Doing data better: What you should know

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Hidden fees, ownership, and access. Roshan Gill outlines some issues you should clear up from the get-go in your building data strategy.

A good building data strategy should involve a degree of planning for the future and help put measures into place to ensure that whichever piece of the puzzle is being installed or worked on is connected, functional and future integration ready.

Obviously, there are different buildings with different systems and resources, from A-grade premium commercial in a metro area, all the way down to a B-grade or C-grade with modest facilities and smaller footprints. The needs of all these different buildings and portfolio types will differ, and data strategy may encompass anything from collecting data to ensuring everything is tagged and has meaningful naming or relational conventions, otherwise known as ontologies, and that everything can talk to each other and seamlessly integrate to create an outcome for building owners.

There’s also usually a big difference in data literacy and awareness among managers across the spectrum of buildings. Premium building owners, the big trusts that own real estate across Australia, will have people in the organisation that are trained and familiar with the options out there in the industry, and who understand BMS (Building Management Systems) and analytics. They are informed enough to critique vendors and, when they apply something, they know what to look for and what’s valuable to them. But elsewhere, as a facility manager, you may not yet be 100 percent proficient in building data. You may not have had access to the resources or time to build a long-term strategy to realise the benefit you can get by integrating building data into an integrated platform that could help you then interrogate trends across your assets or portfolio. So how can you implement your own great data strategy?

What’s happened with HVAC over the last 10 years shows what’s possible. HVAC analytics has been predominant and is essentially a day-to-day activity in most parts of town; most FMs are getting to a point where they’re integrating other services such as fire systems and vertical transport.

So, my first piece of advice for facility owners and managers is to make sure you have a reasonable understanding of the facility’s services within your building. Then, think about what it would mean for you if you had great data at your fingertips, what benefits you could actually provide to the building owner if you had access to that data, and how much time you could save if you didn’t have to go hunting for it.

Ownership and access

It’s a good idea to be a bit stricter in ensuring that, whatever you do or specify with a service provider, there are not going to be any hidden costs in the future. Recently, I heard from an industry colleague who is expanding HVAC analytics to a number of different services in their building, including vertical transport (lifts). But after putting in something that was true to specs and necessitated integration with a central management system, the vendor informed them they would still be charged an additional ongoing fee for access to the data, despite having purchased the system.

So you have to be very discerning about the way that a product or service is specified and installed; be clear that it may be integratable, but it must be owned and accessible by the building owner. There’s a kink that needs to be ironed out there.

Ask the question: ‘will I have access to my building data in a manner that it can be used?’ Then, when using your building data, will it be clean, fault free, verified and 100 percent owned by you?


Also make sure you’re using it optimally. Are you effectively applying technology such as analytics to create an outcome with your provider that is able to use the data and close maintenance loops? Or are you just putting technology on there for the sake of saying ‘yes I have technology’?

If the data and analytics are helping you identify problems in your building, is the service empowering you to solve them, or just creating more work?

Some service providers have their own technology platform linked to a proprietary suite of services. Then there are SaaS (software as a service) only providers, who provide top-end data that requires management. And then there’s the trifecta, which is they have the technology, the building analytics and the actual understanding of how to apply it effectively to create an outcome. They can help you close loops, they can send a technician out if need be and they have real power to create desired outcomes using the tech. Ensuring that the whole loop gets closed is the hardest piece of the puzzle.

Another moving part: People

Making sure the technology is ready and can speak to analytics is almost the simplest part now. But finding faults and actually creating a final outcome by managing technicians out in the field, as well as the customers and the expectations of the building, is where it gets complicated. This is because you have to deal with people now, it’s not just a system that closes the loop. I think this is still an area where most people in the industry would find it hard to put their hand on their heart and say, ‘I’m delivering a 100 percent data-driven maintenance and I’m generating a clear outcome for these customers’. But that’s the goal and we’re getting there.

Once you’ve got a fully smart building (or portfolio) that has centralised control over all services then you can start to effect centralised aggregated control. You’ll enjoy financial savings, can automate processes or workflows and unlock smarter innovative energy controls over the load consumers within a building. And from a sustainability standpoint, you can actually start to participate in government-based net zero outcomes.

IRoshan Gill is BMS Operations Manager, WA, NT and SA, at Grosvenor Engineering Group. He is also Chair of the big data technical group at AIRAH.