Get Big Building Data Out of My Face

Will big data transform buildings? By all accounts the answer is yes. On all fronts big data is gaining ground and becoming more ubiquitous in building design and operations. For the past ten years building and sustainability managers have been preaching the mantra of “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” and then working out the process and tools to track data. It often times seems like it takes a village to raise building performance; everyone from managers and technicians, to suppliers and public entities must contribute to the effort. But the effort is worth it. We are now witnessing a new generation of buildings – Gen-P (for performance).

The transformative prospect of Gen-P is that it embraces all buildings; both new and existing. USGBC’s twin tag lines for community impact are “Everyone within a green building within this generation” and “All people in”. The tagline for Gen-P is “All buildings in”.

USGBC teased the green building community at Greenbuild 2016 with a trailer for ARC, its new technology platform designed to allow any building to start measuring performance, make improvements, and benchmark against itself. Launch date is tentatively set for December 2016, so more on ARC as details become available.

The launch of ARC offers the possibility of access to building performance data for all, not just the building elite. In this respect big data can go a long way to realize its big transformative purpose. But like any great leader, big data needs to lead from behind to be a catalyst for transformation. It’s what people do with big data that is important, not the data itself.

Big data is powerful when it works seamlessly in the background of our daily lives.  Mobile technology has proven this true. The problem with current data collection methodology is that it is not seamless; it requires too much human input and interface. Will ARC change this? Hopefully it will. If not ARC, then someone else will undoubtedly fill the void given the pace of innovation today.

There is no reason why data collection can’t be automatic between the disparate generators of building data. There is no reason why every utility company can’t automatically transmit energy use and cost data to a technology platform capable of aggregating and analyzing this information. The same is true for water and waste. We have the capability to do this using IOT and intelligence (artificial or otherwise). And to a degree this capability exists already. It’s the democratic access to the tools and technology that will make big data truly transformative.

Many people see the potential of big data to transform human well-being and the built environment in powerfully positive ways. Its full potential lies in its ability to help us solve the big challenges. Big data is not the end but the means by which we improve building performance or improve the human condition. It’s not the data but what people do with it that is truly transformative. Give a man big data and he can bore a room. Give him the tools to use big data and he (or she) will change the world.

image courtesy of the Chicago Architectural Foundation

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