It is a time of great creativity in the building sector. Many companies are doing some variation of the same thing: Using modern telecommunications and IT technology to gather data and analyze it using sophisticated big data tools. The result of these efforts — which are being done by both established and entreprenurial companies — are more efficient structures.
Last year, for, instance, GE got into the energy management game with a startup called Current. The company uses powerful Predix software to analyze data from sensors to assess a facility’s energy needs.
Another example of a big and traditional company deciding that energy is cool is the partnership between facility management firm ISS and IBM Watson, which was announced at the end of June. Under terms of the deal, ISS will use IBM Watson for facility management tasks. The companies will leverage data from new and previously deployed sensors in ISS portfolio – the company manages more than 25,000 buildings worldwide – to better run and manage processes. Energy efficiency is one area of focus.
The involvement of IBM Watson is significant. The platform – with the help of celebrities such as Serena Williams, Bob Dylan and Stephen King (as well as teachers and cute kids) – has become the public face of advanced computing and, to a great extent, the new face of IBM. It first came to the public’s attention in 2011 when it handily beat the human champion on the gameshow Jeopardy!
Since then, it has proven to be far more than a fancy parlor trick. IBM Watson is a natural language processing cloud-based platform capable of processing huge amounts of data. IBM has created a business unit around Watson. This unit is active in a number of sectors, including healthcare diagnostics, pharmaceutical research, financial investments and others.
The ISS/IBM Watson partnership is aimed at the entire facilities management sector. All elements of a building – and the entire ISS portfolio – will be monitored by IBM Watson’s Tririga platform. This includes multiple variables, including building occupancy, building activities, emissions the structure or equipment within it is emitting and outside factors such as weather. This data will be analyzed to improve management of the building, according to Nils van der Zijl, the Business Unit Executive for Watson IoT, Europe.
The IBM Watson/ISS relationship is a good example of powerful players coming together to push the sector’s agenda forward. The platform will use existing sensors and other infrastructure to gather huge amounts of data for IBM Watson to assess. The goal is to relieve humans of the job of collecting data – which is time consuming and at which they excel – and free them up to take action. Bench marking, predictive maintenance, energy consumption, engineering and other jobs will be streamlined and improved under the system.
The key is that IBM Watson is bringing something new to portfolio management. “When you buy a car you will know how the car runs,” van der Zijl told Energy Manager Today. “That doesn’t exist for buildings.”
There is an important issue for building managers, facility managers and those above them who sign deals for emerging building management technology. The category is still emerging. The bottom line: Be careful. There are a number of offerings in the marketplace that do some variation of what IBM Watson and Current are doing: Taking data from sensors in buildings and applying advanced data analytics to generate information and insights that can create efficiencies and cut costs.
It is important to look at the nature of the vendor as well as its technology. There are key contextual questions that must be asked: Will a set of standards exist enabling a building or building portfolio using one advanced system to switch to another if its needs change or if the vendor is acquired or goes out of business? Will it be able to integrate another provider’s system if a property using that second system is acquired?
Entrepreneurial firms in such exploding markets often are acquired by the larger companies, who understandably are on the prowl for good talent and good technology. That’s the way in which business works, of course. It is important that building and portfolio managers recognize this and get a sense of where their prospective provider is going.
There is a race to create the long term platforms that will marry energy management systems and buildings management systems to big data analytics and in the process provide them with functionality that is orders of magnitude greater than in the past. IBM Watson is another sign that big companies see this as a very promising area.