A partnership announced in late February between IBM and Siemens Building Technologies is a prime example of the way in which the Internet of Things and big data are transforming building management — and an indicator of the direction in which the sector is moving.
The two companies announced that Siemens is integrating software from IBM Watson’s IoT Business unit into its Navigator energy and sustainability management platform. The combined cloud-based platform, the company said, will enable managers to benchmark building performance and gain insights into operational budgets, use predictive analysis to find nascent problems and create more accurate invoices. The platform will offer mobile capabilities enabling stakeholders to access and use the platform from wherever they are.
IoT sensors and big data analytics generate mountains of information. The real value will come when processes are put in place that makes that data highly actionable, according to Dana Soukup, the Vice President of Enterprise Client Solutions for Siemens Building Technologies Division. That’s what Siemens – which has more than 300,000 buildings in its portfolio — and IBM seek to do. “We know buildings. We know energy. IBM knows IT and analytics. We are bringing these areas of expertise together,” Soukup told Energy Manager Today.
The partnership will confront the fundamental challenges of root cause analysis. A key to the art and science of management of any network is digging down to find the heart of a problem. An outage or other mishap will cause an alarm. That problem generally will cause other problems that cascade through the network. The trick is to separate alarms emanating from the core problem from those created by the secondary problems. In other words, challenge is to separate the illness from the symptoms. The difficulty of this task will rise exponentially as the amount of data increases. “There always will be some level of human decision making,” Soukup said. “But there is no reason that a lot of that can’t be automated.”
The other tools that the partnership offers are fulfillment and predictive maintenance. For instance, if a piece of equipment begins operating outside parameters, the system can be programmed to take an action. It could send an alert for human consideration, decide that the dispatch of a repair person is immediately necessary or that the issue can be handled in a normal maintenance window. If an action is taken – such as a repair scheduled – the system can assure that the repair was scheduled, the work done and that the desired result achieved.
These goals are not new. The companies suggest, however, that they haven’t been tackled by technology as power as IBM Watson. An early version of Watson famously beat human Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings in 2011. Since then, it has decentralized in the cloud, expanded and been cleverly marketed (in large part via television commercials featuring Bob Dylan and cute kids, among others) by Big Blue.
It will gradually supplant the current processing systems used on Siemens’ Navigator management platform. Soukup says that a Watson-based module aimed at building utility management was introduced last fall. Coming modules will focus on energy and water auditing, energy forecasting and sustainability are in the pipeline. Target markets for the platform are commercial real estate, enterprises and verticals such as healthcare and higher education, Soupkup said.