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Using location analytics to help sustain the built environment

4 min read


There are three core questions that need to be answered if you’re interested in sustainable facilities management, according to John Young, lead for Federal Real Property and Facility Management Solutions for Esri.

  1. What is the current state of your facility’s assets?
  2. What is the level of service your tenants require?
  3. What assets are critical to sustain that performance level?

Once you know the answers, you can turn to location analytics to assist you in sustaining your built environment, Young said during his presentation at Greenbuild in San Francisco.

Geographic information systems (GIS) has been around for 40 years or so, and it has been used in various industries, but it’s only in the past decade that the systems have made their ways into buildings — to look at spaces, departments and assets — to create layers of spatial data that can enhance facility operations and performance management, said Young.

What is GIS?

GIS is a system that collects and stores all sorts of geographical data that can then be examined to find relationships, trends and patterns. This includes energy and sustainability key performance metrics. Simply put, it helps solve problems.

For instance, think about the amount of energy that a college campus or military base uses and assume your company’s been hired to do an energy audit and devise alternatives to help the buildings become more energy efficient.

Enter GIS.

A good bit of geospatial data is openly available, so you don’t need to start from scratch. If you’re working on a federal project, look at Geospatial Platform. If you’re working on a local government project, most states have geospatial data available for free. Young also mentioned new map and application templates specifically designed to help facility management professionals implement and take advantage of ArcGIS.

Click on image to enlarge graphic.

Data collection

First, you need to collect the available data. This can come from the complex’s owner, city records of building type, use, age and systems in place and utility companies, said Nadja Turek, PE, LEED AP BD+C and director of sustainability services at Woolpert, a design, geospatial and infrastructure management firm.

Enter that data into the GIS.

You could then deploy a bunch of people with thermal hand-held cameras to detect the infrared energy emitted, transmitted or reflected by all materials. However, if the complex is even moderately large, this could take a long time. Instead, think about deploying an all-terrain vehicle with thermal cameras combined with an aerial flyover by an aircraft equipped with infrared imaging tools. This can give you real data about energy use and help you pinpoint where the weakest areas are.

The flyover can also uncover the exact location of underground pipes and the interior mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, and it can detect problem areas in roofs before leaks develop, Turek said.

Enter the imaging information to the GIS, where it is stored as raster imagery and delivered in georeferenced vector and raster datasets that easily integrate with other GIS data already entered.

The imaging information, once in the GIS, can be directly laid over existing plans to find discrepancies in the location of systems and save the expense of cutting through walls or digging up earth in pursuit of a pipe that isn’t really where the plan said it was, Turek noted. It can help you determine which critical assets need maintenance to keep the required service levels at peak and can be used to develop a capital improvement campaign, categorized by priorities.

This whole thing can also be done on the city level, such as was done in Goteborg, Sweden, Turek said.

What GIS provides

The longer you can make a building last, the better, said Esri’s Young. And GIS can help accomplish this. GIS lets you visualize what is where and, Young said, facilitates:

  • Maintenance management
  • Space management
  • Wayfinding
  • Safety security
  • Energy management
  • Capital improvement planning
  • Sustainability reporting
Click on image to enlarge graphic.

If you manage your infrastructure and capital assets with sustainable best practices, you can minimize the cost of owning and operating them – all while delivering the environment and service customers and occupants want, Young said.