The big bad world of Building Analytics and what to look for

March 11, 2020

I’d like to begin this post by saying that at CIM we are very fortunate to have strong relationships with our clients and we receive regular feedback property portfolio owners that they value the data and insights our PEAK platform delivers. I am confident they recognise how building analytics is an important part of their strategy to improve environmental, operational and financial performance. However, in recent months, as CIM has expanded our reach into new geographies and property verticals, I’ve become aware of some people within the industry talking about ‘building analytics’ in less than positive tones. This took me by surprise, and then got me investigating the reason why. It wasn’t long before I discovered there’s a problem out there all right, and it starts with the way some ‘building analytics’ providers are approaching the market.The DNA of companies offering building analytics has a direct impact on its quality and value. For example, it's a massive jump for a company whose core competency is gathering utility billing data to suddenly decide to extend their platform to capture building analytics and fault detection too. In that scenario, which is becoming more common, it’s hardly surprising they don’t do building analytics well. The companies that provide building analytics as a free add-on to their main competency are unlikely to spend much effort creating or supporting their solution. Sometimes their clients don’t even turn it on!

BMS vs Building Analytics

The current trajectory of Building Management System (BMS) companies provides another example of building analytics misrepresentation. The core function of a BMS is to control hundreds of pieces of plant, equipment and lighting, yet recently, BMS providers have started adding ‘building analytics’ modules to their offering. When you consider the purpose of a BMS is to control a building, not to analyse its performance, it becomes obvious why these analytics solutions also come up severely wanting. Bolting on building analytics capabilities may at first seem like a harmless, maybe even logical approach, however, the ramifications of clients believing they have installed building analytics who are yet to see value from it are becoming more apparent and concerning. This is especially the case for those of us who know just how powerful and effective building analytics can be - when it's done right.

FREE Smart Guide: How to SAVE money and MAKE money with building analytics

Let’s flip this equation on its head for a moment to take into account building analytics solution providers who are also offering end-to-end services, from room bookings to fault alarms, with apps and music to boot. In my opinion, this raises concerns too, as although there’s value in the digitisation of end-to-end property management, digitising a building’s plant and equipment does not deliver true building analytics. When a low-grade building analytics is applied, facility managers are flooded with false alarms and a string of incorrectly analysed false positives. It’s no wonder trust in so-called ‘building analytics’ is starting to erode. Tall stories about AI and machine learning within building analytics solutions adds even more confusion. The truth is most companies that declare they use AI for building management today don’t actually use it. This is because so few buildings have undergone the digital transformation that allows AI to flourish. One of the key foundations of good quality machine learning is having good quality and uniform data. And the only way to capture this data over time is through continuous intelligent monitoring, facilitated through high-quality building analytics. As is probably the case across the entire software industry, once interest in technologies such as building analytics starts to pique, many companies, regardless of how much they are genuinely involved in optimising building operations, suddenly become a building analytics company, when in truth, they really aren't.

The right DNA

You have to come to building analytics with the right heritage to provide a solution that can be trusted to actually solve building operations problems. Building analytics is a technical solution that solves complex technical problems, so it requires a deeply technical and engineering-focused heritage. Good building analytics should embed the DNA and intellectual property of people who understand and care about technical matters such as thermal dynamics, building physics and control logic; people who are experienced and passionate about getting the plant and equipment of buildings running as efficiently as possible.The steps to optimisation are rarely straightforward. CIM’s PEAK platform is built on the insight and expertise of mechanical, mechatronic and electrical engineers, who have baked nearly 70 years of collective building optimisation experience into the platform. This team has dedicated their professional lives to solving building operations problems and they continue to refine and test PEAK in an effort to drive further innovation. Their reputation for providing ‘always on’ engineering support across every customer asset is second to none. More than anything, a true building analytics platform and solution should deliver trust to property investors and owners in the same way an auditor delivers trust around the work done by finance teams. Building analytics can add significant value to maintenance and BMS contractors.

What does good building analytics look like?

Good building analytics should be trusted to think like a brilliant engineer. It's capable of analysing large volumes of data to identify and diagnose the exact cause of problems, suggest two or three specific steps to fix those problems, and prioritise which of those issues you should resolve first. Good building analytics enables engineers to scale.

Previously, an engineer struggled to optimise one building as they couldn’t access the right building data quickly and cheaply. They had to visit an individual site and rely on limited data points and guesswork to troubleshoot the problem and solution. With building analytics, that same engineer can now optimise 20 buildings cost-effectively, with real-time access to the insight and intel of the entire plant room, across every asset, without even stepping foot on site. Proper building analytics is a game-changer for anyone responsible for improving building performance. It relegates macros within spreadsheets, arduous engagement of the supply chain and additional cost to the building owner to investigate a problem to a bygone era.

The new world of building analytics involves automation and algorithms, powered by machine learning and data science. And it's designed to fit hand in glove with the people who want to optimise and report on the performance of building assets.I encourage anyone who has been underwhelmed by building analytics to give it another shot. Just remember, that not all building analytics is equal, so make sure to consider the DNA of where and how and by whom your analytics platform is made and sold. It's the key to unlocking true value and building peak performance.

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How to Save money and make money with building analytics
David Walsh
March 11, 2020