The FM Professional

What FMs Need to Know About Big Data

David Spence
April 16th, 2015

Big Data Explained

What’s big data? A simple question with a not-so-simple answer

How does one define “big data”? While everyone can agree that big data is important, nobody can quite agree on one uniform definition. Here’s what a 2013 story in FacilitiesNet said about its relevance to facilities management:

“McKinsey defines Big Data as “datasets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, store, manage, and analyze.” We’re not talking about simple spreadsheets full of utility bills and asset information tucked away in various facility managers’ PCs. We’re talking about a single database of all that information and more, easily accessible to stakeholders.” 1

But what big data means in general is often debated. In fact, in order to distill “big data” into a succinct definition, two researchers at the University of Scotland asked several different companies, including Microsoft, Oracle and Intel to provide their own definitions. The researchers had their work cut out for them. Each company had a different take, with some saying it depended on the size of the dataset, and others saying it depended on the complexity of the data. 2

Big data as a tool for facilities improvement

Since big data is used in so many different industries, each one may also describe it a little bit differently, according to its use in their field. The healthcare industry may use big data to develop new models of patient treatment; the education industry may use it to achieve better teaching methods; facilities managers may use it to improve the operation of their facilities.

Obviously, there’s common thread here. In spite of its various meanings to many people, big data is often used to improve current processes and solve problems that previously may have taken years to address. For FMs specifically, this means using analytics and tapping into the Internet of Things to ensure that buildings operate more efficiently.

Analytics and the Internet of Things

FMs can use analytics to detect patterns that will help them make better operational decisions. For example, a software program may capture data like energy usage and equipment failure. Reviewing the data, the facilities manager notices when there’s energy being wasted, or when a generator may stall. The FM can then make adjustments that ensure energy is no longer being used unnecessarily, or that the generator is maintained properly to avoid future hiccups.

Such data-gathering software is just one aspect of the Internet of Things, a network in which sensors connected to the Internet are placed in objects, such as an electrical system, and collect data that may be used for reporting and analysis. For example, occupancy sensors may gather data on a room’s usage, which can help a Facility Manager make decisions about space allocation. If rooms on certain floors aren’t being used enough, they may decide to consolidate space in order to cut down on energy expenses, or re-purpose the space for a more fitting use.

Ultimately, big data holds a lot of promise for FMs in terms of identifying cost-savings, preventing equipment failures and conserving energy. So while big data may be uncertain in terms of its taxonomy, it has enormous implications for facilities management. Who knows what other uses may evolve as it becomes an even larger presence over time?

References: [1] How Facilities Managers Can Leverage Big Data Right Now  [2] The Big Data Conundrum: How to Define It?

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