April 2015

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Building Operations

Opportunities and Issues
Jim Sinopoli
Jim Sinopoli PE,
Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings LLC

Contributing Editor

“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

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PlanningSizable buildings are now conceived, planned, financed, designed and constructed in a relatively short number of years. However, the cost of operating a building are generally measured in decades and is typically 65-80% of the total lifecycle of the building. There are capital costs to construct a building, but about 75% of the total lifecycle cost of a building is in building operation and maintenance. So the real issues with building operations for the owner is the duration of the building and the ongoing operating costs; essentially time and money.

Oftentimes building owners involved in designing and constructing a new facility are totally focused on the initial capital budget and investment in the facility. While it’s a legitimate concern the design and capital spent needs to focus on long term operations, answering the question of what’s the best use of capital to operate the building over the long haul.

Building operations span a very broad spectrum of issues. It’s not just hot or cold calls from occupants. There are many larger issues dealing with safety, profitability, energy, and management. The facility management group is expected to have the expertise and capabilities to manage and execute a variety of tasks and responsibilities.  The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) has identified eleven core competencies of facility management:

  1. Communication – Communication plans and processes for both internal and external stakeholders
  2. Emergency Preparedness and Business Continuity – Emergency and risk management plans and procedures
  3. Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability – Sustainable management of built and natural environments
  4. Finance and Business – Strategic plans, budgets, financial analyses, procurement
  5. Human Factors – Healthful and safe environment, security, FM employee development
  6. Leadership and Strategy – Strategic planning, organization, staff and leadership organization
  7. Operations and Maintenance – Building operations and maintenance, occupant services
  8. Project Management – Oversight and management of all projects and related contracts
  9. Quality – Best practices, process improvements, audits and measurements
  10. Real Estate and Property Management – Real estate planning, acquisition and disposition
  11. Technology – Facility management technology, workplace management systems

The two essential “facility management competencies” that currently have the most number of issues and at the same time the most opportunity for improving building operations are technology and human factors.

Technology and innovation have always been part of the building industry going back to the last century with the invention of electricity distribution, elevators, and construction cranes, power tools, etc. Today’s innovative technology is not just new devices or equipment, it’s a relentless penetration of information and communications technology and a flood of innovative systems and equipment. Given our global society’s habituation to computers and smartphones, people and building occupants now expect technology laden buildings. The larger background for technology in buildings includes among other things smart cities, wearable technologies, big data, apps, analytics, and the Internet of Things.

While standard IT networks have been a staple in buildings since the early 1980s, IT has now penetrated further. We have standard building communications protocols such as BACnet/IP, building management systems which are based on IT servers, using an operating system, and having IP addresses. There are ANSI standards for using IT cable for BAS systems and a host of other systems including IT-based lighting systems using Power over Ethernet (POE), the use of Wi-Fi in BAS controllers, IT-based access control, digital video surveillance, mass notification, DAS systems, paging, and plug load management systems.

In the last 4-5 years astute building owners and facility managers have embraced some IT functions such as data management and the use of analytic software applications for some of the building control systems. The results have been overwhelmingly positive.

The industry may have been late to data management and mining but there’s now an awareness that there is tremendous value in data management and that it should be treated as an asset. During the design and construction of a building data will be generated; it is in the operations of the building that data not only will be generated but also consumed. Data management is required during every building phase: design, construction and operations. A key organizational element is to elevate the importance of data management by assigning a distinct job description with the responsibility and authority to manage all the facility data. In new construction we typically have two to three people tasked with managing various data; the LEED consultant, the BIM consultant and the architect. The use of BIM as a significant data management tool for new construction provides the framework and starts the building on the right path. The BIM COBie data can be exported into to some of the facility management systems such as asset management and preventative maintenance and assist in getting the building operational quicker.

The use of analytic software applications have demonstrated positive measurable results. A study by Lawrence Berkley Labs titled “Automated Continuous Commissioning of Commercial Buildings in 2011, indicated 30% reduction in building total energy consumption and related costs over the baseline; and 30% reduction in building peak demand and CO2 emissions  On top of that are operational savings related to such an application increasing personnel efficiency and effectiveness; facility engineers and technicians being more quickly alerted to a fault in a building system, provided improved information on potential system remedies, and monetizing  faults to indicate the wasted energy. Given their track record, analytic applications have been successfully used in lighting systems, electrical distribution, conveyance equipment, data centers, etc.

Human Factors

Innovative technology is disruptive. For building operations, technology disrupts the organization as well as the individual personnel requirements. Organizationally, many companies or building owners have an IT department as well as a facility management department. Potentially there are issues regarding the systems managed by facility management (HVAC, electrical, lighting, etc.) that have IT aspects; which begs the question, which department is responsible for responding and addressing the issues?. An example could be a network controller in a building automation system that connects directly to an IT network; facility management may “own” the controller but the IT department may “own” the network. If the two departments have a good relationship any issue can be addressed together. If not, operations may be impacted. Some building owners have dealt with this by either bringing on some IT technicians within the facility management department, so they can self-perform or have created a “Systems Engineering” department combining both facility and IT.

Greatest asset People are our greatest asset and conversely our weakest link. Yet, the larger picture related to building operations and the “human factors” is the global lack of qualified facility engineers and technicians, and the new skill sets needed to manage and operate a building and its systems. Yes, some of the analytic software applications can help and support facility staff. Also we can expect some companies to take analytics to a another level and develop software that will not only detect faults but automatically remedy some but not all of the issues, such as changing set points or changing values or flow or pressure, etc. by extending analytic rules for the building systems.  At some point however, a trained, competent human being will be required to diagnose and remedy problems or issues with equipment, tools and know-how.

contemporary A study in 2011 by IFMA found the average age of a facility manager is 49 years old. Yet the percentage of people in their 20s and 30s in building operations is relatively small. We face a dearth of qualified personnel worldwide.  The industry needs and must come together to address how to attract younger people into the industry and how to train people. Some of the potential avenues maybe include the educational system, trade associations, vocational schools, unions and internships.

Some in the industry have tried to define the “Electrician of the Future” or the “Facility Engineer of the Future”. The expectation is that a person would not only be knowledgeable or an expert in mechanical, electrical, security, etc. but also versed in the basics of information technology. It’s fair to say that the next generation of facility personnel will have different approaches to communications and collaboration, using tools as social media, gaming, video and a number of apps, and potentially being attracted by the energy and environmental aspects of buildings.

For more information about smart buildings, technology design or to schedule a Continuing Education program, email at jsinopoli@smart-buildings.com


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