From the Design Team: Our First Step Toward Connected Buildings
Building operators are busy, busy people. The bulk of their time is spent responding to urgent requests and fighting fires: occupant complaints, sudden breakdowns in heating and cooling, or an unexpected blackout from downed power lines. From dozens of conversations that we’ve had with facility managers, general managers, and chief engineers, we know they aren’t able to proactively address problems and run their buildings the way they would like to.
What if their building could talk to them, and tell them about the problems that are about to happen? Imagine if that building could regulate and fix itself! Not just adjust room temperature, but increase ventilation when there’s an influx of people, or notify a building operator that a motor will burnout soon. That’s the vision of connected buildings.
The truth is that we are still pretty far away from that vision. How do we take the first steps to realizing that future?
At Verdigris, we started by listening to our customers. We visited and interviewed about a dozen building operators to learn about their workflow, daily problems, and existing solutions. How do they find out about building problems now? What kind of information do they get? When? How is it useful? How is it not useful? How do they feel about these solutions? How do they then address these problems?
We also pooled our internal knowledge, through mini design sprints among the Design, Sales, Marketing, and Customer Service teams. Lastly, we looked at what other companies were doing in the world of building management systems and real-time alerts.
From this research, we discovered that we fit into the frameworks of building fault detection and diagnostics (FDD), predictive maintenance, and BMS setpoints. Navigant Research published a great diagram on their point of view on maturity among next-generation building management systems that strongly influenced our thinking on how we at Verdigris approach the path to connected buildings.
We followed 3 guiding principles based on insights into the lives of building operators:
1. Mobile First: building managers and engineers are always on the go
2. Action Oriented: our customers are busy--they just need to know what to do--so we try to not overwhelm them with excess data
3. Just Enough Alerting: email is their preferred method of communication, but these people get pinged all day long. If the same alert comes too often, it will be ignored
Our resulting product is the Verdigris Energy Tracker, a responsive web application for real-time energy alerts.
Customers set power thresholds (like a BMS setpoint) on the relevant equipment or building system of their choosing. They then receive alerts whenever power exceeds or falls below the threshold, so they can learn of new or impending problems before someone else reports it (like FDD and predictive maintenance). We also decided to limit the number of alerts per problem to once an hour, knowing that most building operators wouldn’t have time to respond to a single problem with greater frequency (that whole busy busy thing).
For customers who are able to connect their smart meters to our system, Energy Tracker also gives them a 24 hour forecast of the building’s demand and will alert them if the projected demand is too high.
In the immediate next iteration of Energy Tracker, we will offer a way to automatically create moving setpoints based on our machine learning algorithms - our system will be able to identify unusual equipment activity, with minimal input from building operators. Responsiveness and building controls are also part of our plans for Energy Tracker.
It’s an exciting start and our first step towards realizing the connected buildings of tomorrow.
Want a demo of the Tracker app?