Data, Data Everywhere–Are You Capturing The Data Gold From Your Facilities?

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In this special guest feature, Michael C. Skurla, Chief Product Officer of Radix IoT, points out that with previously untapped information now at their fingertips, facilities owners and operators are no longer challenged with automating their digitized facilities. Michael has over two decades’ experience in control automation and IoT product design with Fortune 500 companies. He is a contributing member of CABA, ASHRAE, IES Education, and USGBC and a frequent lecturer on the evolving use of analytics and emerging IT technologies to foster efficiency within commercial facility design.

Amidst the pandemic, our world has become even more digitized as learning, working, health care and more moved online, prioritizing our connectivity even more. As all Internet-connected devices enable a whole range of activities, 24×7, it’s critical that these devices can talk to networks and other devices to ensure smooth connectivity. It’s hard to accurately determine where the Internet of Things (IoT) entered the picture for buildings, but IoT has offered a wealth of options to existing and new structures that even a decade ago where absent.

IoT devices and platforms offer affordable data acquisition from existing building systems, while allowing the introduction and mixing of newer IP based technologies enabling richer (and sometimes more complex) environments for occupants and facility managers/owners. IDC predicts that by 2025, the world’s data will grow to 175 zettabytes. (A zettabyte equals a trillion gigabytes.) IoT devices gather an unsurmountable amount of data–companies are expected to invest up to $1.1 Trillion in IoT by 2023–floods of Big Data need to be processed to make sense and be put to good use.

It is estimated that by 2025 there will be over 30 billion installed IoT connected devices.

Billions of IoT devices offer valuable data. Harnessing all the collected data, often from disjointed devices and systems spread across geographically diverse areas, has historically been complex. This is, however, changing with the advent of IoT platforms that allow disjointed architecture to become a common ‘mined’ data set that then can be analyzed to deliver outcomes of all shapes and sizes.

Big Data Mining

In the past, owners and operators of multi-site facilities were challenged with a lot of different software applications to manage systems within buildings. Given it was difficult to just consolidate a single building, dealing with multiple sites or a portfolio of sites often involved highly complex systems with custom solutions. The ROI was often questionable, and even if it was implemented, expanding, or changing the system as goals evolved or the business changed was expensive or difficult.

The fact is that buildings are built of many smaller subsystems. Each of these smaller subsystems is tuned to achieve efficiency through the lens of that subsystems manufacturer. From a manufacturer’s eyes there is no need or rationale to contribute to a larger consolidated data set. This leads to sites and owners of sites relying on lots of separate tools to help solve individual problems. Though this works, it lacks the ability to clearly look at all facets of an enterprise–and furthermore, these software solutions were mostly targeted at facility maintenance. Yet this data, when consolidated into a minable data set, offers a wealth of information for different stakeholders if analyzed from a different lens. A simple example is a lighting system with motion sensors to turn lights on and off when a person enters/exits a room. That same occupancy data used by an analytics software can provide space utilization information and impact lease agreements. Hence, data is not a one-trick pony. Often times all the uses are not thought up at the onset of a system–especially when thinking outside of a single trade approach.

Although existing systems offer a decent amount of data, IoT devices within spaces offer an a’ la carte approach to adding sensing technologies to spaces affordably, and without the need to add more subsystems. Anything that can hop on an Ethernet network and offer data is theoretically a new IoT device. This includes things that may not be entirely obvious. Simply put, a person with a cell phone is an IoT telemetry device–connected to the network and set up to expose data, and can offer a trove of information including location, temperature, acceleration, humidity, and much more.

With a combination of subsystems and supplementary device data, commercial facility operators–from smart city infrastructure to manufacturing, to edge data centers and telecom–can use consolidated data to gain far greater intelligence about their environment(s) near or far and provide real-time event management and action capability. They can also access and use historical data to understand trends to foster activities such as continuous commissioning, outlier detection, sustainability auditing, and improved preventative maintenance–just to name a few.

IoT Platforms Capture Data Floods

By 2025, data generated from IoT devices will reach over 79 zettabytes. This includes a vast range of networked sensory players. From surveillance, HVAC, lighting, entrance/exit doors, alarms systems and more, all of this data ideally should be captured for insight. Though capturing is only the beginning. It then needs to be organized and consolidated into rational formats that then can be used easily by internal or external tools to provide actionable outcomes that commercial facilities’ owners and operators with large geographical footprints can use to make intelligent business decisions.

One cost-effective and scalable solution to turn big data into actionable analytics is an IoT platform. These can not only collect diverse data at massive scale but can easily scale to meet facilities expansions. Since IoT platforms are not from the building technology world but were born from IT technology and standards, they seamlessly operate across all facilities and locations with minimal configurations–and can be adapted to change quickly and remotely. They are easy to install and can scale to thousands of sites, with standard IT provisioning hardened for security.

Since IoT platforms offer open communications using cloud infrastructure, they are easy to set up with an Edge appliance wired to a port. Once installed, operators can manage, provision, and monitor all their distributed facilities–remotely with no required on-site employees and staff. Instead, management can be done from a centralized NOC from anywhere in the world, allowing for cost-effective operations on scale. These platforms offer full visibility across all their subsystems and technology at the edge from a central location, and via a single pane of glass dashboard instead of dealing with and understanding multiple tools.  

The Refinement of Data

With an IoT platform added on top of all existing systems, performance competency of each silo is drastically enhanced. Valuable data from all the sources are collected, organized, and consolidated into context-specific outcomes which also include a range of actionable recommendations including traffic patterns for supply chain, space utilization for additional profits, or ways to reduce energy use across specific facilities. Tapping into the ROI of IoT-enables energy savings, a 30 percent reduction in building energy consumption, via IoT sensors, can offer $65 billion annual savings.

Facility operators can customize on the fly outcome-based analytics to meet their specific business needs. They can share the reports with specific stakeholders for immediate actions.  And managing and operating all the buildings’ systems–lighting, HVAC, security, entrance access and other connected systems–can be done remotely. New facilities can be added at scale.

Beyond internal tools that are flexible and user-changeable to adapt to changing demands–IoT platforms typically allow the use of micro-service analytics, which are now prevalent in many industries. Through a single RestAPI, data actively consolidated into an IoT platform can be pushed to any number of AI/ML/BI micro-service engines externally for analytics. This eliminates the often complex and custom nature of gathering data for these services, and allows a one stop shop for data, and the use of many of these external services at once.

Consider IoT platforms as the pulse of commercial facilities–comprehensive toolkits that can be easily customized to meet an enterprise’s specific business needs.  Offering web-based software as a turnkey solution is critical, as is low-cost pricing to allow easy integration of cloud analytics services. To meet expanding facilities operations, these solutions must be scalable to continue capturing critical insight on efficiency and operations as businesses grow and expand. And since IoT platforms don’t require special sensing hardware or proprietary controls, they are product/system agnostic and applicable across all various verticals. You can use what you already have.

With previously untapped information now at their fingertips, facilities owners and operators are no longer challenged with automating their digitized facilities. They tap into IoT platform solutions to gain valuable big data transformed into actionable insight for a full, in-depth view of all their building’s systems across distributed facilities beyond just the physical building operations. Facility owners leveraging IoT platforms not only increase their bottom line but can also capture the previously lost gold mines of data locked in silos across multiple facilities.

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  1. Great article! (A)IOT + Edge + Cloud is a successful combination.
    It is important to distinguish between completely new assets/buildings and already existing ones.
    The advantage of new assets is that everything can be set up according to the latest developments, existing assets have an existing infrastructure.
    Many facility/building managers do not want to replace their systems because a lot of budget has been invested. Also, in the case of sensitive assets or with high impact errors, that they at least work now. What’s more, nobody knows anymore how these systems were created. To avoid the risk of failing infrastructure, some prefer to keep things as they are. So, it is in any case important to use this data properly. Hybrid cloud/on-prem is often an excellent solution for such cases: existing systems remain more or less as they are and can be used at basic capacity, while the cloud is used for the new solutions and also for peak loads.
    And fortunately, smart sensors can be added nowadays, so that the facility can be brought up to date again without throwing away the entire existing infrastructure.
    We ourselves also notice that, thanks to Covid-19, the quality of the indoor climate is receiving more and more attention. There are smart, integrated sensors as the Airmex, which can not only measure temperature and humidity, but also CO2 and humidity.