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The Importance of Analytics in Building Automation

Image of Jon Schoenfeld
Jon Schoenfeld

Building automation has long been seen as the key to solving three problems: improving energy efficiency, reducing operating costs, and improving the occupant experience. Over the past decade, the possibilities of automation have greatly expanded, spurring building owners and facilities managers to invest heavily in automation systems in both new buildings and legacy properties.

But while automation can have significant benefits, your ability to realize these benefits depends on optimizing the way these systems operate—and automation systems alone don’t offer the insight needed for optimization. That’s why integrating data analytics in building automation systems (BAS) is crucial. 

Intelligent analytics can harness the vast data produced by a BMS and transform it into actionable insights, pinpointing problems and opportunities at every level of your building. By investing in the right platform, you can take automation to the next level, adding real value to your building portfolio.

Analytics: Turning Noise into Signal

If you asked someone if it was going to rain tomorrow and they told you it would because their  “elbow has been hurting,” that would be curious and not at all helpful. If instead they gave you the rainfall totals for this seven-day period across every county for the last 50 years, that would be very data-rich...but equally unhelpful. 

More data, on its own, isn’t inherently helpful when running a building. But the data being generated by modern commercial buildings is, unfortunately, pretty close to the second example. It’s an overwhelming amount of information. 

Building analytics software changes that. It captures, organizes, and analyzes data to understand how equipment and systems perform. It uses historic and real-time data to monitor trends in energy usage. It learns how equipment performs—or doesn’t perform—in normal and unusual conditions. It becomes a response tool that doesn’t require data scientists to operate. 

In short, analytics takes the promise of building automation, which is a smarter way to meet tenant demands, and turns it into a reality. 

How Analytics in Building Automation Transforms a Building

Your desired outcome is to maintain consistently high occupancy rates and low operating costs. There’s no trick here: it just requires smart operations. Integrating intelligent analytics with your building automation system can help you create effective strategies for improving building management and ensuring you are realizing the full benefits of your building automation system. 

There are a number of ways these benefits are realized. 

Analyze Performance

Analytics lets you understand your building energy consumption—how much is being used, when, and where. With that, you have a full picture of how your building actually operates. What does that mean?

  • Identifiable energy waste. Are empty rooms being cooled? Are lights being left on? Are heating systems being used when they don’t need to be?
  • Predictive energy demand. Energy loads fluctuate in different zones of a building from hour to hour, day to day, season to season. Combining historical and real-time data generates patterns that can be used to resolve disparities between predictions and actual usage.
  • Predictive energy consumption. These patterns tell a story. Understanding energy spikes and troughs lets you allocate resources most efficiently. 

An analytics platform creates a more complete picture of how building systems are used. This allows for better allocation of resources. 

Smarter Maintenance

Traditionally, there were two ways to perform maintenance:

  1. Time-based approach: This is where equipment is checked according to a set schedule in hopes of catching anomalies before they affect performance. However, if a problem isn't detected during a routine check, these anomalies can develop into major malfunctions. 
  2. Reactive maintenance: This occurs in response to those major issues, and it can increase the risk of equipment failure, damage, and significant downtime. 

There is also the school of “don’t fix it until it breaks.” This is known as “bad maintenance.”

Today, many automation systems have some fault detection capabilities that alert you to malfunctions. However, these often present two risks: not detecting faults until they become critical and setting off multiple, unprioritized alarms without identifying the root cause. 

But not all alarms require the same amount of attention. Too many alerts can be distracting and a waste of resources. Customizable setpoints can help you determine what is an emergency and what is not. Machine learning helps the system deal with problems that don’t require manual intervention. 

An intelligent analytics platform with advanced fault detection and diagnostics continuously collects and analyzes data from equipment and devices and can identify data anomalies as soon as they occur, alerting you to real problems as early as possible. 

This is a process of continual learning by the platform. It can understand the devices on the building management system and why alarms are set off. It can distinguish which issues could be solved via automation, without the need for manual intervention. Items requiring manual intervention could be handled before they became true problems. 

This allows for better resource allocation for issues that do need manual intervention This way, small problems can be cut off before they become large, and non-issues can be avoided.  Tenants might not know that a crisis was averted, but they certainly appreciate never having to deal with one. 

Improve Automated Activities

Data is a starting point to improving your building’s automated actions. An advanced analytics platform with machine learning capabilities will help you implement more complex automation based on a variety of variables. For example, a building or individual rooms can be pre-heated or pre-cooled based on anticipated occupancy. By understanding the way that energy is used in different parts of the building at different times of the day, you can better prevent surges and strain on the equipment while improving the occupant experience. Think of it as slowly pressing your brakes approaching a red vs. just slamming on them at the last second.

Another example is air quality, the cleanness of which is a key demand of the modern tenant. Air quality can be tracked based on a number of setpoints, including building occupancy. The more that the analytics platform learns about how air is impacted by these factors, the more accurately it can adjust key factors like ventilation and temperature. It’s just one of many ways that more intelligent automation leads to healthier buildings

Continual “learning” through data analytics improves predictive power and strengthens connections between systems. Lighting, heating, and other systems can be automatically coordinated to maximize tenant comfort without manual intervention. 

Automation is an energy saver in a few different ways. At its most literal, automation increases efficiency because your building is only using energy where it is needed. It also frees up your own staff to concentrate their energy and time where it is needed most. They can work more in capacities where they shine, which reduces the chances of costly and time-wasting human error.

Data analytics might seem like it just involves a bunch of numbers, but those numbers all represent specific actions, operations, and human interaction within your complex systems. How the building responds to all these factors is the point of automation. Data analytics is how the promise and potential of automation are fully realized. 

Get Better Analytics for Better Automation

An automation system is more than getting blinds that close by themselves. It’s a complete transformation of your building and an enormous investment. The promise of lower costs and consistent occupancy is how that investment is justified. As we’ve seen, a comprehensive data analytics software platform is how you get the most out of your system, prolong its lifespan, and boost your investment’s return. 

onPoint Analytics is the premier mobile-first platform designed to integrate with your open-protocol systems and make your system continually more powerful. It allows you to leap past fault detection and employ actionable analytics. The onPoint system generates 4D insights, going beyond reaction into genuine predictive actions. 

Big data, if harnessed correctly, can improve all facilities and building management. Harnessing it requires analytics software programs that integrate with your system and are easy to use. When that can be done, systems are run smoothly and invisibly—just the way occupants like it.

To learn more about how onPoint can help you get the most out of your building automation system, register for our monthly webinars. Or contact our analytics team to get more information about our platform.

 

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