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My BAS Can Do That: And other Myths about BAS Analytics

I have had the privilege of working in the automation industry for more than a decade and have seen it move from stand-alone systems all the way to full-blown web-based platforms. However, until recently, we have not had the ability to capture, analyze, and report on massive amounts of data.

Throughout the article I will discuss the changing world of Building Automation and how BAS Analytics provides a new approach to building automation that ultimately benefits the entire contracting tier including and most importantly the owner.

The Shift

Our industry is like a delayed case of food poisoning, your body kinda aches and you know something isn't right but until the symptoms hit and the reality of what you have sets in you really don't prepare your food any differently.

What do I mean you ask?

Well let's look at Pneumatics, why in the world do we still have buildings that are primarily running their HVAC systems off pneumatics? Most people throw out phrases like reliability or cost of replacement. I challenge you to put a properly tuned self-adjusting BAS system  against a properly tuned pneumatic system . It's like having  an Olympic athlete compete in an elementary school field day, there simple is no contest.

Our industry has always lagged behind in terms of technology, maybe it has something to do with being responsible for life safety and environmental conditions. Whatever the reason we tend to be slow adopters.

So I took it with a grain of salt when I heard someone speak up in the back of one my demonstrations telling me how their BAS system can do analytics, reporting, and the like. I don't disagree that a BAS system can do some of those things, I can write global sub-routines to compare a variety of points and to produce analytics (I have done this in the past on several different BAS systems).

Let's be real. "Doing" analytics on your BAS is like using a using a Yugo instead of a Ferrari to hit 120 MPH. Sure they will both get there but one will be a much more painful experience then the other.

Ok, enough of the allegory and metaphors, there has been a shift happening in our industry. People are starting to wake up and realize that if they can mine data from their SAP or Salesforce.com databases to find correlations leading to insight that effects their business outcomes, why can't they apply the same technology to their BAS(s)?

There seems to be 3 major hurdles that a customer needs to over come before they can truly embrace this technology.

Hurdle 1:  I can do that with my BAS

Hand Drill

Yes you can, there I said it.

The 3 key words no Analytics provider wants you to hear. However, and herein lies the rub, I can make coffee with a french press, I can mow my yard with a motor-less lawn motor, I can drill holes with a hand driven drill.... Ok, you all are smart you get the picture.

There are a lot of things you can do manually but I think everyone would agree that making coffee with an automatic drip is easier and mowing your lawn with a self-driven mower is a little less exhausting.

So then why in the world do I get people who want to manually setup trends in their BAS, write custom logic, and spend their spare time on weekends compiling disparate data into reports that may or may not make sense? Well I am going to be a little politically incorrect here and say it comes down to 2 things.

Either people don't believe in the technology (ok I admit not very risky there) or the more touchy subject of people think it will show that they aren't doing their jobs or it will replace them.

Let's deal with the latter first as hurdle number 2.

Hurdle 2: The Unspoken Fear

"What gets measured gets done" or so the saying goes, management by metrics, drive everything down to a number, nothing can be intangible, nothing left to chance. The reality is that even the best micro managed platforms still fail, things get missed, pilots land to short on a runway and baam the tail of a plane is missing. You cannot prevent mistakes you can only learn from them.

So what is more risky?

Not monitoring your systems at a deep level, allowing 24x7 analytics to pinpoint potential failures or having a system that shows you missed something that you still have time to go fix? I have never met a facility director or maintenance mechanic who got fired for finding a missed maintenance task and fixing it before a failure. On the flip side I have seen many people get fired for failures that could have been avoided with a bit of maintenance and proactive notification.

I remember the big push from pneumatics to DDC and ultimately from DDC to Web-based platforms. Here is the uncomfortable truth, if you do not embrace technology and you do not embrace the future you will be left behind.

How many of you are finding newly constructed buildings with vacuum tubes running their IT structure?

How many of you are finding electro-mechanical thermostats controlling a central plant for a new campus?

I knew no hands would go up... Yet we keep handicapping ourselves, holding ourselves short from embracing technology and growing our marketability because we are afraid. Afraid of loosing our jobs, of being found out as not doing "100%", of not being able to learn the tools, software, ect.

I can't make this leap for you, people like myself who want to educate the community stand ready to help you learn but you have to decide to take the first step.

Think of the consequences if you lived and breathed apples and everyone wanted oranges how long would you wait until you decided you might need to change your approach?

Technology is advancing and the software companies are now starting to get involved in BAS and those who dust off the books and learn the basics will have almost limitless opportunity in the future.

Hurdle 3: What's it Gonna Cost Me?

Alright, we've made some progress your still here, so you either love my writing style or this article is like a train wreck and you just can't bear to look away...

So you agree there may be an easier way to use your BAS, you agree that you need to advance with the technology, now we run into the third and final fear and it goes a little something like this.

"How can I know that this system will produce x,y,z outcome"

"I already am strapped on my budget, how can I afford $10, $100, $1000, 1 million! dollars for your system"

"My guys barely use our system as it is and you think they will use this? How do I know I am not wasting my money"

All of these objections (or fears) are saying the same thing I kinda believe you, it sounds pretty cool but its a bit new and I know and understand what a new VAV, FCU, AHU will do for me how can I understand what your system will do?

Good questions, look if you can't buckle down and get your guys to use your system now then I can't help you. I can give you some pointers on effective operational management and creating measurables that you use to drive accountability but if you aren't doing it now do you really think you will be doing it in the future. I call this the fitness equipment paradox, the more fitness equipment I seem to put in my office the less I workout. Because I don't have the foundation of discipline no tool will help me.

Now shifting away from doom and gloom to the other questions. How do you justify the cost? How do you make sure that a system can reach a specific outcome?

Well, I am a fan of talking to others. Look, I know you all hinge on my every word and that my articles are enlightening but just because Phil Zito said that BAS analytics are awesome isn't very convincing when you present a business case to the CFO, COO, ect. So grab two or three customer references, ask them what they like, more importantly ask them what they don't like and how the company is handling those problems.

Here's the thing, price is relative. If my product costs $10 dollars but costs you $1,000 to operate, that's not a good deal. On the flip side if my product costs $100,000 and people who have bought it in the past are seeing a 10% energy spend reduction or 5% increase in staff efficiency then you do the math and make the business case. Your numbers internally will always be received better than my own.

So What Did I Learn From All This?

I don't know, what did you learn?

Why don't you tell me in the comments?

Ok, maybe that was bit of a shameless plug for comment responses but really, what did you learn?

If you think like me you learned that there are changes afoot in the BAS industry and that you have a choice to make. Do you stick your head in the sand, practice cognitive dissidence and pretend this all is a bad dream or do you embrace the change, learn more than your peers, and position you and your company for success in the here and now as well as in the foreseeable future?

The choice is yours, now let us know what you decided.


Phil Zito

Written by Phil Zito

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