By Shannon P. Quinn
From the April 2013 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Over the past decade, technology has dramatically altered the world around us and reshaped entire industries. Music and television are delivered in new ways. We shop online for everything from clothing to the best airline flights. Now technology is changing the landscape of building efficiency. And it is the ever increasing focus on sustainability and efficiency that is propelling these changes.
Sustainability and efficiency have become important factors in defining an organization’s reputation. These show good corporate citizenship and have a positive impact on organizational performance, profitability, and the environment. Being “green” is now a mission critical priority for many. In fact, the majority of Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies have formally declared sustainability objectives. Universities and school systems have done the same, as have government bodies at all levels.
One thing leaders in these organizations share is a broad, integrated, facility wide (and often enterprise wide) view of sustainability and energy consumption. They see their overall building efficiency as greater than the sum of individual components and systems. But facility managers (fms) know the difficulty of delivering on declared objectives. In fact, many have serious concerns about their ability to get what’s needed from their systems to meet organizational objectives.
Every day, fms grapple with big puzzles containing pieces that might not come together to reveal the larger picture so well, or so easily. And they don’t have the time or resources to connect all of the pieces. The building industry has long been fragmented, with multiple players who provide numerous parts and pieces that make up facilities. This creates complexities that make it hard to achieve an objective that requires integration and interoperability.
Compounding the challenge, most of the easy and obvious improvements have already been made. The low-hanging fruit is no longer there for the taking. And yet the greatest opportunity for improved efficiency lies in existing structures, which account for 40% of the world’s energy use.
Technology is the answer, but only if it’s the right technology. “Smart” equipment and systems will help, but it will take more than making individual components and systems smart. To serve the needs of the industry effectively, technology must bridge the gap between the high level view of building efficiency and the reality faced by fms. Technology must integrate and simplify. It must work with the disparate components that exist and bring them in line with the integrated view that is the very premise of sustainability. To do that, technology must equip facility professionals with the tools they need to analyze, report, and track.
So what’s the right technology? Ultimately, it will be a combination of technologies—often referred to as SMAC—that will help fms meet sustainability objectives. SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud) has transformed several consumer industries. And trend data suggests the building industry is already moving in SMAC’s direction. Recent research indicates:
- peer-to-peer conversations, including those on social media, are becoming the preferred method of accessing useful information;
- mobile solutions are already providing the ability to access information that tracks equipment performance from anywhere;
- 70% of those who purchase building efficiency products and services view HVAC equipment advanced analytics as a game changer; and
- nearly 20% of the market is already using cloud hosted building efficiency solutions.
Technology is aligning to serve the needs of fms in new and promising ways, which dictates some new buying criteria. Does the technology integrate equipment, components, and systems across the facility/enterprise? Does it harvest data and apply analytics to deliver meaningful information? Does it help demonstrate progress against the highest level sustainability objectives?
Other things to consider include: Does the technology in question provide access to peer review of various technologies prior to purchase? Does it provide a forum for discussion and troubleshooting with immediate colleagues and a broader peer network? Does it enable management from anywhere, on any device? Does it provide the benefits of a cloud hosted solution (e.g., no capital investment requirements, low or no software maintenance or data storage expenses)? And does it offer agility to adapt to changing needs and eliminate/alleviate complexity?
Technology today can put the right resources and the right information in the hands of fms to lead their organization’s sustainability efforts and reach set goals. It’s important to dig deeper to ensure a new tool can go beyond generating spreadsheets and effecting basic HVAC controls.
Quinn is vice president, strategic marketing, for Johnson Controls Building Efficiency. She is at the forefront of new and emerging business models and related business transformation.