Building analytics: The future of facility operations

April 02, 2019
By Jim Prince

“How’s it going today?”

You probably hear this question every day. While it’s a casual greeting, when coming from your hospital’s COO, they may not be just asking about you, but asking about their hospital, too. If pressed, how would you answer that question? Could you answer how your hospital is running with measurable data?

The future of facility operations will likely involve building analytics. Each day, hospitals serve thousands of patients and visitors, control hundreds of different machines and continually support employees – all while remaining open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Keeping track of operations and the functionality of your hospital is a full-time job.

As facility managers, it’s difficult to manage fully without seeing the real-time numbers of a hospital. Through building analytics, overall facility health can be controlled, managed and improved.

Facility health in three C’s
A facility’s health is no doubt top-of-mind when it comes to facility management. Unfortunately, when staff see energy personnel coming, they too often worry they’ll be strongly encouraged to dim the lights, turn the thermostat down and be forced to don sweaters and blankets. However, facility health is not about energy efficiency at all costs. Rather, it is about facility health first and foremost, especially in the healthcare environment. Facility health includes the three C’s: cost-effectiveness, compliance and comfort.

A healthy facility tends to be energy efficient, but not when facility compliance or comfort are compromised in the process. Doing something rash or uncomfortable is simply unnecessary when there are ample opportunities to improve efficiency without it. The task of every facility operations professional should be to operate a healthy facility, not just to save energy. A heavy focus on the three C’s and building analytics can provide a window into the operational challenges that facilities face each day.

The importance of building analytics
Extracting the digital data already present in a building automation system, building analytics platforms consistently monitor and constantly analyze a building’s operational data, particularly looking for those not-so-great conditions. Building analytics aim to answer the question, “Is the building doing exactly what it needs to do today?” If the answer is “no,” the building operator or facility manager needs to know before it becomes a point of concern with staff, patients or visitors. When that unsatisfactory data is found, the building analytics system pushes an alert to facilities staff to prompt their attention to the matter.

The platform should constantly query the building performance to virtually ask the following:

• Cost-effectiveness and energy: Has the building’s energy consumption fluctuated recently? Where are the main sources of energy coming from? Has our hospital’s energy bill increased or decreased significantly? All answers to where, how much and why can inform the corrective action process.

• Compliance: Are all operating and critical procedure rooms within an acceptable range for pressure, airflow, humidity and temperature? Have any fallen out of compliance? What instigated the change? Measuring this in real time will save major headaches during compliance surveys.

• Comfort: Are waiting rooms, patient rooms and other common area spaces controlling temperatures at or near current setpoints? Has a space deviated more than a couple of degrees from the thermostat set point? It’s critical to improve patient satisfaction by proactively, not reactively, addressing these underlying comfort issues.

Like the much-touted “Internet of Things” in technology spaces, building analytics proactively identifies issues that pertain to building health before they become noticeable. Not only does constant measuring allow the facility performance to be tracked and analyzed, it also provides data to track and report the savings impact of capital investments.

Consider having three KPIs to describe the current health of your facility from the standpoint of the three C’s. When the COO asks, “How’s it going today?” or more directly, “How’s my hospital running today?” you’ll have a solid answer:

“We’re currently at 98 percent comfort, which is up 4 percent from our previous period. Additionally, our compliance is at 99 percent this month, maintaining that level from the last quarter. We’re also saving an additional 50 cents per square foot compared to last month’s data.” With this report card, it is easy to see how the facility is doing month to month and the improvements that are being made.

Final thoughts
When asked by a COO of a hospital or anyone working to improve their facility, “How’s it going today?” can be a loaded question. Building analytics help facility managers answer that question, as well as inform the daily activities of hospital operations. When a portion of the three C’s – cost effectiveness, compliance or comfort – is trending in a negative direction, facility staff can then actively work to correct and improve it before the problem becomes noticeable for patients or visitors. The difference is clear: using building analytics to actively and continuously affect overall facility health is a powerful “way of the future” to leverage technology for facility operations.

About the Author: Jim Prince is director of Energy and Facility Performance Excellence at Medxcel. Medxcel’s building analytics platform gathers HVAC operations and energy consumption data, alerting building operations staff when less-than-optimum issues arise. The platform is a cloud-based system “overlay” to existing BAS that harvests, analyzes, and presents critical operations data.