The Return: Building Automation Data Drives New Tools for Workplace Re-entry to Measure Conditions and Raise the Comfort Level

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

Creating the safest possible conditions for workplace occupants is a top-of-mind concern for companies these days. Luckily, new tools driven by data can assist companies by measuring conditions and raising the comfort level of returning employees. While each city, state, and country reopening plans will look different, there is a universal commitment to get buildings and communities moving forward safely.

Preparing buildings and spaces for the safe re-entry of workers during COVID-19 involves new seating/floor plans to meet social distancing guidelines, new workplace etiquette, and even new plans for addressing specialty areas like lobbies, meeting rooms, cafeterias, gyms, showers and lockers, mailrooms, and more.

A new, global offering from Arc, an affiliate of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), provides a set of tools and analytics designed to assist companies with employee re-entering plans. Using building automation data, Arc Re-Entry tools can be used to benchmark infection-control policies and procedures, collect occupant experiences, and track indoor air quality.

The offering focuses on three key strategies:

  • Facility Management – share and compare information on policies and procedures used to manage the spread of infectious disease.
  • Occupant Observations – engage occupants to understand their experience, increase transparency, and help build confidence in re-entry.
  • Indoor Air Quality – measure conditions to inform management and target action to improve occupant experience.

Benchmarking a Building Performance Score and Quoting Hans Solo

With these key strategies, facility managers can use Arc Re-Entry to benchmark a performance score for their buildings and evaluate the suitability of their buildings for safe re-entry. The score also helps identify opportunities to implement LEED’s Safety First Credits and the WELL Health-Safety Rating. Arc Essentials subscribers will receive a re-entry performance dashboard and a Project Performance Report. The re-entry report provides insights into what goes into the score and can help users determine where the problems are and how they can make improvements.

Facility Management evaluations are done through a facility manager survey and Occupant observations through a separate survey. Both of these rely on “opinions” and are, therefore, somewhat subjective. Indoor air quality is assessed through IoT sensor data collection by computers so, if executed correctly, it is highly accurate and actionable. As Hans Solo told Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, “Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it?” In this case, getting the data in a reliable, useable format, and normalizing that data is the trick.

Just like that bar in Mos Eisley Space Port, not all things talk the same language, be it bounty hunters and space pirates in Star Wars, or, in this case, IoT sensors. The structure and naming of the data is unfortunately not standardized and varies widely, not only from country to country but also from building to building. For example, a room temperature sensor could have the following names (or many more): RmTmp, SDH_SF1_R282_RMT, SODA1R300__ART, or GT11. When connecting a building management system (BMS), a human programmer must “normalize” (e.g., tell the algorithm that GT11 and all the other data labels for room temperature are all normalized together). Luckily, BMSs like Schneider’s EcoStruxure Building Operation, an IoT-enabled, open, interoperable architecture, and its Exchange Platform that normalize data to turn it into useful analytics for service providers or for integration into external systems like Arc Re-Entry.

This is How it Works

The BMS collects data that is uploaded to the Exchange platform via our Smart Connector, a type of middleware used to integrate systems. Once on Exchange, the sensor data is normalized and stored in a data lake in the Exchange platform’s cloud (Azure in this case). The data is then “exposed” through easy-to-access “buckets” called APIs (application program interface). This can be accessed either as a dataset API available in the Exchange store or the APIs from Arc can be used to make the data available within the Arc platform. We have developed an Application Note outlining how this whole process works.

Also, Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Engage Enterprise App can be used to distribute the Facility Management and Occupant surveys. This innovative app provides employees access to information they need to get their jobs done anywhere, anytime. Out-of-the-box applications include room booking, company directory, navigation, maintenance ticketing, helpdesk access, dining information, and room comfort controls. Built on a robust and easy-to-use mobile platform, the app can be easily setup to share corporate communications and directives, such as the Arc Re-Entry program occupant survey.

Using Data-driven Tools for a Smart Re-entry to the Office

Creating the safest possible conditions for workplace occupants will be high priority for all companies going forward, not only in response to pandemics. Facility managers are evolving their scope and skill sets and are now becoming experts on monitoring things like relative humidity, carbon dioxide concentration, and particulate matter in their buildings. Architectures like EcoStruxure are designed to get the data normalized and exposed through APIs to make it as easy and accurate as possible for programs like ARC Re-Entry.

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