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Tearing Down Data Silos Reveals Insights into Energy Performance

June 10, 2013 By Jim Sinopoli

Jim Sinopoli

How much forethought is given to all the data and information needed to manage a building? The answer many times would be little forethought and a lot of afterthought. The industry as a whole has realized the use of building data and data analytics are major tools for improving building operations. Data applications such as energy management and fault detection and diagnostics are probably the best examples of the effectiveness of managing and analyzing data. However the effort for many building owners to acquire and manage facility data appears either ad hoc or is narrowly focused on specific aspects of the building such as energy and the HVAC systems.

There are a number of data “repositories” currently used in buildings that provide a substantial amount of data. They include building management systems, independent control systems, facility management systems and business systems. In addition there is the “umbrella” of Building Information Modeling which addresses design and construction drawings, equipment and product data, as well as data in the hands of third-party contractors that install, service, and maintain building equipment.  Some of this data is stored away in Excel spreadsheets, Access databases and a host of varied electronic and paper formats. The typical building has several “silos” of data scattered throughout the organization with no cohesive strategy for data management and little coordination. Also note that it’s not only the data that is in silos but also the underlying technology systems for data management, different data management processes, and even the people involved.

There would seem to be a very good case for bringing all the facility data into a unified database architecture and putting into practice standard methodologies and processes to manage the data. There are several benefits to this approach:

  • Building data would be more widely available and sharable. Setting aside confidential data, more data would allow for additional analytics, possibly new correlations and metrics and new insights into the building’s performance.
  • Building data would be more easily accessible. Have you ever looked for as-built drawings or equipment spec sheets, only to discover that they are not where they should be? Without a structured approach to data management you waste time internally because of the disorganization in the data and documents; many times building operators will need to contact the original architects, engineers or contractors for the data, thus wasting more time and money. What’s needed is an orderly index as part of a larger data management system. A structured approach to indexing is vital as facility data grows, which is obviously very likely.
  • A structured approach can improve the archiving, preservation and retention of data for the long term. There’s some data and information you’ll want for the lifecycle of the building and there are analytic opportunities in long term data you’ll want for comparison and trending.
  • A comprehensive data management plan would improve the integrity of the data. Bad data is no data. You want accurate, reliable, consistent and complete data. A structured approach initially validates the data, and then puts into place a process where the data can’t be changed or destroyed without authorization.
  • There are roughly 6,500 languages spoken in the world today; for data management you only want one “language” of standard naming conventions, formats, indexing and data descriptors. It makes it easier to access and understand the data.
  • We don’t organize data just for the sake of organizing but are doing so in order to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of operating buildings. A structured approach can provide additional opportunities for greater correlation between data, improved data analytics and the possibility of developing or identifying new building data metrics.

The Role of a Facility Data Manager

Data is an asset. During design and construction of a building data will be generated; it is in the operations of the building that data will not only be generated but also consumed. Given that building operations and maintenance is the most expensive part of total lifecycle costs and the longest time duration within the building’s lifecycle, we need data management during every building phase; design, construction and operations.

A key element is to elevate the importance of data management and provide a position with the responsibility and authority to manage all the facility data. We’ll call that position the Facility Data Manager (FDM). During design and construction we typically have 2 to 3 people tasked with managing various data; one is the LEED consultant tasked with gathering energy and sustainability information for the building certification; another is the BIM consultant organizing BIM models and data. The third is the architect who uses project management software to communicate and share data with the project team. After commissioning or occupancy of the new building, the roles of the BIM and LEED consultants and possibly the architect expire. The Facility Data Manager would have a much larger responsibility in implementing the data management system for the building and the acquisition and management of the data from the initial building design through construction and facility management.  The FDM would design, deploy, maintain, monitor and even enforce a comprehensive program for data management.

Practical Data Management Activities

Programming – If you’re involved with new construction and going through the programming and conceptual design of the facility, the project team, absent of a FDM, should establish rules for the management of the data that will be generated throughout the project with some thought given to the data that will be needed to be exported into operations and facility management systems. Yes, the focus in new construction is typically the construction schedule and budget, but any acknowledgement and appreciation of long term operations and rules and standards for data management would be positive.

Building Modeling Information –BIM is the significant data management tool for new construction. Data can be generated, stored in the BIM COBie files throughout the process of design, construction and commissioning. The updating of data occurs several times during the project and the responsibility for the data is shared and shifts from the designers to the contractors during the project. Data also needs to be updated based on RFIs, construction related changes and change orders.

Submittals – Construction submittals are an important milestone in new or renovation construction. Submittals usually involve shop drawings, product data, samples and coordination drawings. Quality assurance and quality control submittals involve design data, test reports, certificates and manufacturer’s instructions. The new requirement for contractors regarding submittals must be that they be in an electronic format; all of this data and information needs to be provided in an electronic form, preferable COBie for the product data, or a format that is part of a building owner’s data management system.

Systems Integration – We generally integrate buildings systems to enhance functionality; integrating fire systems, access control system, elevators and HVAC are the best examples. We also integrate systems when building owners have multiple BMS systems but want one overall platform. In that case, the larger integration platform acquires data from multiple systems in various formats using different communications protocols and through the use of middleware standardizes the data and creates one database, much like a data management system may utilize. So in some cases the standardization of data to facilitate an advanced building management systems is in alignment and could be used with an enterprise data management system.

Commissioning – During commissioning and project closeout, data and information such as commissioning reports, project record documents, contract drawings, project manuals, contract modifications, startup logs, test reports, certifications, the complete as-built BIM and other documents and data are generated. All this information should be permanently retained and accessible. Some of the documents may be paper, such as certifications, but all documents and data should be submitted electronically and stored. The importance of many of these documents is that if the building or its systems are modified the designers and contractors will want to use the original record document as the base line.

There is an immense amount of building data created during the design, construction and operation of a facility but we’ve only managed and analyzed a relatively small amount of the available data. The industry foray into data management and analytics is just in its infancy. The initial results however, especially FDD applications, show impressive results and are very promising. We should expect the FDD model to apply to other building systems and additional data to be generated by new building systems, such as indoor positioning systems, motorized shading, and water reclamation, just to name a few.  At the starting point is a Facility Manager given the responsibility for implementing a structured data management system; the Facility Data Manager.

Mr. Sinopoli is the managing principal of Smart Buildings, which provides engineering and consulting services for the design and operation of integrated building technology systems. He has won numerous awards for his projects as well as his contribution to the industry. Mr. Sinopoli is a 2012 winner of the Digital Impact Award and a recipient of the “Harry J. Pfister” award from the Building Industry Consulting Service International. He is also Board of Directors Chairman of the Smart Buildings Institute, a non-profit organization that awards smart building certifications. For more information, write us at info@smart-buildings.com. Reprinted with permission from Smart Buildings.



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