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How to Cut Through the Promotional Haze and Select a Digital Building Platform

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Brian Turner

Everyone from investors to casual LinkedIn observers has more reasons than ever to look at buildings and wonder what’s going on inside. The property industry is known for moving slowly when it comes to adopting new technologies, but novel concepts and products are now entering this market at a dizzying pace.

However, this ever-growing array of smart-building products has made it confusing for professionals who seek to implement digital building platform (DBP) technologies in their spaces, let alone across their entire enterprise. The waters get even murkier when it comes to cloud platforms and their impact on ROI with regard to energy usage and day-to-day operations.

Facility managers, energy professionals and building operators are increasingly hit with daily requests to review the latest platform for managing and operating their buildings. Here are a few tips to help decision-makers clear through the marketing fluff and put DBP platforms to the test.

The why, how and what

Breaking down technology decisions into bite-sized pieces, starting with fundamental functions, is the most straightforward way to cut through the promotional haze. Ask two simple questions: Who on your team will use this technology and what problem will it solve for them? Answers to these questions will help you maintain your key objectives, making it easier to narrow down the hundreds of options to a handful.

Another way to prioritize problems and solutions when sourcing smart-building technology is to identify your use cases. If you don’t know why you need a technology platform for your smart building, you’ll find it difficult to tell which option is better. Further, once you have chosen one, you’ll be hard put to determine if it has been successful. We find use cases draw the most direct line from why to how and what.

For example, let’s examine the why, how and what questions for a real estate developer planning to construct or modernize a commercial office building.

This last question is often the hardest to answer and is usually left until the last possible moment. For building systems integrators, this is where the real work begins.

Focus on desired outcomes

When various stakeholder groups begin their investigations of the technology, it is crucial to define the outcomes everyone hopes to achieve for each use case. When evaluating specific products, it helps to categorize them at high levels.

Several high-level outcomes, such as digital twin enablement, data normalization and data storage are expected across multiple categories of systems. However, only an enterprise building management system includes the most expected outcomes. Integration platform as a service, bespoke reports and dashboarding, analytics as a service and energy-optimization platforms have various enabled and optional outcomes.

The following table breaks down a list of high-level outcomes and aligns them to a category of smart-building platforms available in the market. Expanded definitions of each item are included at the end of this article.

 

Integration platform as a service

Bespoke reports and dashboarding

Analytics as a service

Energy-optimization platforms

Enterprise BMS

Digital twin enablement

X

X

X

X

X

Data normalization

X

X

X

X

X

Data storage

X

X

X

X

X

Single pane of glass

E

X

 

 

X

Dashboard

E

 

X

X

X

Mobile App

E

O

O

O

O

Mobile-first web design

 

X

X

X

X

Operator command and control

E

 

 

 

X

Automated optimization strategies

E

 

 

X

X

Reporting

E

X

X

X

X

Analytics

E

 

X

X

X

Machine learning

E

 

X

X

X

Artificial intelligence

 

 

 

 

 

High availability

 

 

O

O

O

Disaster recovery

 

 

 

 

 

Cloud connected

X

X

X

X

X

On-premise

O

O

 

 

O

Gateway

X

 

O

O

X

E: Enablement, O: Optional, X: Expected

The vendor selection bake-off

The vendor selection process can begin once the DBP category is agreed upon, and the focus can move away from marketing to the most important functionalities. This will help level the playing field for competitors and help facility managers make informed decisions. Scorecards are commonly used during the vendor selection process, but the definition of each factor is often not understood well by evaluators.

This will be obvious if you are a smart-buildings consultant. However, if you are a property owner, developer, general contractor or facility manager and are responsible for making this decision, it is imperative to understand the requirements so you can assemble a suitable team of evaluators. Consultants are a valuable part of the team, but this decision should not be left to the consultants alone, as they will most likely not be there for the life of the building systems and selected technologies.

The evaluation team should include:

Selecting a DBP to assist your employees, partners and vendors in operating a first-class facility is more like selecting an ERP than it is like selecting a building management system (BMS). This is a fundamental concept and is not often considered until it is too late. Successful building operations platforms will be accessed daily by many different roles on a consistent basis. Unlike a BMS that is primarily used by people in mechanical rooms, the DBP will be accessed by people in sustainability teams, IT teams, service providers and in mechanical rooms.

The selection of a partner is as critical as that of the technology when considering the lasting success of the effort. This can be equally tricky, given that the industry is evolving so quickly and many of the technologies are very new. It is important to understand the history of the team installing, servicing and supporting the systems for the life of the platform. In many cases, the partner is the determining factor between success and failure during the implementation and long-term support phases.

Most buildings are beginning their digital transformation and are looking for ways to bring people back, keep people healthy and create environments where people want to spend time. Many of us have learned how to be successful working remotely, but that doesn’t mean we don’t miss the interaction that can only come from being together and sharing common experiences and spaces.

When it comes to the built environment, creating those comfortable, healthy and enjoyable places requires new tools. Selecting a solid DBP is one of the most important decisions to be made. It’s also important to understand the outcomes or features available in a particular category of smart-building platforms. While data storage might be familiar to many, data normalization or digital twin enablement might not be. Facilities managers interested in upgrading their technologies should refamiliarize themselves with the outcomes and their definitions.

Definitions

  • Digital twin enablement: Many platforms and companies create a digital twin to enable digital buildings. Once a digital twin is created, companies can implement things like single pane of glass, HVAC analytics, energy optimization strategies, etc.
  • Data normalization: In the digital building context, this is the process of integrating multiple data sets from like or related building systems and applying ontology to the data.
  • Data storage: This can refer to storage of the relationships and metadata required by the digital twin process or it can mean storage of building system data in a data lake.
  • Single pane of glass: For the most part, this refers to a UX that combines more than one building system. For example, a graphical UX that includes lighting controls, HVAC controls and power metering.
  • Operator command and control: This is a suite of widgets or objects that allow the user to change set points and schedules as well as override specific outputs like lighting commands, pumps command, economizer dampers and control valves from the interface.
  • Automated optimization strategies: Generally executed from the cloud, this is the capability of software-based automation that modifies set points or outputs in order to satisfy a specific goal, typically energy reduction, demand management or plant optimization.
  • High availability: A characteristic of a system that aims to ensure an agreed level of operational performance, usually uptime, for a higher than normal period.
  • Disaster recovery: A set of policies, tools and procedures to enable the recovery or continuation of vital technology infrastructure and systems.

This article originally published in TechCrunch Extra Crunch.

 

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