Monitoring and Optimisation: A dynamic duo in building analytics

August 25, 2023

Building analytics is the collection and subsequent analysis of data from building equipment, networked sensors, building management systems (BMSs), and devices, to detect patterns, spot anomalies, and forecast future events. The world of building analytics is built around two core pillars: monitoring which involves data collection, normalisation and analysis; and optimisation which involves identifying opportunities to use equipment more intelligently for improved performance. Together, these pillars form the foundation for smarter, safer, and more sustainable spaces.

As an industry leader in building analytics software that facilitates both monitoring and optimisation, we’re often asked to demystify the distinction between the two. Do property owners need both? Which should they prioritise?

In this post, we’ll explore the vital roles that monitoring and optimisation play in the building analytics ecosystem. Whether you’re a building owner, facilities manager, curious tenant or engaged investor, we’ll guide you through the uses, benefits, and interplay between these key elements of improved building operations.

Working hand-in-hand

Monitoring and optimisation are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they work better together, operating in concert to enhance the effectiveness of the other. Implementing both creates a comprehensive and robust approach to building management.

Monitoring is the foundation for optimisation, providing the raw data that informs any improvement efforts. Without accurate, comprehensive monitoring, any attempts to optimise performance would be like assembling a jigsaw puzzle without a photo. Without the right data to draw upon, any changes are largely guesswork, with no guarantee of positive outcomes.

Optimisation enhances the value of monitoring by putting informed action behind the data. While monitoring provides a snapshot of a building’s current state, optimisation takes that perspective a step further, using the data to make strategic adjustments to a building’s operational performance. Optimisation transforms numbers into actionable insights, enabling building managers to implement changes that directly improve performance, increase efficiency, and boost tenant satisfaction

Monitoring and optimisation yield substantial benefits when used together, though there are different balances to strike depending on the type of building, its age, sustainability metrics, investment strategy, etc. For instance, a 6-star-rated brand new office space may realise fewer benefits from optimisation strategies than a 20-year-old building rated at 3 stars, but monitoring is still very helpful in a complex and valuable new build.

Monitoring: uses and benefits

Monitoring is the process of continuously collecting and evaluating data from a building’s plant and equipment in real time. It is an essential stage in any building analytics solution because it provides the underlying data that informs data-driven decisions. Analytics platforms leverage algorithm-based rules as part of this monitoring process to identify faults, anomalies or opportunities to optimise.

You’ve likely heard the saying, ‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure,’ but we’d expand on that a bit: You can’t manage what you don’t measure and resolve. Software functionality around automated fault detection and diagnosis (AFDD) monitors critical data and continually ‘listens’ for anything out of the ordinary, before triggering a follow-up accordingly.

Monitoring building analytics data comes with numerous benefits, including:

  • Minimised tenant disruption via early fault detection: Continuous monitoring means that faults and anomalies are detected in real time, often before they escalate into serious problems. Early detection facilitates timely intervention, lower maintenance costs, and happier tenants.
  • Improved tenant comfort via optimal indoor environment: All commercial spaces, from offices and retail to large cultural facilities and airports, require indoor temperatures and humidity to fall between certain setpoints. Whether the risk of straying outside these setpoints is occupant comfort or energy efficiency, monitoring makes prompt action possible if something goes awry.
  • Optimised costs via data-driven maintenance: Schedule-based maintenance is inefficient and expensive, often requiring contractor work or equipment replacement well before it’s needed. Monitoring enables predictive data-driven maintenance instead of preventative maintenance, which can save half of every dollar you spend on plant and equipment maintenance.

Real-time monitoring solutions such as CIM’s PEAK Platform provide instant feedback on a building’s operational performance, including energy usage, temperature, humidity, indoor air quality, and other key metrics, enabling operations teams to identify inefficiencies and wastage.

Monitoring in action: 

One CIM client experienced a spike in water consumption outside of trading hours. This spike was flagged by PEAK, triggering an alert. Investigation revealed that a failed cistern was causing a constant flow of water in a single toilet within the facility. While this issue may seem small, the building’s monitoring system for smart water management had missed it. PEAK was able to identify a flaw in the monitoring system that, if left unaddressed, might have led to more substantial downstream problems.

Another client was struggling to raise their NABERS Indoor Environment (IE) rating before implementing PEAK. The IE rating relies on a random sampling from a small number of zones, so just one broken or poorly located sensor can skew results. When the FM investigated an alert from PEAK regarding a poor zone temperature, they found that the temperature sensor had been jammed behind a vending machine, causing abnormally high readings. The FM was able to initiate an action with their BMS contractor to relocate the sensor, facilitating a a more favourable IE rating and tenant comfort.

Optimisation: uses and benefits

Optimisation is the process of continually improving building systems and operations based on insights gathered from data monitoring. The object of optimisation is to enhance overall building performance, minimise costs, reduce energy consumption, and improve tenant comfort.

Optimisation is the ideal next step in building analytics for many reasons, including:

  • Enhancing energy efficiency: Through careful analysis of usage data, optimisation solutions can suggest changes to consumption patterns that will reduce wastage and ensure the most effective use of resources. For instance, usage might shift to off-peak times, teams might adjust heating or cooling setpoints, excessive overnight operation may be spotted or performance-degraded equipment might receive much-needed maintenance.
  • Improving tenant comfort: When the indoor environment is at optimal levels of temperature, humidity and ventilation, the conditions inside the building support improved wellbeing and enhanced productivity. Even incremental comfort gains are especially critical in retail environments, where studies show a direct link between time/money spent in-store and occupant comfort levels.
  • Achieving Net Zero: Older buildings in particular contribute a massive percentage of carbon emissions, and net-zero targets will not be reachable without change from the older built environment as well as the new. Optimisation is the most cost-efficient way to reach Net Zero without increasing capital expenditure.

Software solutions like PEAK not only monitor usage but can also facilitate real-time optimisations, using complex algorithms and expert engineering advisory services to adjust plant and equipment operations based on real-time data.

While PEAK will highlight optimisation opportunities regardless, our Professional Services provide an added layer of support from our expert team to accelerate outcomes. Often, clients will employ advisory for their initial period of engagement, and then focus solely on monitoring once the high-value optimisations have been implemented.

Optimisation in action:

In one recent example of our advisory service in action, PEAK facilitated an in-depth analysis of plant performance for six chillers at a shopping centre. Although five of these were scheduled for replacement based on equipment age, analysis showed that only one chiller required immediate upgrade. The others received updated control strategies to enable optimum performance, resulting in 13.5% (approximately $92k) savings on chilled water consumption without compromising tenant comfort. The remaining five chillers now have a five-year lifecycle extension.

Another highlight was an impressive 80% reduction in HVAC gas consumption at a prominent CBD office property. PEAK identified excessive usage during the summer months, prompting a deeper analysis by CIM’s engineers. We recommended an optimised approach to the operation of the air handling unit (AHU), with a revised control strategy whereby the air dehumidificaiton process would use dew point temperature as the preferred parameter to control the AHU’s cooling and heating. This revised approach offered far greater efficiency, largely negating the need to use gas-powered reheating within the AHU after dehumidification. Despite the 80% reduction in gas usage, tenant comfort levels have been maintained within the ideal range 93% of the time across 345 tracked zones, and relative humidity has been maintained 96% of the time.

While the needs of a property will fluctuate over time, the synergy between monitoring and optimisation unlocks the full potential of building analytics software.

Are you using building analytics to monitor and optimise your building or portfolio? If not, CIM can help. Click here to see our PEAK Platform in action.

Antonious Mickaeal
August 25, 2023