It’s time to get on board with data

The property industry is known for lagging behind other industries when it comes to implementing new technology and new ideas. But has the time now come for construction professionals to take advantage of utilising big data, asks Mitch Layng, energy manager at BSRIA.

Internet of Things, big data, analytics, algorithms, artificial intelligence. These are all terms that are becoming increasingly common in our lives. But what do they mean and what impact will they have on buildings and building services?

Big data is a term for data sets so large or complex that traditional data processing application software is inadequate to deal with them. Analytics is the examination of the data to uncover hidden patterns, trends and other useful information that can help organisations make better informed business and operational decisions.

In simple terms an algorithm is a list of rules to follow in order to solve a problem, and when machine learning is applied, the result is a form of artificial intelligence that provides systems with the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed.

Opportunities for using big data

The construction and building industry is beginning to make use of this technology, bringing new opportunities to how buildings are designed and operated, from healthcare and leisure to work spaces, both in the private and public sectors.

It can have positive results in terms of occupants’ health and welfare, optimised energy consumption, reduced carbon emissions, improved reliability and maintenance strategies.

There are a growing number of buildings in operation that owners and operators claim have very smart systems and devices, enabling some clever processes that can result in the benefits mentioned above.

However, these buildings are relatively low in number and there have been quite a number of obstacles to overcome to bring them to fruition. It is important that we try to learn the lessons from these early adopters so that further improvements can be made.

It is not all about new buildings. Replacement equipment in existing buildings can produce very useful data to improve building performance and keep the occupants happy. Many sectors of the building services industry now offer smart or connected devices, either stand alone or connected to a central system.

Impact on maintenance and operation

Many of the larger manufacturers of HVAC equipment, lighting, fire alarms, lifts and security systems can include the facility for collecting and communicating data and some offer the service to analyse this data and produce recommendations for improvements. This can result in optimised performance in terms of energy and also maintenance.

This is likely to have an impact on the maintenance industry, as potentially equipment will be able to self-diagnose and even be able to order spare parts automatically. Maintenance strategies will change: for example, there will be no need to undertake planned periodic tasks in some cases as equipment will be monitored continuously.

There are also a growing number of specialist consultants or technology companies offering data analysis and management services, particularly related to energy management. Metering has been leading the data management arena in buildings for a number of years, the large amount of data generated by half hourly meters can be very useful if used properly. It is also important to ensure the correct metering strategy is put in place, the correct meters are installed, and they have been commissioned.

The use of BIM is becoming more widely used in design and will become a common tool to aid the operation of buildings.

The data used for the design and installation can be utilised in facilities management systems, reducing resources needed to provide information and managing the building.

One final point. It is important to note that no matter how good the analytics solution, executing the findings is what drives results.

BSRIA is producing a publication covering all of the above points in more detail, this should be available later in 2018.

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