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Setting Operational Priorities, Understanding Tradeoffs and Measuring Against the Mission

February 01, 2012

This week I'll be building off the previous post about defining the building mission, and will talk about defining the operational priorities for the building, understanding the potential tradeoffs of efficiency measures, and measuring performance against the building mission.

Define operational priorities
Real estate experts act on a vision to achieve an optimal and harmonious balance of infrastructure system performance throughout the entire lifecycle of each building. It's something that Martin Townsend, director, Building Research Establishment (United Kingdom), refers to as the "dual currency of money and environmental metrics” needed to accomplish building life-cycle goals.  Optimizing the occupant experience of tenants and other primary stakeholders has everything to do with considering sustained system efficiency, reliability and a healthy environment.

Based upon the specific mission of any building, defining operational priorities in the building is the first critical step in attaining the high performance balance that can characterize the facility’s operational life for many years. Defining operational metrics and priorities with a process to measure and validate ensures the facility is managed to sustainably support the overall building mission. Common practices are measuring and adhering to critical space temperature specifications, relative humidity levels, differential space pressures, maintaining short exposure and long exposure CO or CO2 levels, managing energy consumption and demand profiles and maintaining acoustics guidelines.

Explicitly defining operational requirements allow decision makers to more effectively prioritize, identify and measure tradeoffs that guide decision making as organizations face the challenges of controlling the bottom line while meeting objectives and advancing their mission.

Understand the tradeoffs
Over the years, experts have been developing an understanding of how best to achieve energy efficiency in buildings designed at a time when such considerations were clearly second-tier objectives. The pendulum has, at times, swung from excessive energy use to building “health” concerns.

Buildings that have been “improved” in the name of energy cost reductions – sometimes at the expense of a healthy environment, sufficient ventilation, lighting levels or air quality – would not be considered today among its peer class of High Performance Buildings. Occupants obviously value long-term, premium health and safety standards, well-lit, quiet work areas, and highly comfortable conditions – again, a harmonious existence of cost control and high-end performance.

Sometimes the efficiency measures that best achieve the identified operational priorities may include potential tradeoffs that should be fully assessed to avoid longer-term "side effects" – remediation of which may cost more money than is saved in energy dollars by efficiency measures.

For example, well-meaning efforts throughout the 1990s to decrease energy use in school districts carry some responsibility for current indoor air quality (IAQ),  mold problems and other consequential issues, when these measures are developed without a clear understanding of operational consequences. A “tight” building that goes “dark” and is absent of air movement or light for long unoccupied periods may begin to show signs of mildew if relative humidity levels are not properly controlled.

This creates potential health problem for students and staff. The costly remediation for this circumstance easily exceeds the value of energy saved from the initial conservation attempts.

Measure and report against the mission
Industry experts take advantage of opportunities that avert downtime, save operating costs and prevent catastrophic failures while creating a productive occupant environment.

The use of technology aids this by allowing building operators to align energy use with building operations, occupancy and other critical factors that drive a buildings’ life-cycle cost structure. Building owners can tune into how, when and why building systems demand and consume energy.

Communicating with building sites and remotely collecting data makes a significant difference in mission driven and life cycle decision-making. Remote building monitoring collects information that is used to maintain the focus on delivering the building’s mission. The information that is collected should support the aforementioned operational priorities. The key metrics that keep the organization focused on balancing the proper tradeoffs should be routinely reviewed. Prompt notification of abnormalities in key metrics can save precious time and painful consequences.

An opportunity to provide remote inspections of key metrics to supplement physical site inspections (evenings, off-hours, holidays) delivers the possibility of uncovering accurate operational information at lower cost around the clock, throughout the calendar year.  Such remote inspections validate system operation schedules. This gives us the ability to validate systems and components that should be on-or-offline and that critical operating standards are being maintained.

Technology can also be applied to deliver cost-effective, real-time testing that serves as a leading indicator of future performance (i.e., ‘real time to failure’ metrics), efficiency and reliability.

These types of technologies have become cost-effective means of better managing building systems, often translating into double-digit percentage decreases in annual operating cost avoidance without sacrificing reliability.

Up next: Calling on Partners to Deliver the Vision