The Good News and Bad News
About Building Efficiency and Our Industry.
The good news is that the industry is waking up. However, the bad news is that the industry is waking up.
ESI has been in the business of building efficiency for over 27 years and personally, I have been at this for over 32 years… a long time. From my perspective, it’s good to see that the industry is finally recognizing that more efficient buildings are possible; the level of interest has increased as evidenced by the attendance at this conference (CoRE Tech 2013). So the good news is that the industry is waking up. However, the bad news is that the industry is waking up. Bad news because as our industry often does, it over indulges. The messaging becomes more extravagant with claims of out-sized savings and software automatically correcting mechanical issues and magic that just happens. And, there is the noise. The noise of everyone saying the same thing, promising the same thing, offering the same savings claims.
Many organizations have already started on their journey to smart buildings, a higher level of operating efficiency and perhaps most importantly, bottom line cost savings. I say journey because that’s what it is; it is not a destination and there is no silver bullet to get you there. There are examples of organizations from a variety of different industries that have embarked on this journey and are seeing significant results.
For example, we recently completed a project with IBM for the GSA; a project called GSALink. Some statistics about this project:
- 55 buildings representing over 32 million square feet, in all 11 GSA regions
- Over 8,300 pieces of mechanical equipment
- 50,000 data points
- 16 different manufacturers and versions of building automation systems
- Integrate data from the automation systems, an energy meter database, an owner’s operations database and weather data
As part of our scope in this project, we performed site readiness assessments, installed the data capture technology, and integrated data from the various building automation systems, the energy meter database, the owner’s operation database, and weather data. One of the more significant challenges was resolving naming and tagging conventions given the diversity of data sources and types. As a contributor to Project Haystack, we used its' conventions to the extent that they existed, and provided our own extensions as necessary to address this challenge. In addition, we provided and installed the analytics platform, developed the analytics rules and provided training to the various stakeholder groups.
This scope, from the first site assessment to having data flowing from the 55 buildings to the analytics platform, was completed in nine months. We are currently involved in rule tuning and most importantly, working with the stakeholders at the building level to effectively use the system to manage their work in order to achieve the successful result; expressed in terms of energy and operational dollar savings. More than anything else, this project serves as an example that it can be done, the technology exists and there are people who can implement it, even on a large scale such as this and in a short period of time.
As impressive as the implementation of this project may be, just implementing it is not going to deliver results. Getting the stakeholders to embrace it and use it is a key driver for success and getting organizational alignment is critical. Without this, we have great technology, implemented successfully, delivering nothing.
While there are early adopters such as the GSA and others that are actively embracing the concept of analytics and information management to achieve improved business performance, others are just beginning to understand what this is all about or worse, are paralyzed by the noise of similar claims, messages, and apparent similarity. If you find yourself in this situation I have some bad news for you; it’s not going away. But don’t let the noise prevent you from getting started on the journey, you can’t afford it. Building efficiency is a requirement for today’s competitive market and it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in; retail, manufacturing, health care, education, corporate real estate, government. This isn’t a question of if you should embrace this, but when.
Whether you’re talking about smart real estate solutions or smart building solutions, to compete in today’s market requires the competitive advantage that these solutions deliver. And yes, you need to sort through the noise to understand that no software on earth is going to automatically repair a broken damper linkage. But the good news is that there are companies that can help you with this; you don’t need to go it alone. But what you cannot afford to do is do nothing. The cost of no action is just too high; in terms of financial results, employee retention and attraction, student enrollment, manufacturing cost and quality, quality of patient care, whatever your performance metric is.
As an independent systems integrator, one thing we know to be true; there are no silver bullets, and there is plenty of technology out there. We need good technology to be sure, but success in achieving higher levels of efficiency and truly smart buildings is about people and process.
In our experience, it is not uncommon when delivering an analytics solution to find that everyone’s focus is on the technology and they completely miss the fact that the success of these implementations is based not on the technology, but on an organization’s readiness to embrace the process that surrounds it. Too often we see a lack of commitment to resources, both human and financial, to use the valuable information provided by the technology to drive successful outcomes. These solutions are not projects; sure they start that way, but if we’ve learned anything it’s that successful results are achieved because of the on-going, continuous process that these solutions enable; it is about changing how we work and it most certainly is not a project in the traditional sense with a finite end point. Treated as such, successful results will be limited at best and only temporary.
It’s not the technology’s fault or the implementation of it. It is the failure of organizations to understand and commit to the processes and work flows that achieve successful outcomes. Simply put, organizations focus so intently on the technology, that they completely miss this critical issue. Our industry, which is hell-bent to sell the next greatest piece of technology, doesn’t focus on the process and people aspect. It could be because they don’t get it or it could be the fact that they’re just so used to selling “things” rather than solutions or more importantly, results.
Current procurement practices don’t help this situation either; they treat these solutions as a commodity when in fact, it is anything but. These practices attempt to reduce these solutions to a “unit cost” price which simply does not make sense and will result in the project failing to deliver its intended outcome.
As for ESI, we are proud to be part of this industry and are driven to bring innovation and thought leadership to it. We are firm believers in leading by example. Our own building for example, Gateway West, is one of less than 10 buildings worldwide to be certified LEED double platinum (NC and EB: O&M). Further, it has an Energy Star rating of 99, the highest of any office building in the State of Wisconsin. It has been called the most intelligent building in the world. And yet, despite all of that, and the fact that the building is less than four years old, we just completed a complete revamp of our control sequences based on the continuous analysis of building information. This is the journey; it sets an example and it gives us a great deal of insight that we bring to our customer’s solutions. Most importantly, it delivers results.
About Environmental Systems
ESI is a professional services firm providing building efficiency solutions. Our clients seek our expertise in helping them assemble the ideal solution that is aligned with the needs of their businesses. Through thought leadership and innovative services, ESI delivers the desired results our clients require.
About the Author
Paul Oswald is president of Environmental Systems, Inc (ESI). Paul has over 30 years of experience in building automation, system integration and energy management. His experience includes product strategy and development, business and channel development, and services.