In today’s world, sustainable building design and operation require specialized subject matter experts in everything, from energy consumption to indoor air quality to water usage. Having these specialized experts that deeply understand various aspects of facility operations has become increasingly important, especially as building performance must be measured against strict certification standards like LEED.
These specialized experts, who embody the “it takes a village” mentality, are now expected to work together as a team and take building construction and operational efficiency to the next level. Through collaboration, the silos of inefficient communication can be broken down. How, though, can this approach be used to modernize building operations, and how exactly are silos broken down through this process?
First things first: Getting people aligned around a common goal
Years ago, I had an opportunity to benchmark a large equipment manufacturer and they shared a story of a 30+ year employee who was retiring from the manufacturing line. He asked if he could witness the final assembly of the machinery he built components for. Upon seeing the process, he immediately recognized a simple design improvement for the work he had been doing, which could significantly improve the assembly process. What struck the leaders was that this knowledge was unknowingly locked up for years inside the silos that existed in the organization.
Aligning all the experts in the village around the common goal reframes the goal from an individual approach to a collective approach towards a challenge. The team will be working together to think without bias or ownership about historical practices and procedures. A recent example of this process in action was the design work done at a major healthcare institute in the northeast. The key outcome was improving the patient experience. From this common purpose, the team recognized that the traditional design of the HVAC system could be altered to reduce the likelihood of patient disruption during maintenance and repair. Simply locating a VAV box in the hallway area rather than the patient room furthered the achievement of the common goal. This “collective intelligence” drove the solution for complex problems by pinpointing the most significant areas for improvement within the ecosystem. Simplification in action.
Challenging the Status Quo
Accepting the status quo remains as one of the most common obstacles we face. Antiquated processes, long past their expiration date, must be unpacked and modernized. Starting with the critical question “What is the outcome we need to produce?” and working out from that question is a great momentum builder.
Solutioning that outcome with voices from your own village of experts will typically bring forward new ways of working that make sense for today’s business challenges. Keep in mind that yesterday’s processes typically weren’t built for today’s challenges, and because of this, building owners and managers should review every one of their processes, procedures, and design practices to identify opportunities for automation, simplification, or elimination.
Casting for the experts in your village should include strong consideration for the outside-in voice of suppliers who can bring industry-wide solutions to the table. Application of industry-wide solutions also benefits from improvements made based on the experiences of all users rather than one company.
Unifying power and process automation
New technology and methodologies now enable the digital unification of power and process automation to deliver new levels of operational resilience, efficiency, and improved sustainability across the lifecycle of the building. For example, by moving all the control within the electrical facility over to the process control system, much of the need for dedicated hardware within the electrical gear can be reduced.
Additionally, integrating facility power and process systems’ physical linkages also strengthens a building’s operational resilience by enabling monitoring and visualization of critical power and process assets using digital technologies, remote expertise, and on-site maintenance. By starting the process with the outcomes in mind, and the right casting around the table, the silos come down and the value is unlocked.
As building performance standards become more stringent and occupant expectations continue to evolve, new ways of approaching the modernization challenge are needed. Diversity in thought is an excellent step toward a better outcome. By embracing the “it takes a village” mentality, facilities operations can be revolutionized to have fewer silos, more effective collaboration, and sustainable building design and operation.
By James Mylett, Sr. Vice President U.S. Digital Buildings, Schneider Electric