Missing Data? You Can Still Get Great Analytics!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an analyst with a data set must be in want of a protocol to deal with missing data (my apologies to Jane Austen).  In our work analyzing data related to buildings and facilities, NIKA’s analysts often find that the facility managers are missing information that we would need to help them better predict equipment failure or develop maintenance schedules or manage inventory.  If this sounds familiar, don’t fret – there are several ways to deal with missing data, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Option 1: Only Analyze Complete Data Sets
While this would be analytically pure, it is extremely limiting.  Perfect data sets are only slightly less rare than unicorn sightings, and only accepting complete data sets may mean that there is questionable data that should be excluded that isn’t, such as when there is an expenditure or cost that’s out of range with the rest of the data.

Option 2: Ignore Incomplete Records
This is a valid option, provided the data set is large enough and the number of incomplete records is proportionally small; statistical literature normally limits this to around 5% of the records. There may be cases, however, where this is a poor fit, such as a building’s energy consumption reported on a monthly basis. For example, if only the hottest months are missing, then your analysis is not going to take into account all the air conditioning that’s used in those months.

Option 3: Use Estimates
This option has the advantage of making the data set complete.  However, there are many different ways to make an estimate and a particular philosophy or reasoning must be chosen. In general, you want to treat each instance of missing data the same way.  When you choose a method for using an estimate, you will have to defend it.  An experienced data analytics expert can help you use proven estimation methodologies and calculations, like regression analysis, to fill in the blanks and get a more accurate picture of your overall facility health.

If you’ve thought about turning to data analytics to help improve facility operations, but were worried that your data isn’t accurate or complete enough, there are options available to you. Data analytics is a complex field requiring diverse expertise, including business, mathematics, and technology. These disciplines all come together to create a holistic view of your organization’s facilities. The Enterprise Technologies team at NIKA has extensive experience turning all kind of data into actionable analytics. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you increase the useful life of buildings and equipment in your facility portfolio.



Math that Makes Sense: Regression Analysis for Facility Management

Predictive analytics are becoming increasingly important in the realm of facility management. Being able to effectively forecast outcomes – whether related to equipment performance or construction scheduling – is a key element of the way NIKA’s Enterprise Technologies experts help organizations better manage facility projects across the globe.

For example, given data on completed construction projects, you can estimate the length of time a new project will actually take, using the cost and original duration that the construction company gives you.  If you have data on energy consumption in a building and the outside temperature, you can estimate how much electricity or natural gas the building will consume on a given day. A great tool for making these kinds of predictions is regression analysis.

Understanding Regression Analysis

With any data set, there are three main groups of analysis that can be performed: reporting on what the data is, correlation analysis (or how some of the data relates to other parts of the data), and predictive analysis (or using the data to predict what will happen in the future).

Regression analysis falls into the latter category. It takes data from observations and finds the function that best fits them.  A regression model predicts a variable by combining independent variables.

Statistical software packages calculate the coefficients of the variables and the statistical values of R-squared and p-value.  The R-squared¹ can be described as the fit of the model, and a higher value is better (a perfect model has an R-squared of 1).  The p-value² is the statistical significance of the model or variable, and a lower value is better.

What is Needed for Regression Analysis?

First and foremost, you need a data set with plenty of observations.  You can use a smaller data set provided the data reflect a group with more commonalities.  For example, if you are looking at a data set containing information on chukwar partridges, it could be smaller than one which contains multiple kinds of birds.

Next, you should decide how to deal with outliers³.  If you have a large data set, the effect of outliers is minimal.  If you don’t have a large data set, then you might want to consider removing the outliers so they don’t exert too much influence on the model.

It is always best to have a complete data set with many observations, all of which have no missing data.  This is the ideal, but we can also work with data sets are not ideal.  If there is missing data, it is necessary to consider whether the missing data is randomly distributed or if there is a pattern.  Depending on the number of records, either incomplete records can be removed or use estimates/imputed data to fill the gaps of data that is missing at random.

If you are familiar with the data or have beliefs that data is connected (whether from experience or literature), then you can jump right into the regression analysis.  If you are not, then you will want to see if there are relationships between the data.  You can do this by running correlation analysis or taking a look at scatterplots.  This may inform you that you should transform the data to turn it into a linear relationship between the data.

What Does Regression Analysis Tell Me?

Once you run your regression analysis, you have a model for your dependent variable (what you are trying to predict).  It can be for energy usage, construction costs, or political outcomes.  Take a look at the R-squared and p-values for the coefficients and model to make sure that they are sufficient.  If they are, then it’s great!  You can plug in values to see what your dependent variable would be in that case.  If they are not, then you might want to check your premise or the data you have.

Even if you have a model that isn’t great at predicting your dependent variable, it can still be useful in discussing the effect of the independent variables on it.  If a variable has a positive coefficient in the model, then an increase in that variable will increase the dependent variable; a negative coefficient means the opposite.

Regression Analysis in Action

Here at NIKA, we have used regression analysis in many different ways. Case in point: We were hired by an organization whose construction contractor was assuring them that their project was running on schedule. Our client had a gut feeling that that wasn’t the case. NIKA’s Enterprise Technologies team performed regression analysis on similar completed projects, and produced a model that projected the construction project would be completed two years after the anticipated completion date, confirming the client’s suspicion. Based upon the objective analysis, our client was able to prepare a more realistic scenario for the project’s completion and wait to assign the initial outfitting money that would have been spent on an unfinished project.

For more information on how regression analysis and predictive analytics can be put to work for your facilities, contact NIKA’s Enterprise Technologies team.

¹ More formally, the R-squared is the amount of variance explained by the model.  Valid R-squared values vary according to discipline, some hold that anything over 0.5 is good, while there have       been published economics articles with R-squared values in the neighborhood of 0.4.

² Likewise more formally, the p-value is the probability that the null hypothesis (that is, the coefficient of the variable is 0) holds.  The generally accepted level of statistical significance is to have a     p-value of 0.05 or less.

³ In the statistical sense, not the Malcolm Gladwell book.


Business Intelligence Solutions for Effective Energy and Water Management

Energy and water management is a critical component of maintaining a successful and efficient facility portfolio. Healthcare facilities use enormous amounts of energy and water, and they require complex systems to provide continuous care. Each of those systems generates important information that can be used to drive actionable conservation strategies that enhance day-to-day operations. In order to harness the power of that data, however, facility owners must be prepared to shed outdated processes and implement innovative business intelligence (BI) measures that will help usher these properties into the future.

At NIKA, we are innovating and improving upon the data collection process and, more importantly, the means by which to analyze that data. By taking organizations out of the dark ages of spreadsheets and packaged reports, we are able to implement fully functional BI tools that have the ability to create a baseline of information, track trends, monitor performance changes, and guide maintenance programs.

NIKA starts with data warehousing, a process that includes conducting client meetings, whiteboarding options, configuring dataflows, and ultimately coming together to build a custom solution that meets each client’s unique needs. We gather data from public, private, and proprietary sources to build solutions and identify any critical holes in the data.

Data quality is an important factor that is often overlooked. Reports and analytics are useless if they are built on faulty or incomplete information. While typically used in the business world to measure performance, we’ve found that a “scorecard” can be a dynamic and effective tool for measuring data quality, as well. These scorecards can highlight gaps or anomalies in data that must be resolved before moving forward.

Once data quality has been verified or remedied, the process moves forward to the exciting part – the big payoff!

While the overarching goal of this type of project is to create a baseline of information and track trending and performance changes, the beauty of a powerful BI tool is its ability to adapt and give more.  For example, if a single utility bill is identified as being substantially higher at one facility than those around it, we can then investigate the issue to determine if there are unique variables, faulty equipment, or other factors. In one instance, the NIKA scorecard helped a government client identify a recurring typo on an automated energy bill that resulted in overspending by close to one million dollars over the course of a year. With the power of our BI tool, not only were we able to spot this outlier, but instantly pull up the underlying documents and show them how the error had been occurring so the client could demand a refund.

Business intelligence solutions provide at-a-glance representations of energy and water consumption and cost over time at a given facility, helping energy program managers identify opportunities for energy efficiency and improved building performance. See an immediate impact on your ability to save money, comply with regulations, take advantage of energy incentives, increase system efficiency, prolong the effective life of systems, and promote environmental stewardship.

Contact NIKA to discuss how we can unlock your company’s data with a detailed business intelligence solution.




Customized Facility Data Solutions: How Data Collection, Interpretation, and Reporting Can Extend the Life of Your Real Property

Industry 4.0, also known as the fourth industrial revolution, is a concept that relies heavily on the role of big data and analytics on industry as we move into the future. One of the key impact areas of Industry 4.0 is the product lifecycle, which directly affects the profitability and longevity of critical systems in our facilities and buildings. Critical mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems require measured and efficient approach to maintenance and management in order to extend the product lifecycle. Preventative and predictive maintenance of HVAC systems, for example, naturally reduces the costs of replacing equipment more often than is necessary and can reduce annual energy costs by 5-40 percent.

In order to achieve these reduced costs and energy efficiency goals, organizations must utilize innovative data collection, interpretation and reporting techniques that support preventative and predictive maintenance strategies. Unfortunately, there are few “off-the-shelf” products that effectively address these widespread facility needs. Instead, companies like NIKA are pioneering practical, easy-to-use custom solutions that have a direct impact on the lifecycle and longevity of critical MEP systems.

 In 2015, a U.S. military agency approached NIKA with concerns about the quality of the water treatment program at their 78 healthcare facilities across the globe. Anecdotal evidence suggested that equipment requiring the pass-through of water (cooling towers, chillers, boilers, valves, piping, etc.) was failing more often or more quickly than would normally be expected. These failures were resulting in higher than anticipated capital expenditures which were negatively affecting their facility budgets. NIKA estimates that the military and other agencies could potentially lose millions of dollars of lost money in failing systems due to mistreated water. A process or tool that helps to track the quality of water to extend the life expectancy of water treatment systems by 5-10 years, could result in significant cost savings for the agency.

To prepare for this project, NIKA conducted a series of site visit studies to evaluate the quality of the water at representative facilities. These studies quickly revealed that the water at their facilities was often not meeting requirements established in Unified Facilities Guide Specifications (UFGS).

The NIKA team found that, while each site was already being serviced by water treatment contractors, those contractors were not collecting uniform data, were not collecting data specific to UFGS requirements, and were using their own discretion as to the type and amount of chemicals used in the water treatment process. Without really considering that the contractors have a vested interest in selling chemicals and testing out-of-spec, the government was not properly instructing contractors on the government’s treatment requirements and guidelines.

Furthermore, the government’s facility managers were only receiving handwritten information deemed important by the contractor themselves. They did not have consistent, detailed, actionable information about the measurements that were being taken and, thus, had no way to make recommendations to their supervisors based on quantitative data.

Based upon discussions with facility managers and military health leaders, NIKA established a set of basic objectives for this project:

  1. Help the client protect the capital investment of their facilities equipment.
  2. Establish a set of UFC/UFGS specifications that should be measured across all facilities.
  3. Develop a tool for recording, analyzing and reporting water data.

Ultimately, the client needed a solution that would centralize the throughput of data and help them enforce guidelines based upon that data.

Based upon the client’s determined needs, NIKA proposed to design a website where contractors could simply and easily record the requested water measurement information and submit a report for the facility manager. The website would be used across all facilities, allowing for viewing at both the facility and enterprise levels.

Once the client signed off on the idea, NIKA faced a critical challenge in the development process: Where would the website be hosted? In order to achieve the client’s goals, the website had to be accessible from any device, anywhere, at any time. The website, which was built on the .NET Framework using a MS SQL server, needed to be a web-based application that allowed for adaptability to different mobile devices. These considerations naturally led NIKA’s developers to select cloud hosting (using Amazon Web Services on NIKA’s own domain), which gives secure access to water contractors, facility managers, and project stakeholders alike, all accessible by Department of Defense (DoD) machines.

By creating custom dashboards and one-click report submission, NIKA’s developers gave their client the ability to record and view truly actionable data, almost instantly revolutionizing the way water treatment is handled in the military. Now in beta testing stages, the website is showing the government the benefit of data collection, reporting and consolidation. For the first time, they are able to use enterprise-wide data to make smart, cost-saving decisions regarding water treatment. The wide array of analytics available through a customized facility data solution can ultimately be used to develop comprehensive standards, increase the efficiency of the equipment, and extend the lifecycle of that equipment throughout the facility.

While the Water Treatment Website is a perfect illustration of a customized facility data solution, the potential applications are virtually limitless. This type of innovative solution could be applied to a wide variety of building systems, including:

  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC)
  • Facility Fuel Storage
  • Energy supply – gas, electricity and renewable sources
  • Water, drainage and plumbing
  • Fire detection and protection
  • Security and alarm systems
  • Lightning protection
  • Low voltage (LV) systems, distribution boards and switchgear
  • Natural lighting and artificial lighting, and building facades
  • Ventilation and refrigeration
  • Communication lines, telephones and IT networks (ICT)

The data collection process can be vastly improved through a customized facility data solution. Instead of collecting disparate information across disparate systems (e.g., Excel spreadsheets, databases, etc.), NIKA has created technologies that allow organizations to collect, report and store structured and unstructured data in one place. This ability leads to better analytics system-wide.

Furthermore, facility data already being collected can be used more effectively with a customized solution. For example, while data regarding energy usage is widely collected, reporting and creation of actionable analysis based on that data is still woefully inadequate. NIKA can help the government, military, and commercial organizations better analyze their data and easily create reports that help in the budgeting and maintenance planning processes. With customized facility data solutions in place, there is even greater potential for the implementation of automated collection processes that further eliminate the possibility of human error.

As the role of data in our facilities increases, so does the need for smart solutions to collect, manage, and analyze that data. Organizations continue to look for cost-effective solutions that will help them make smart decisions related to equipment maintenance and replacement throughout their critical building systems. A customized facility data solution designed by NIKA has the potential to help a wide variety of organizations develop budgets and capital expenditure plans that reflect their business priorities and serve the needs of their constituents.

For more information on customized facility data solutions, contact NIKA’s Enterprise Technology practice at 301.770.3520.


Facility Management: Key Analytics Drive Informed Decisions

As facilities are built smarter, more secure, and more complex, the need for actionable data is more important than ever. Luckily, the pool of information and data available is also bigger and better than ever. Facility owners and managers can leverage automatically-collected information on energy usage, equipment condition, inventory and more. The challenge in this age of big data, however, is seamlessly marrying and integrating that data in order to eliminate error-prone manual processes while delivering useful information to key stakeholders. Analytics and advanced reporting can help.

By combining key data from these previously disparate sources, a company like NIKA can deliver a wide variety of analytics and reports based upon your needs. Examples include:

  • Equipment condition index across inventory
  • Identification of missed project opportunities or bundling opportunities
  • Synchronization between projects that span multiple years as identified
  • Manufacturer performance across inventory
  • Identification of maintenance performance outliers
  • Identification of maintenance best practices
  • Validation of assessment ratings

This is just a small sample of potential applications of facility analytics. You can also integrate energy reports and other facility data into the analytics environment for a full view of your facilities.

In addition to easy-to-use dashboards and one-click reports, you can build an environment where you can design your own reports on demand based on a huge number of available variables. Comprehensive analytics solutions can help you not only answer questions related to the current condition of equipment, but also give you information about where the equipment is used, how often, in what context, what is the performance overall, its maintenance history, and much more.

With a custom-designed analytics solution, you can also access information anywhere, any time, and any place. Based upon assigned administrative permissions, users can dictate virtually every aspect of their analytics delivery. A secure database repository can provide your data in a wide variety of file formats, various delivery methods, and with custom scheduling options.

Furthermore, enterprise reporting programs can provide error protection by identifying and highlighting outliers and anomalies to ensure that the data you are using is clean and accurate, since using erroneous data can have a measurable impact on budget and analysis down the road.

Analytics solutions can provide efficient, error-free analysis that will help you:

  • Make informed decisions previously based on hunches
  • Back up your recommendations based on accurate data
  • Access instant historical data
  • Aggregate data across the enterprise
  • Save time and reduce errors by eliminating manual data analysis

For more information on NIKA’s analytics and custom reporting solutions, contact our Enterprise Technology practice at 301.770.3520.


Energy and Water Master Planning Drives Efficiency and Resiliency

As the world works to promote energy conservation and efficiency objectives, governments are enacting comprehensive new programs and policies to ensure these goals are met. Corporations and government agencies alike face stringent regulations when building new facilities and retrofitting older ones to be sustainable and efficient. Energy and water master planning, including benchmarking and auditing, is a critical step in ensuring compliance. A licensed and certified energy management professional can help you maximize efficiency, minimize costs, and make a positive impact on environmental sustainability.

If your buildings and real property must comply with EPA ENERGY STAR standards or other federal, state or county mandates like Executive Order 13693, you may require energy benchmarking and energy audits, which qualify and quantify how building energy systems are performing. The results of such studies can help you generate energy purchasing strategies, identify and analyze energy and water efficiency measures that help you forecast for the future, develop facility improvement measures, and reduce utility costs.

A full-service energy or water master planning solution should also include energy and water performance analytics that provide granular or aggregated data about your building’s usage. These metrics result in advanced reporting as well as predictive modeling and graphical analysis of consumption and efficiency on a continuous basis. In addition to helping you predict energy consumption levels, utility bills, and life cycle costs, modeling can be a key method for evaluating the return on investment in green energy solutions, and ensuring resiliency and energy security by making your facility withstand unpredictable disasters. With key data at your fingertips, your organization will be better able to develop and implement ongoing commissioning plans for long-term savings related to energy and water usage.

Energy and water master planning is about more than just compliance; it helps you make practical improvements that save money and meet business objectives. NIKA’s expert engineers perform energy benchmarking, modeling, and audits tailored for complex and mission-critical buildings. With two decades of experience providing net-zero energy and water solutions, including combined heat and power (CHP), NIKA’s energy services team goes the extra mile to exceed expectations. Contact NIKA’s Energy Services practice at 301.770.3520 to learn more about this cost-saving service that helps you meet the increasingly complex regulations governing building energy and water use, and make smart decisions for a sustainable future.


A New Type of Malware Can Lock Power Plant Computers For Ransom

With incidences of large scale cybercrime on the rise, crafty hackers are constantly exploring new areas for criminal exploitation. Similarly, law enforcement organizations and educational institutions are doing their best to anticipate and prevent these attacks before they happen. A recent paper by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that critical infrastructure may be the next target of these cybercriminals. Hackers could exploit the computers that control building systems and either demand a ransom or inflict damage in order to cause disruption and chaos.

Click here to read a recent article by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai at Motherboard that details the potential dangers that industrial control systems will face in the near future.

Concerned about your building’s security? Contact NIKA’s Enterprise Technology specialists for more information about how you can protect your building, its systems and occupants from cyber threats.


Is Your Building Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks?

When people think of cybersecurity, they inevitably think about identity theft, strong passwords, national security and other common themes. What they might not consider, however, is the vulnerability of building systems and the potential damage a cyber attack could do. For government and commercial building owners alike, there are serious ramifications to this threat. Forbes contributor Benjamin Freas explores this unique cybersecurity topic in a new article:

“For several years, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) have been converging. In commercial buildings, building automation systems (BASs) are trending toward more IT integration as building owners and facility managers see the value the technology creates. However, this increasing connection and interconnection of building systems also exposes them to malicious attacks from cyber criminals [continue reading]…”

Concerned about your building’s security? Contact NIKA’s Enterprise Technology specialists for more information about how you can protect your building, its systems and occupants from cyber threats.


How the TPP Could Hurt America’s Working Professionals

The Case Against Chapter 15 of the TPP

NIKA Executive Vice President Chip Denman has written an illuminating white paper that explores the potentially damaging effect of the TPP on U.S. subject matter experts (SMEs) and the companies that employ them. Specifically, this short paper examines how Chapter 15, which deals with government procurement, may reduce SME salaries and eliminate the competitive advantage that U.S. companies currently enjoy for lucrative federal government contracts.

Download TPP White Paper