HPAC Magazine

The secret of turning building data into revenue

May 15, 2017 | By Matt Gates

Mountains of building data must be turned into useful information that improves efficiency and performance.

Information technology advancements are bringing about a product revolution with smart, connected products that are more available and affordable than ever before. Near ubiquitous wireless connectivity, coupled with improvements in processing power and device miniaturization, have resulted in a wave of connected devices and systems in residential and commercial buildings.
This connectivity, referred to as the internet of things (IoT), is everywhere, which means your customers have more choices – and greater expectations.
Growing connectivity also means that more data can be gathered, so much data in fact, that it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Collecting data just for the sake of data can be costly and time-consuming, and likely not helpful.
You can assist your customers in navigating these waters by helping them use building data to be more productive and efficient.
The right strategy is the key to turning the mountains of data into useful information that improves efficiency and performance, and has a positive impact on the bottom line.
Doing more with less, whether it is a reduced budget or fewer staffing resources, is the new normal for many customers. As financial pressures grow, capital investments often face more scrutiny, with a greater focus on reducing costs and improving efficiency and productivity. Building connectivity, and the data that results, can help address these operating realities.
Customers may ask, “Do we feel the building’s cost can be managed and improved by measuring its current performance?” The answer is yes, that better building performance reduces cost, and thus helps with some of the pressures they face as part of the new normal. The IoT can help with that challenge.
While access to building information is growing, technology advancements are driving the expectations of building owners and occupants. According to the Future Workforce Study 2016 from Dell and Intel, 72 per cent of millennials expect to work in a “smart office” that uses the IoT within the next five years. Also, recent survey data of corporate workplaces from Leesman shows that temperature control is among the most important physical features for workers in an effective workplace.
Customers are experiencing the IoT in other aspects of their lives, and they expect real-time access to their commercial building information as well. Customers also have more options as more service providers enter the market.
Given these challenges and realities, building connectivity is important, however, the key reason for connectivity should be providing value, not just gathering data.
To ensure that connectivity is providing value, strategy must come first. It is the key to figuring out what customers are trying to accomplish. Consider these questions:
How does this help my customer?
What are the customer’s unmet needs?
Does this fit our business, and is it part of our core competencies?
Begin brainstorming ideas with an internal team. Start with the end in mind, and ask, “How does this benefit my customer?” Follow up with identifying three unmet customer needs – two logical needs, and one “crazy” need, a practice that helps spawn innovation.
After this process is complete, assess the proposed solutions. For each solution, consider if it offers a clear customer benefit and a clear business benefit. Does it identify a known customer need or customer problem? Will the solution create a new revenue stream or enhance an existing one?
Once there is a clearly defined strategy in place that identifies the goals of using data –including the benefits it will generate – the tactics will become clear. You will have a better understanding of what data is needed to achieve the identified benefits, how that data can be collected, how existing databases can be used and connected to drive benefits, and how the resulting data can be used to optimally benefit your customer. After analyzing the data, you can then engage the right technology to implement the solution.
Following this process results in a well-thought-out action plan that can be executed and measured. Including measurement as part of the implementation plan is key to achieving the expected results.
In one real-world example, the building owners wanted to manage and operate a more efficient and sustainable building. Their end goals were to deliver benefits to the bottom line through more productive employees and a better building environment.
Among their priorities were real-time dashboards for building equipment and actionable insights to help ensure building system efficiency. One solution, the implementation of a building energy management system (BEMS), helped put a focus on building performance and optimization.
The building chiller was connected to the building automation system (BAS), and the BAS was then connected to the cloud. This allowed for real-time access to system data and enabled users to remotely make schedule and setpoint changes.
The solution also allowed for the remote resolution of system alarms 24/7, in addition to energy usage reporting and visualization, and system-level optimization through analytics. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are among the largest energy consumers in a building, therefore, the ability to monitor energy usage can help building owners ensure that systems are operating as they should for greater efficiency and reduced costs.
From a service perspective, these remote capabilities provide significant advantages. Rather than spending time on triage or diagnostics on-site prior to maintenance or repair, system information provided remotely allows the service technician to be prepared in advance with the right parts or solution — or to sometimes even fix an issue remotely. This results in greater efficiency, lower costs to the customer and the ability to respond to more service calls in a day.
Technology advancements make the connectedness of devices and systems more accessible and affordable. The time is right to explore IoT capabilities and the benefits they can deliver to customers.
Keep in mind that it is important to avoid implementing technology just for the sake of technology. Instead, take a strategic approach that focuses on solving the unmet needs of customers to help connect the technology to their business goals and outcomes, resulting in a positive impact on the bottom line.
Matt Gates, LEED AP, is director of Intelligent Services Offers with Trane. He has more than 25 years of experience in the HVAC, building management, and construction industries.



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