In last month’s article I wrote about the need for consulting engineers during this period of reoccupancy. This month’s article is focused on the next important topic: data. It seems lately that every company out there has some innovate digital twin or BIM modeling solution that will solve all your problems. The challenge lies in the question, “What problem?” 

Having worked on hundreds of smart buildings, I can tell you that the access to data and models is not a problem. “Smart buildings” have massive amounts of data. What they do not have is context and structure. Now, some would argue that this is even more of a reason why digital twin, analytics, and BIM modeling must be applied to new and existing buildings. 

I disagree. What we really need is structure to add context to the data we already have.  

I feel we often forget there are people who need to operate these buildings long after we are gone. We can give them all of the fanciest technology in the world, but, upon the first service call, that all goes out the window, and the building operators fall back on what they know.  

That is why as designers and implementers our focus should be on creating context and structure to the data that already exists in the building.  

What good are analytics if each building calls a zone temperature sensor something different. I can hear it now, “but Phil, that’s why we have tagging.” OK, but let’s be real, the average end user isn’t searching for tags; he or she is looking at the system tree and/or graphics and making a decision. If that graphic doesn’t match the one from the building the operator typically services, then guess what, it’s operator override time.  

Seriously, that’s how things work in the real world — not the mystical make-believe land of models and projections, but the real world, where you have 20 different hot and cold calls and with enough time to respond to two or three of those calls.  

“But, Phil, that’s why analytics exist.” Don’t get me wrong, I definitely believe analytics exist but not for the reasons you’re probably seeing them marketed (more on this in next month’s article). The reality is, we need to think of the operator. 

So, what can you do? 

1) Insist on standards — Help your customers create graphics and naming standards. You’d be shocked how much this will help. 

2) Insist on training — Teach customers how to actually use their system(s), and, no, the eight hours included in the specification (which really ends up being three hours plus the time it takes to eat the doughnuts the “trainer” brought with them) does not count. 

3) Ensure the as-builts and O&M’s are accurate — Making sure that documentation is accurate can be difficult. I get it, you have thousands of pages to review. But this is the one thing that will be with the customer forever, so please put time and focus into getting the final O&M set right.