January 2016

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New Year’s Resolutions for Building Owners

Indulge in introspection and reevaluating aspects of your buildings.
Jim Sinopoli
Jim Sinopoli PE,
Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings LLC

Contributing Editor

“Many people look forward to the New Year for a new start on old habits.”— Anonymous

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Forget about quitting smoking, losing weight or working out at the gym. Instead, indulge in introspection and reevaluating aspects of your buildings. The New Year provides an opportunity to do what you wanted to do but may have failed to do in 2015; making your building more valuable, operating the facility more efficiently and effectively and keeping tenants happy. Here are the three initiatives that you need to tackle in 2016.

Resolution One - Get A Grip On Technology
2016Information Technology has relentlessly penetrated virtually all of the control and management systems in buildings.  IT is now an important part of the way our global interconnected society lives, works, entertains, and interacts; occupants, tenants and visitors have high expectations.    Innovative technology can be disruptive for building owners, troublesome for operations, as well as challenging the individual personnel requirements, but the upside is the advantages and benefits of IT; economic efficiency, communications, automation, competitive advantages, flexible platforms, bridging cultural gaps, etc.

IOTIt now seems some new technology is being unveiled every week. It’s difficult to keep pace and will be even more difficult when the Internet of Things (IOT) really starts rolling as potentially billions of sensors, connectivity and integrations rise steeply, and it will get complicated. How can building owners know what to implement and when to implement? Start with getting solid information on emerging technology from the news, colleagues and other sources. Evaluate how the technology improves efficiency, reduces cost or is differentiator. Look for benefits, ROI and risk. Talk with others that have deployed the technology. Prepare a cost/benefit analysis that might be associated with a deployment. Start small with a pilot program and evaluate the technology within your own environment. Communicate with employees, vendors or consultants involved with implementation and have a fallback option. Newer technologies may have “bugs” or sometimes won't work as promised. When implementing be alert for the unexpected. If the implementation doesn’t meet your expectations, you may have a way to scale back to what you had before.

Resolution Two - Treat Data as an Asset
If we really think data is an asset, and we should, then we need to organize and manage it. You’ll want to operate the building on factual data. Buildings provide a substantial amount of data from a variety of sources. The data is generated from building management systems, independent control systems, facility management systems, business systems, BIM, data in the hands of third-party contractors that install, service and maintain building equipment, data from the utility grid, weather information, etc. The typical building has several "silos" of data scattered throughout the organization with no cohesive strategy for data management and little coordination. Also note that it's not only the data that is in silos but also the underlying technology systems for data management, different data management processes, and even the different people involved. There would seem to be a very good case for bringing all the facility data into a unified database architecture and put into practice standardized methodologies and processes to manage everything.

There are several benefits from having a data management system. Building data would be more widely available and sharable, more accessible, and a structured approach can improve the archiving, preservation and retention of data for the long-term. There are some data and information sets you'll want for the life cycle of the building and there are analytic opportunities in long-term data you'll want for comparison and trending. A comprehensive data management plan would improve the integrity of the data. You want accurate, reliable, consistent and complete data. A structured approach initially validates the data, then puts into place a process where the data can't be changed or destroyed without authorization. For data management you only want one "language" of standard naming conventions, formats, indexing and data descriptors. It makes it easier to access and understand the data. The key to naming conventions is not what the convention is but enforcing that it be used for all building employees and third party contractors.

This can be tedious work but a structured approach can provide additional opportunities for greater correlation between data, improved data analytics and the possibility of developing or identifying new building data metrics. It’s likely you’ll discover something about the building that no one knows.

Given that building operations and maintenance are the most expensive part of total life cycle costs and the longest time duration within the building's life cycle we need data management during every building phase: design, construction and operations. A key element is to elevate the importance of data management and provide a person or group of people with the responsibility and authority to manage all the facility data. It’s likely such a group would have IT, facility management and business representatives.

The “facility data group” personnel should have a much larger responsibility in implementing the data management system for the building and the acquisition and management of the data from the initial building design through construction and facility management. This group would design, deploy, maintain, monitor and even enforce a comprehensive program for data management.

An immense amount of building data is created during the design, construction and operation of a facility but we're only managing and analyzing a relatively small amount of the available data. The industry’s foray into data management and analytics is now just in its infancy. At the starting point of data management is a building owner who understands the business proposition and value of data and who can effectively organize a small group to implement a structured data management system.

Resolution Three – Step Up the efforts for Recruiting, Educating and Training
Join the GreenPeople are our greatest asset and conversely our weakest link. However, the larger picture related to building operations and the “human factors” there is a global lack of qualified facility engineers and technicians, with the new skill sets needed to manage and operate a building and its systems. Some of the recent analytic software applications can help and support facility staff with sophisticated tools. 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 is required to and remedy problems or issues with equipment, tools, experience and know-how.

A study in 2011 by IFMA found the average age of a facility manager is 49 years old. The percentage of people in their 20s and 30s in building operations seems relatively small and we face a dearth of qualified personnel worldwide.  The industry needs to attract younger people into the business and career path. Some of the potential avenues to train or retrain personnel may include educational systems, trade associations, vocational schools, unions and internships.

The expectation is that younger people would not only be knowledgeable or expert in mechanical, electrical, security, etc. but also proficient 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 such as social media, gaming, video and a numerous apps, as well as potentially being attracted to the building industry by the energy and environmental aspects of building management.

A competent workforce is imperative for a successful company and the first component is effective recruiting and training processes. Successful recruiting techniques focus on identifying solid candidates while successful training techniques consist of providing as much direction as possible to new employees before letting them “take the training wheels off” and take the reins of their new positions. Use traditional advertising through professional channels, and job fairs.

Advertise for candidates through professional outlets. Of course, you want to assess a candidate’s resume and may want to do an interview. Focus on the potential candidates that match the experience and expertise that match which you need, and have the potential to make a substantial impact in the organization, and can perform at a high level.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Conduct due diligence before an interview of course. Check references, prepare questions and make sure the candidate possesses the skills and knowledge required for the job. Fully cover the job responsibilities for the position and provide the guidelines and requirements of the company, also supplement the conversation with a company manual if available.

If hired, the employer will need to provide hands-on training of the employee, laying out the responsibilities of the position they’ve been hired for and how to accomplish their daily tasks and diagnose problems they’re likely to encounter.

Delegate the training process to seasoned employees. Make sure whoever is training new employees fully understands the role the employee is taking on. The trainer or mentor must be knowledgeable about both the company and the employee’s position. Promote self-training. After getting a feel for the position being helped by veteran employees or managers, new employees should take on their daily tasks themselves. Don’t micromanage; let new employees learn through their mistakes. Competent employees do not need to be spoon-fed.


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