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On the first of August, I attended the AIRAH Big Data & Analytics conference in Sydney with our Chief Data Scientist, Dr Troy Wilson. I don’t have a background in the industry at all (I just graduated with a degree in Global Studies) but from listening to the presentations and panel discussions throughout the day, there were a few big questions that seemed to be on everyone’s mind. 

Data is priceless – but is it a threat or an opportunity?

Which such large sets of data coming from our buildings, it’s important to consider the possible cybersecurity issues that can arise and ask yourself important questions such as:

  • Is the value of your data worth the security risks?
  • Who owns the data and who has access to it?
  • How much data is too much, and when do we stop procuring it?
  • Are we handling our data safely?
  • Are we storing our data securely?

The truth is that not all data is equal and the future of big data in the building industry rests on the ability for smart data analytics to harness the knowledge, create insight and turn it into value. At the AIRAH conference, there was certainly a strong theme, despite the questions, that data analytics is key on the road to business success. This means that big data architecture will both become more critical to secure, and more frequently attacked.

Data is priceless, but it’s useless without human expertise, discretion and direction.

Without ‘man learning’, there is no machine learning

There’s no denying that the capabilities of Big Data and analytics has progressed by leaps and bounds in the last decade, and the application has propelled the building management industry into the future. From preventative maintenance to data analytics, workflow management, integrated Computerized Maintenance Management System/Software/s (CMMS) to on-demand services, the possibilities of automated and predictive maintenance and eventually artificial intelligence are closer than we think. As exciting as this is, there is one question on everyone’s agenda – what happens to the human factor of building/facilities management?

At the moment there’s a perception that analytics is being on-boarded as the ‘BMS police’ and there are myths out there that claim that once your building has analytics, you can cut some, if not all, of your maintenance contracts out.

On the contrary, the point of integrating data analytics into building management systems is to empower facilities managers and save their time. Instead of spending hours physically searching, analytics is able to pinpoint the root cause of problems that impact the efficiency, productivity and sustainability of property assets, leaving you more time to put out more fires. 

There is an understandable disconnect between facilities managers and building owners and operators who have decided to integrate data analytics and building optimisation software into their property portfolios. Facilities managers and contractors may see data analytics as a sort of Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ whereas building owners and operators sing high praises at the cost and energy savings. Some may see current contracts as a limiting factor to an industry move to outcome-based service and maintenance. It’s here that it can be felt that industry is lagging, where contracts aren’t being updated to facilitate the actions necessary to fully leverage the capabilities of data analytics and building optimisation technology. 

Transparency and collaboration are key

The solution? Encouraging open-minded discussion and collaboration and managing expectations, supported by access to transparent data where human skills and accountability are at the forefront. Transparency is key and as an industry, we need to be realistic about what data analytics can and cannot do.

One of the benefits of data analytics and digitising building operations is removing the menial, day-to-day frustrations and time-consuming interactions and processes between facility managers, contractors and tenants to identify and resolve building issues. Intelligent data cannot be disputed, and when stakeholders have equal access to the facts in a way everyone can understand, relationships improve, a more collaborative process is enabled and the end result is better buildings for all. 

A theme repeated many times at the conference was that while analytics has the power to help discover and resolve problems, human skills are still needed to resolve them.

After all, ‘machines are smart, but people are too.’

The challenge for the industry now is to build the subject matter expertise of experienced facilities managers and contractors into the technology and to drive structural changes that encompass the use of building optimisation technology to elevate everyone’s jobs and potential. 

The future of big data and analytics in the industry is exciting. Thank you to the team at AIRAH for creating a valuable day of discussion, learning and insight to explore it.