Brian Vaughn, P.E., is a Senior Digital Solution Engineer at Current, powered by GE. This article was originally posted on LinkedIn on December 4, 2018. You can connect with Brian on LinkedIn and see his original post here.
My dad always told me the story about his older brother teaching him how to drive. The claim was that you couldn’t pass the driving test unless you could make a left turn while smoking a cigarette, had a coffee (the original story was a beer, but I’ll be more responsible in my storytelling) in the other hand, and were able to downshift without spilling. You probably also had to keep yourself from sliding down the bench seat as there likely was no seat belt. This was not the same challenge laid to me when I was learning how to drive. The car monitored RPM and shifted itself, I was safely held in place by a bucket seat and seat belt, smoking was frowned upon in high school, and some cars had this unique idea of a cup holder. I was, however, taken into an empty parking lot after fresh snowfalls and encouraged to do donuts so I would be comfortable with recovering from a skid. Tomorrow (figuratively, although today will feel like yesterday 10 years from now) when my kids learn to drive, what will have changed for them? I doubt I will have to teach my kids how to be comfortable doing donuts as the cars of tomorrow won’t be able to. The “skills” required to use an automobile to get from point A to point B have without a doubt decreased. We don’t have to operate a clutch and monitor RPM to shift gears. We likely can go years without ever having to change a tire and there is a dummy light telling us when there is a problem, or when a tire has low pressure. The number of items we have to monitor or perform while driving has been reduced, making it a much easier task.
How does this relate to operating a facility? Can you imagine driving a car with no dashboard? No indication of how much gas you have until you run out, nothing tracking the miles driven until the oil fails, no idea how fast you are going until the lovely police officer is handing you the speeding ticket. That was the case with the first automobiles. In some facilities, we truly have no data and we operate by feel. More likely we get traditional data points around what equipment is operating and some parameters on space temperature and the equipment. This rarely translates to anything about how they are performing outside the mechanical/electrical rooms or how efficiently they are operating. Most feedback is after the fact—after they failed their occupants, or the bill was more than expected. Cruise control is a good anecdote as well. We originally would have to monitor speed and modulate the gas and brake pedals with our foot; the human being the continuous control loop. In the beginning, building operators likely had to continuously turn valves or add fuel to maintain heating temperatures in the building or not maintain a consistent temperature. At some point we developed thermostatic control to operate these things automatically. Likewise, cruise control was developed to monitor speed and increase or decrease fuel to maintain the setpoint. This was great, but not good enough. Now the goal became how close could you get to the car ahead of you before putting your foot on the brake to intervene with the automation. Cruise control was designed to maintain a specific speed, but what we really wanted was something to keep whatever speed without me intervening or running into something. Now with sensors in cars, the car can monitor other vehicles around it and adjust the setpoint. We tell it we want to be going 65 mph, but if the car detects slower cars it adjusts that setpoint so I don’t have to, thereby accomplishing the true goal. The Internet of Things (IoT) can do the same in buildings. Ideally, we want the temperature to be 72 degrees, but I really don’t care if it is 70 or 74 as long as people are comfortable. With IoT sensors and people being able to provide feedback from apps, the setpoint can adjust itself accordingly and accomplish my true goal. Having someone call to complain and forcing an operator manually change the setpoint is the same as putting your foot on the brake.
IoT is going to enable the collection of information about the experience facility managers are providing to their occupants, figuratively giving them the speedometer, GPS data of where they are, and feedback on how the car is performing. The analytics on that data set will provide the blind spot detection, fuel economy, adaptive cruise control, the lane departure warning, and the “BRAKE!” signal. This will avoid the speeding ticket, keep the experience within the lane, avoid accidents, and get to the right destination on time. The sensor data we can collect will get predictive in nature, so we can provide navigation telling facility managers of an upcoming turn rather than passing the intersection and realizing they missed it. We can expand beyond telling the driver how much energy they are burning at this moment and extrapolate that to how much they have left within a monthly budget or target.
But we can’t just inundate the driver with more feedback. If we gave a dashboard of the data points required to continuously tweak engine performance, the driver would never be able to watch the road. Likewise, the automation of adaptive cruise control, lane keeping technology, and autonomous driving is reducing the need to be 100% focused for the duration of the ride, reducing the stress of driving while improving the outcome. I think this is something that facilities need to consider. Facility managers and their financial teams look at the ROI from utility bill savings as the justification for IoT. This is not the primary driver. FM providers need to realize the main product being delivered to the customer is experience of a well-maintained space, which is being done so with little real-time feedback. They should be turning to IoT to help improve the experience and greatly improve the repeatability of delivering those quality experiences. Operators are currently doing this on intuition and feeling, or the thought that “this is how we always did it.” We don’t know about issues until they impact the occupant. What is the ROI on improved experiences or improving the reliability of the product being delivered to the occupants?
Were automobile drivers likely way more skilled in the 1950s than they are in 2018? I bet so, but we are safer, more efficient, and more comfortable today. Some of these technologies save money at the pump, but primarily they improve my driving experience and everyone’s safety on the road. Is your FM team or provider considering this or looking at energy ROI when evaluating IoT technology?
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