Sensors gather data that can provide real value, but FMs should avoid these common mistakes when using them, writes Hermione Crease.
08 May 2018 | Hermione Crease
Chances are you're already using data to make decisions and, over the next three years you will be making a lot more as real estate businesses wake up to the value of data for running efficient buildings and improving tenant services.
If the future of buildings is all about information, then FMs have a vital role to play in gathering and creating that information, managing devices that collect it, and working out how to turn it into action.
Traditionally, FMs have had oversight of many building systems that generate data, but the work here goes beyond basic control. FMs will be tasked more often with making sense of much larger volumes of data.
If your client is asking you to report on how well his buildings are supporting productivity, where do you start? Data can come from many sources - BMS, occupation/access systems, meters - but a huge amount will come from sensors, measuring environmental parameters such as temperature and light, occupancy, and vital statistics on plant performance such as energy use and vibration.
Previously, FMs have had to work with sensors that are native to building systems, but falling prices and new tools mean you can fill in any gaps in the building system with retrofittable sensor networks.
Whether you're buying in new or working with existing sensors, many FMs struggle with common stumbling blocks. Here's a five-point plan to avoid them:
1. What to consider first
What you need to know from data has a big impact on where you place your sensors. For example, temperature is temperature, but data taken every 60 minutes from a single AC supply duct will not help you understand why you get a surge in complaints from the accounts department every Thursday morning.
Related questions include: Are you creating reports with the data? Do you want to trigger alerts? Who is going to see it? For how long will you need to collect it?
2 Survey existing data
Review existing data with those questions in mind. Is the data you've got accurate and relevant to your problem area? Is it complete for the time period you need? Can you use it with other data?
If this is a recurring task, you need to be able to work with data efficiently. Exporting it to a CSV (file format used to store tabular data, such as a spreadsheet or database) and spending a morning cleaning up dodgy-looking figures and gaps isn't efficient.
3. Fill in the gaps
You may be able to upgrade the sensors you have or fill in the gaps with a retrofittable system. For most monitoring applications, you can find cost-effective and easy-to-install wireless systems, but remember to check how easy it is to work with the data they generate.
4. Collect the data
Most sensors measure what is going on in their immediate environment so, to get good results, they need to be located in the right position.
For example, an occupancy sensor over a meeting room door can tell you if the room is being used, but you would need sensors under the table at each seating position to know how many people are in the meeting.
Environmental sensors are sensitive to conditions in their immediate area so think about temporary factors that might skew the data. Don't put a temperature sensor in direct sun or near a printer outlet, and try to keep CO2 sensors off the floor, as CO2 tends to sink.
5. Get a result
Most sensors come with software to look at the data, but to get repeatable reports, monitoring and alerts, you may need a more powerful dashboarding tool. The options here are myriad, but key issues to think about are how easy it is to get the data into the dashboard, what sort of pre-designed analyses are available, whether the dashboard can support real time operations, and security/privacy for your data.
Data management is a new discipline that will reap real rewards. A structured approach to collecting and working with data will provide benefits for customers, and secure FMs as custodians of building data.
Hermione Crease is head of business development at Purrmetrix