencies as well as creating a better space for the inhabitants. Sakach looked at data emitting from the Internet of Things scattered around their main office in Washington, D.C. He then searched for patterns that could inform their mission.

For example, they turned on the HVAC (the system to provide heating and good indoor air quality) at the normal time of 5 AM, then allowed the building to warm by 7 AM, as usual. They then evaluated if the heating timeline was actually matching the occupancy within the building. Sakach played with minor settings to measure how the alterations were affecting the energy usage and savings. With 2003 as a base year, GSA saved 30% in energy costs, with the majority coming from the smart building changes.

At the beginning stages of creating smart buildings is Carnegie Mellon University. They are getting ready to go live with a million square foot pilot project to leverage data automated systems and already existing data for the transition to smart buildings. Their project has a zero capital investment because of they are optimizing on already existing data.

Coffelt said, “Buildings exist to support the people, not the other way around.” His team worked with IBM and GSA to learn how Carnegie Mellon’s building could really capitalize on the economic benefits of smarter buildings as well as save energy that supports Pittsburgh’s sustainability goals. Additionally, they are aiming to improve the performance of the buildings so the people inside are more effective in the work they are doing.

Step 2: Get buy-in

At GSA, Sakach worked with IBM to organize their data portfolio so that real patterns could be identified. Phillips used the metaphor of a telescope that is looking into space trying to find constellations. GSA invested $16 million into their “telescope” over the past four years and has already seen $14 million return in savings. These savings have helped Sakach and his team get buy in to create smarter buildings across GSA.

Carnegie Mellon is still in the initial stages of creating smarter buildings, but to get to where they are Coffelt had to focus on three areas. First he had to do extensive academic research to make sure his ideas were validated. Second he built a constituency by finding all the key stakeholders to make sure they were on board. Finally, he had to install the appropriate risk mitigation tools in the basic agreement with IBM. For example, if something goes wrong in the implementation stages, Coffelt would be able to create new mechanisms to deal with the evolving process.

Step 3: Dive deeper into data

All buildings are data rich even if they are using a limited amount of Internet of Things technology. Therefore, it is necessary to look at a building’s history as well as data generated from any sensor. Phillips says that building infrastructure is the “oldest industry, starting with a cave and modifying that and coming all the way up to what we we’ve done, and along the way we’ve learned a lot of lessons.” Aggregating those lessons and collecting everything into one place that all stakeholders can access is part of what makes this process smarter.

Sakach has been looking more closely by collecting data on anomalies or failures within the building. One failure that they identified was the varying occupancy on any given day.

Essentially GSA combined three buildings into one by controlling the occupancy through a system that recognizes each person as they enter the building. When a worker enters, a system assigns them a workstation within the open workspace then all of their software is activated, which allows them to begin working.

Within Sakach’s particular office, 38 out of the 75 workers operate from home. The remaining workers telecommute several days out of the week. Through the building’s smart system, only the necessary technology is hooked up, saving money and energy.

Step 4: Look to the future

Coffelt said he was looking forward to collecting raw data through the smart buildings and providing it to the university’s researchers as well as IBM. The large data portfolio that will be created is designed to inform building regulations for the future. What’s more, researchers across areas such as sustainable development, architectures, government workers, and more can access this data and apply it to their field of study.

Since GSA has entered the diving deeper stage, they are starting to apply their extended knowledge. They have devices hooked up to volunteers within their building to measure blood pressure, heart rate, sounds within the office and more. They then compare those results to the conditions within the building at that time including, the temperature, humidity levels, and lighting. Overall Sakach can then understand how the building is really impacting the wellbeing of its occupants.

To learn how you can take invest in smarter buildings, listen to the full social cast on-demand here.


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