While building systems and technologies are capitalizing on opportunities to take advantage of the current technological revolution, the construction industry mainly continues to lag behind more advanced, innovative approaches used by other industries to leverage the most out of big data resources.
Considering the thriving global market for building technologies and ample funding available to drive efficiency in energy use, improved occupant comfort/health, and building process efficiency, the construction industry’s lag is extremely surprising. The market is there, yet we continue to ride the coattails of other industry innovations.
For example, just look at user interfaces for buildings compared to your smart phone that you use to control your daily life. Look at building dashboards in contrast to the simple and concise dashboards you use for banking and management of your finances. Observe the standards and efficiency applied to computer chips in cars—enabling consistent maintenance and repair across the country by a multitude of people despite differing vehicle models and manufacturer variations.
There are many reasons why building technology applications lag when it comes to innovation. Almost every building has a different use, type, geography, and age, not to mention the individual story and business case that each building owner has for why the status quo is more applicable to his or her situation.
That said, there are also barriers the industry itself puts in place. Those in our industry most well-positioned to innovate are unfortunately motivated to think product-first. They’re urged to push proprietary solutions or limit the focus on long-term viable solutions, since reduced maintenance costs and jeopardizing future product purchases are seen as negative outcomes.
The barriers that our industry puts in place add costs, divide our various solution-providers, and prevent a cohesive integrated delivery model designed to support a new approach to how we build, operate, and maintain our buildings.
This frustrating juncture is exactly where smart buildings and—more specifically—building analytics can prove their worth. Many in our industry tout analytics as the greatest solution for buildings since digital controls. Amazing case studies are published on a regular basis, demonstrating fantastic results and making a case for how we need to change how we manage and operate our buildings moving forward.
Intel, IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, Accenture, Verizon and many other big hitters are making substantial plays at the space, sensing the big opportunity that comes with big data. Building owners are also jumping in and we are seeing a growing trend of early adopters taking advantage of smart building applications to drive substantially different building performance outcomes.
However, analytics—as our industry defines them—are quickly falling behind in terms of how we should be leveraging and managing building data.
The bricks-and-mortar construction industry is struggling to adapt to a bits-and-bytes world. To use a construction analogy, building analytics are often approached on a “plan-spec” basis compared to what we should be adopting—a more-flexible, “design build” approach.
Such an approach is often referred to as “self-service analytics.” With this approach, it’s not just about generating reports, but about letting people enter the flow of analysis, explore their data, and ask their own questions.
Until the construction industry and building owners move towards implementing self-service analytics, we’ll merely be scratching the surface of what “big data” can do for buildings, owners, and tenants.
There are several reasons why our industry should be changing the way we think about big data applications and fully embracing the opportunity in front of us.
First off, a bit of good, old-fashioned competition will be a strong driver for positive change. As innovative buildings, technologies, and building systems taking advantage of self-service analytics continue to win awards, engender discussion, and grab headlines in newspapers and trade publications, many building owners will start to wonder: “Why not my building?” That’s a question many in our industry will increasingly have to answer, and “Because that’s not what we used to do” won’t be a viable answer for long.
Secondly, the external information technology industry might just force the hand of the building industry towards big data integration. More and more data is excellent business for primary IT suppliers, who will want to be the conduit for all those zeroes and ones—increasingly pushing their clients towards producing and providing more data. A push from the IT industry towards more advanced analytics would help the building industry technologically leapfrog its own outmoded nature.
Lastly, IT professionals within a building or a company can powerfully drive technological innovation internally. Nobody understands the capabilities of big data more than the IT teams in our buildings, and they can serve as compelling, localized advocates for instilling technological integration.
Imagine a built environment where innovation is the norm not the exception—where our buildings shape the future of technology instead of technology shaping our buildings.
Though this may seem like a fantasy, it’s not far-fetched at all. With flexible, self-service analytics built into the backbone of your building, you’d be surprised by what’s possible. All that’s left is for our industry to drive the future.
Jesse Sycuro is a Seattle-based account executive for McKinstry’s Energy and Facility Services division. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.