Operational Technology

Big Data in Building Automation: Is it worth it?

By Natalie Patton | February 15, 2017

For the most part, building automation has been slow automation. Traditionally, a BAS system mostly controlled and monitored HVAC equipment. Weather data tended to be slow and equipment response time was just fast enough to adjust to a building’s comfort needs by utilizing old, now outdated technologies. But now we have big data and the big question is, is it worth it?

As building automation has expanded to include lighting and access controls, it is easier to utilize newer technologies that weren’t on the market a few years ago. With that, suddenly the building automation industry isn’t in Kansas anymore. Lighting and access controls require devices to make intelligent decisions at a much faster rate than was expected for HVAC systems back in the day – they now need to respond to the constant movement of occupants and even interact with HVAC systems to adjust comfort and safety levels without wasting energy. Adding yet another layer of new technology, power monitoring has entered the scene, requiring still more new technologies to adequately monitor, track and even predict usage rates.

What all of that means is building automation systems need to keep getting better, faster, stronger. And, in order to respond fast enough, systems require more and more building information to be gathered, constantly. This is where building automation enters the world of Big Data.

When used in the media, the term Big Data is usually referencing all of the information bits that Internet giants like Google and Facebook collect by the minute. But Big Data is starting to mean Business Intelligence and understanding how to analyze these mountains of information is becoming key to running companies efficiently. For the building automation industry, Big Data specifically means the maintenance of equipment and fault detection and prediction, or smarter ways to approach diagnostics.

The industry is still progressing from the slow HVAC systems to slightly faster lighting and access controls to even faster power maintenance systems but with each change, the speed at which we have to adapt gets faster and faster too. Even though we know Big Data is coming to our industry, I’m still looking for information and even opinion on the subject. What, exactly, can Big Data do for us? Can we collect data that tells us when to do equipment maintenance better than a maintenance schedule? Can we detect deviations from peak performance that can be addressed nearly as well as a computer? Do such diagnostics ensure peak performance of equipment, save energy, and save labor?

While we investigate these answers, though, things keep moving forward. We’ve seen Big Data hit other industries like a ton of bricks and we’re looking at ways to be on the forefront of this transition, if and when it does happen. Since implementing these systems is still quite costly, it’s fair to wonder if it’s really worth it. But it’s also true that nobody scores a goal from the sidelines.