12/9/2014
 
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Facility Management Dashboards: Understanding the Complexities
Author: Anno Scholten, Connexx Energy


Energy and Sustainability Management Software for commercial buildings has quickly become a crowded and confusing market for building owners and operators. Today, a facility energy manager can choose from many energy and sustainability software categories such as benchmarking, energy efficiency, energy utilization, tenant billing, energy bill management, time of use pricing, demand response, supply and demand management, LEED analysis, EnergyStar®, carbon tracking, occupant engagement, fault detection, and more...

Moreover, within each of these categories there could be twenty or more solution providers -- with many focusing on one or two categories and a few attempting to provide a suite of many of these applications. These solution providers range from very large organizations such as energy services companies (ESCOs) to large building automation systems (BAS) manufacturers, plus a plethora of smaller start-up, venture-backed companies.

Most of these energy management applications are now provided as software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud-based solutions utilizing web-based dashboards as their main user interface. Having a unique dashboard for each application from the many different manufacturers has created an enormously complex dashboard environment for the facility manager.

When you add the other two facility management categories, Operations and Occupant Satisfaction, the number of dashboard solutions quickly multiplies. These include applications such as budgeting and forecasting, lease management, tenant management, air quality management, building information modeling, fire and life safety, parking management, digital signage, maintenance and work order management, vendor management, and more…

If you are the operations and energy manager, you could be dealing with twenty to thirty individual dashboards daily! This bewilderment of dashboards is creating a new level of complexity for you. You now have more data than you have ever had in the past for your facility, but each application is operating in its own silo.

Integration

Many of these dashboards do not integrate with each other or easily integrate data among them. Typically, each application runs in its own browser window completely independent from each other. The facility manager typically has a large collection of bookmarks to find each dashboard and requires bigger and multiple monitors to display the dashboards side-by-side.

For example, the energy efficiency dashboard won't seamlessly provide its data to the carbon usage tracking dashboard. Energy analytics applications can provide unique data analysis the output of which would be valuable to the demand response application -- but the energy manager has no easy way to integrate the two. Even today, we see facility managers cutting-and-pasting data between two browser windows!

Connectivity

Each dashboard application provider installs his own data connectivity gateway to the energy systems in the building such as BAS, HVAC, lighting, central plant, metering, etc. Many times, these gateways are proprietary and won't interoperate between different dashboard suppliers.

Further, each gateway typically needs its own external network connection and unique port requirements, causing many meetings and angst between the facility manager and his IT manager.

Security & Cyber Threat Protection

Each dashboard implements security and cyber threat protection in their gateway inconsistently, if at all and many use non-IT industry standards. Each dashboard's gateway introduces another potential security hole in the IT management networks requiring extensive gateway and user security management by the facility manager for each individual dashboard.

Data Ownership

Each dashboard stores a replication of the facility's energy data in their cloud separately. Facility managers are concerned as to who owns the data stored in those clouds and how can they retrieve it if they terminate their relationship with the energy application provider. This can lead to supplier lock-in, something many facility managers have experienced in the past with proprietary protocol systems and don't wish to revisit with their energy management systems.

User Experience

Each dashboard implements a different navigation scheme, menu structures, has different colors, logos, help level, etc. This requires individual training on each dashboard for every operator. Web based user interfaces can also be updated on the cloud by a supplier overnight, causing operator confusion the next day on new layout and features.

User Management

Every dashboard requires its own user sign on/password management. They don't provide a unified, single sign-on access and single, user management capability for all dashboards. As facility managers need to deal with personnel turnover, he must visit each dashboard to remove, change and add operators.

Platform Support

Every dashboard implements different browser platforms (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, HTML5, Flash, iOS, Android, etc.) differently, some better than others. This typically forces the facility manager to either support the lowest common denominator browser for all dashboards, multiple browsers and browsers that may be in conflict with corporate directives and support.

Mobility Support

Most energy management dashboards do not support mobile platforms (iPhone, iPad, Android, etc.) well if at all. Very few have native mobile apps and those that do have inconsistent interfaces. This further magnifies the training issues for the facility manager for each operator and the mobile platforms that his corporation supports.

Meta Data Consistency

Meta data for the points (description, location, attributes, and parameters) are different from dashboard to dashboard – Haystack is attempting to address this issue.

Support

Every dashboard IT issue needs to be solved uniquely. When a specific dashboard stops working, the facility manager must first ask his IT support to make sure there are no issues with the gateway connectivity as IT departments regularly change their access rules or the web browser required by the dashboard needs an update, or had been updated and now making it incompatible with the dashboard.

Each dashboard provider provides software updates on different schedules, requiring advisories and notifications to the facility manager on the latest software patch. With multiple, unique dashboards, the facility managers are inundated with notifications every week.

So, how do we help the facility manager with his complicated dashboard environment? We start with the three most irksome issues: data collection, data security and data ownership. Ideally, there should be a single data gateway or at a minimum, a single technology data gateway. This gateway should not expose any part of the network to the public Internet and implement all IT industry standard security processes. The gateway should be fully protected against all cyber threats and have full audit capability of all remote access. All energy data should be normalized and stored in a customer owned big-data cloud and the customer would have full control in providing managed access to this data for each energy management application that he authorizes.

SaaS, cloud, and mobile technologies have rapidly evolved energy management software over the last ten years and will continue to do so. This has been a boon for the market as we now have a much greater choice of applications and manufacturers. However, we must ensure we don’t perpetuate dashboard hell for the facility and energy managers who need to work with these systems.


About Connexx Energy Inc.

Connexx Energy is a leading developer of applications and turnkey solutions that connect building and energy management systems together. Connexx Energy develops 'last mile' solutions for Smart Grid and Smart Building technologies. Connexx Energy has significant knowledge, expertise and relationships in both building automation systems and energy management systems, which enable it to create cost effective and highly scalable connectivity and data management solutions.


About Anno Scholten

Anno Scholten, C.E.M, C.D.S.M, is President of Connexx Energy, a leading developer of applications and turnkey solutions that connect building and energy management systems.

Anno has spent the last 25 years driving innovation in building control systems and smart grid technologies. He has developed leading edge, smart grid energy products for the commercial building markets.

During the last decade Anno has been a major contributor and leader in a number of critical standards efforts that have transformed building automation systems including BACnet, LON, and oBIX. He is a widely recognized industry expert and sought after speaker at building automation and smart grid conferences and holds US Patents on Distributed-Architecture Building Controller, Automated Load Control and Dispatch System and System for Improved Energy Utilization of a Large Building or Facility.

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About Our Sponsor: Connexx Energy is a leading developer of applications and turnkey solutions that connect building and energy management systems together. Connexx Energy develops 'last mile' solutions for Smart Grid and Smart Building technologies. Connexx Energy has significant knowledge, expertise and relationships in both building automation systems and energy management systems, which enable it to create cost effective and highly scalable connectivity and data management solutions.
 

 
 
 
 
 
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