Implementing Data Analytics Into Building Automation Systems

Integrating data analytics into building automation systems has been difficult, but it's getting easier.

By Rob Glance

I can’t help feeling that it’s 1999 all over again. As a software development professional with experience across multiple industries, I hear a consistent lament from building owners who share the same set of problems. While most industries have already adopted and are aligned with industry standards relating to IP networking and enterprise data management, building automation has yet to catch up. Owners want to manage their sites with the latest technologies and information management systems. While many building automation systems (BAS) products are becoming IP-compliant, many existing buildings have older legacy and proprietary BAS systems, creating big problems for building managers.

To apply analytics on building performance, building owners are locked into a cycle of needing to upgrade outdated BAS. But outright replacement and the means to justify ROI are difficult challenges to overcome. Many of these BAS don’t have the ability to offer much more than simple trending, and weren’t designed to provide any real operational diagnostics beyond basic alarms. What more: getting any kind of meaningful information out of a BAS can be complicated and usually has limitations on the data’s availability.

Overcoming Legacy BAS Deficiencies

data analytics
Photo: BuildingFit

Building owners running older, legacy BAS face a major hurdle: They’ve inherited multiple systems in a building that don’t easily share information, usually lack the ability to communicate with other systems, and have limited ability to perform upgrades.

As a result, the industry is faced with no easy way to view different system data in any type of unified software view. Facility managers face the reality of not easily being able to see how each system is performing and how they interoperate with each other. Many of my customers have administrative and compliance reporting requirements that need real information and analysis about energy, costs, and regulatory compliance. BAS hold much of that data, but not in ways that allow my customers to really use it.

Modernizing Legacy BAS Without Starting Over

So, building owners ask: “How do I modernize my legacy systems? How can I elevate my BAS capabilities to get me what I need, while preserving the investments I’ve already made?”

The issue comes down to creating upgrades to the existing assets in order to make the data accessible and usable. Serving that data up into a single information and analytics platform is the next step.

Successfully integrating the right data analytics tools to access these insights has been a longstanding source of frustration for building managers. While Internet of Things (IoT) technologies present exciting opportunities for enhancing operational performance, many facility managers grapple with understanding how to collect data across both newer and legacy systems, and how to interpret this data in a way that’s meaningful and useful to them.

As a result, building managers are being forced to tend to each system individually in the hopes of getting information they need to make improvements. This is both time-consuming and ineffective as technicians limit their operational scope to a singular system rather than gaining a holistic view of how these systems operate in unison and what adjustments can be made to achieve greater efficiency. No single system operates in a vacuum — these building systems are interrelated and should be treated as such.

While smart systems have introduced a great starting point for building managers to make necessary adjustments within their facility operations, this isn’t enough to provide the insights needed to understand how, where, or when to integrate such improvements. Building managers need systems in place that not only communicate more intelligently, but systems that also display essential data in such a way that is uniform and meaningful.

Standardization Is Key

Recent developments are lowering barriers to implementing analytics. In the past, building systems simply gathered information, making it available for facility managers to discern. The problem is that each data set is in many ways speaking a different language, and while it may be easier to access the information today, building managers still miss the ability to review the data in one interface, using common metrics required to make impactful decisions.

However, significant developments have been made to remedy this problem. Specifically, advents like the Haystack schema that work to standardize semantic data models to simplify interpretation of data collected across operational systems have made it easier for facility managers to understand, analyze, and compare. Analytics tools like my company’s BuildingFit™ have further lifted the veil on achieving greater energy efficiency through technological features like its preferencing tool, which uses machine learning to standardize diverse data across different platforms. This approach normalizes data points to enable “apples-to-apples” comparisons, ultimately unifying system data into easy to understand insights.

BuildingFit’s approach to standardize data and analytics has proven to help facility management make smarter decisions, faster. In one example, Banner Health’s ability to better leverage facility data has resulted in significant cost savings of $3.8 million in annual energy savings.

Leveraging Service Providers, Leveraging The Secure Cloud

Leading facility managers are now able to take advantage of two market trends to accelerate the successful implementation of smart building technologies. Some have discovered the quickest and easiest way to bring analytics into their facilities is to partner with competent service providers that focus on providing building analytics solutions. Innovative energy engineering, commissioning, and systems integrators now offer data analytics as a core service offering. And enhanced security software tools allow for cloud access to dashboards and building data that promises to keep information secure while providing increased access to building operations across geographies and diverse team members.

Selecting Right Software Solution Is Key

As we look to the future of smart systems and buildings, we must overcome the notion that meaningful data analysis requires individualized attention to each facility system. That means selecting the right software platform that actively works to standardize the data collected across disparate systems to make analysis more easily understandable and actionable. Those that recognize the need to integrate these invaluable tools now stand to reap significant benefits later.

The fact is, it’s not our technology that’s trapped in 1999. It’s the lack of standardization surrounding BAS technologies and the data they provide that makes us feel stuck in the past. But by embracing a standardized approach to data analytics, leveraging service providers, and relying on the secure cloud, building managers can effectively modernize their legacy systems and make more impactful decisions for their facilities.

data analyticsGlance is the President of BuildingFit™, smart building data analytics software. With more than 20 years of experience in energy engineering and management in information technology, Glance has dedicated his professional career to problem solving through smart technologies and bringing better building management solutions to engineering firms, controls contractors, service providers, and more.


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