In our Podcast series “Sh*t You Wish Your Building Did!”, Memoori explores the intersection between technology and commercial real estate through interesting conversations.
Does the US General Services Administration Operate the Biggest Portfolio of Smart Buildings in the World? In Episode 15 of our Podcast, we talk with Ana Rawson, Director of Facility Technology and Innovation at the GSA to find out all about their Smart Buildings Program.
We talked about the Size and Scale of their Technology Program and the Challenges of Operating such a Large and Diverse Portfolio of Commercial Buildings. For example, How they updated their Building Automation Systems to Enable Communication with the GSAlink Platform. Anyone interested in Finding out More about Delivering Smart Building Technology at Scale across a Diverse Portfolio will find this Podcast interesting!
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Memoori: Welcome everybody to the podcast and today we’re talking about the GSA that’s the general service administration’s smart building strategy and they’ve been connecting building management systems to a cloud-based platform saving up to 33 million dollars in taxpayer dollars annually anyone interested in delivering smart building projects at scale will find this podcast super interesting so I really want to welcome Anna Rawson to the podcast hi Anna
Ana Rawson: Hi Jim thank you for having me.
Memoori: you’re very welcome and really interested today to talk about uh your work you’ve been doing at the GSA so I think best place to start please tell us what the GSE is and and we’ll go from there.
Ana Rawson: Sounds good so the general Services Administration GSA is responsible for three things first managing the federal real estate through the public building service which is the segment of the GSA that I work for also providing procurement services to federal agencies through the federal acquisition service and providing I.T solutions to federal agencies so the public building service my particular portion of the GSA we are the landlord for the civilian federal government and so we manage properties and maintain properties throughout the United States so housing about 1.1 million employees working in 50 federal agencies and about 400 bureaus and that consists of about 8 400 facilities in over 2200 communities throughout the United States and U.S territories.
Memoori: Wow okay so a massive portfolio both in terms of geography and types of buildings so I mean roughly like what you must have a very mixed portfolio maybe you could talk a little bit about that.
Ana Rawson: Sure so our portfolio really consists of about 70 percent that’s general purpose office space and about 30 that’s special purpose office space so we manage land ports of Entry courthouses Laboratories and it also consists of about 481 historic properties so that in itself makes it a unique portfolio to manage especially given the changing climate of technology and other business drivers.
Memoori: Right exactly so I assume you must be dealing with lots of kind of tight different types of Technology Legacy equipment newer technology how does that work with you guys?
Anan Rawson: So my team specific is focus mainly on our portfolio so about uh we have 370 million square feet overall and about half of that is in our own portfolio and the other half we lease from the commercial market and so it does represent a number of different manufacturers about 250 manufacturers overall we have a large portion of our inventory that we brought onto the GSA Network in the early 2000s and that’s been really where we’ve been leaning since the early 2000s is to have a mindset of measuring managing and improving through behaving remote visibility to our system first starting with Advanced metering and then progressing to our building automation systems which then allowed for us to integrate them to our federal our fault detection and diagnostic system of GSA link.
Memoori: Okay and then so let’s let’s talk specifically about these kind of projects you’ve been working on um I mean you’ve mentioned a little bit about it then like maybe we can start perhaps on your journey or the gsa’s journey that you’ve been on like when did you first like get started or get serious about you know smart Building Technology and and adapting it at scale no.
Ana Rawson: It’s been a neat ride with GSA so I serve as the chief facility technology officer the director of facility Technology Innovation for the public building service out of the office of facilities management I joke that I’m about to turn 21 in January I’ve been with GSA for many years now I first started in one of our Regional Offices in Atlanta which is where I live and my journey really began as an engineer I’m a co-op student from Georgia Tech engineering background and later got my MBA and what I was able to do as early in my career was because as an engineer work on our bringing on our first Advanced meters onto our GSA Network so around 2003 we brought on our first Advanced meter separate from the utility meter owner meter collecting data and they were just like me there were many other honors other engineers in the rest of GSA bringing on first meters onto the GSA Network we now have about 20 2300 meters connected and that’s growing and this was really driven at that time based on a number of different Federal mandates that really first focused on electric meters then later gas and water meters but fast forward to today that paved the way for building automation systems which I also was an engineer at that time working on bringing the first building automation systems onto the GSA Network which building automation systems as you know controller HVAC lighting and other buildings monitoring control systems so we integrated our first Bas back in 2008 and again just like the connections and working part heavily with our I.T Partners on our Advanced meters working with our building automation systems that provided the opportunity and Foundation to set the path for smart buildings really focus on open protocol systems converge networks normalize and secure data secure system platform.
Memoori: Okay and you guys talk about the GSA link platform is that right?
Ana Rawson: Yes that’s right so we launched GSA Link in 2013 so we integrated our first building automation system in 2008 and it wasn’t too long after that that we then started our smart buildings Journey continued our smart buildings Journey from connecting to then integrating into analytics uh 2013 we were able to launch GSA link we started it off as a fast 50 identifying our first 50 buildings that would be integrated to the platform and it’s grown since then to 114 buildings and we’re actually in the process of integrating an additional 16 this year currently and we’ve really refined the processes to allow for integration of more buildings now at this point based on our contractual agreement.
Memoori: Okay that’s really interesting so you’ve started you know you’ve grown this over time, maybe we can start with I mean you said mentioned the first time it was 50 buildings you connected to to this platform and this is an analytics platform right?
Ana Rawson: Yep and so maybe exactly fault detection diagnostic system so basically what it does is our building automation system has a lot of information but it takes a human to look at those Trends or set up the trends within the system and then go back and see what those patterns are and see where things are Beyond threshold that they shouldn’t be it takes time is the translation so a fault detection and diagnostic system allows for the system itself to run those analytics so we have about 60 or so rules we call them rules that when they are broken they become Sparks it becomes a spark in the system and it generates a correction that needs to be acted upon based on loss of performance in this in the equipment whether that’s energy based whether that’s mechanical it and then that provides guidance to The Operators to make those Corrections.
Memoori: Okay right so those analytics are provided to the guys on the ground, the managers of those those properties?
Ana Rawson: Exactly. GSA link launched in 2013. we launched our national uh computerized maintenance management system in 2016. and looking back we would have done things the other way around we would have launched our ncmms before GSA link because you know out of sight out of mind is the typical saying right so what we came to learn through that process was that we really needed to integrate into the workflow of The Operators but it was important that the information found through GSA Link at the Sparks that are identified in an automatic way enters their workflows who becomes part of their routine system that they check and so we were able to integrate GSA link to ncms in 2017. uh ncmms is used throughout GSA we have 1500 buildings connected to it and it’s our main One-Stop shop for facility management operations.
Memoori: Okay and now you’ve linked those two systems or you did in 2017 okay and you now obviously it’s 2022 where are you you guys in your journey at the moment?
Ana Rawson: It’s a challenge of adjusting to environment and climate Demand right so GSA were aiming for Net Zero building operations by 2045. we’re really focused on making the federal footprint more sustainable and more cost efficient and as a government landlord we feel an obligation and a responsibility to lead in the purposeful adoption of emerging Technologies and smart building Technologies for our you know global economy and for the management of our buildings so that’s really focused on I’ll say in all of the above a yes and type of approach really partnering across our organization to First Electrify our buildings it’s a performance standard we see that happening in other sectors not just the building sector we see that in the car sector as well second focus on a deep energy retrofits trying to lower and minimize our consumption to the expense practicable that’s been a focus for decades at this point that this has to remain a focus for us and then to get our buildings Net Zero ready uh layer on Renewables and use technology to help us achieve that goal in our smart buildings component and analytics plays a key piece to that because you can install a lot of Technology but you have to manage it well in order for it to be effective.
Memoori: Absolutely and I mean in terms of you know output right obviously you mentioned the beginning part of this is about measuring performance what were the the kind of key performance indicators that you guys set down early as what you wanted to to achieve and and have you achieved those?
Ana Rawson: It’s funny because that um we identified key performance indicators early on we have three main key performancing indicators one of them being our total estimated cost impact what we lovingly call our techie which is what you quoted at the onset of the introduction uh we had uh analysis A study done by Carnegie Mellon University uh back in 2019 and they did a review of our calculations for the total estimated cost impact their study was based on 60 of our buildings so again now we have 114 buildings on the platform but at that time they really looked at a subset of just 60 and what they found was for three different types of impacts of a total cost savings or cost total techie of 17 million and they compared that to how our analytics were calculating at that time and we were able to make refinements on our techies to have it even more reflective of the building conditions and and what should be the calculation so what they also found was that the payback for the system so integration of new buildings pay back in less than two months and that annual cost avoided per building were about 283 000. so again it’s been a very powerful system for us we’re using it more than just fault diagnostics at this point where you have a number of other use cases for it including you know we’ve run covid reports for example looking at energy Data before and after really in this changing environment and just hybrid work and other other factors that have come to play at this point and building operations.
Memoori: Okay brilliant and I guess we can put a link to that Carnegie Mellon report in the show notes we’ll definitely do that because um yeah I guess that was an independent study right that that looked at all and I think you said to me earlier that they if initially looked at 60 buildings but that’s been extended?
Ana Rawson: They’ve looked at 60 buildings we probably need another refresh to that okay okay yeah because we have some other metrics as well which um Works my point of kind of evolving and changing so we have a comfort metric as well that we are actually currently looking to revise uh to make it more reflective of the changing environment and smart sensors and other opportunities that we’re pursuing at this time and then deferred maintenance which was really focused on if a spark happened in the system and the operator tried to act on it but realize they needed funding to be able to address it then it would need to go into deferred maintenance well that’s good information to have that they weren’t able to act on it without providing funding for a project but now what we’re doing is uh we’re partnered with our portfolio management group so that they’re in in part of that conversation and they’re receiving the data and are at the front of being able to act on that need as opposed to the local people the local operators knowing that information where they may need additional support for actually obtaining the fund.
Memoori: I know you guys are really keen on sharing your learnings right about what you’re doing being an example for others who can benefit from this technology. What do you think of like the key lessons for companies who want to do smart buildings at scale?
Ana Rawson: I think the foundation is really important again going back to ensuring that systems are open protocol systems that we have flexibility and providers that we have a converged Network we’re not missing opportunities to bring more data in and looking across where um you know analytics could be run across systems um normalized data making sure that we have a consistent naming convention for the data that comes in because again more data is going to come again like mentioned smart sensors and other opportunities that we’re looking at so it’s going to be important it’s very important to keep it consistent and then secure we’re very partnered with our gsait counterparts that’s a very important part of our strategy because again it says it’s no good if we have all this great all these great tools that all of a sudden can’t be used based on Bad actors or other impacts uh so I think that the foundation is critically important and also realizing that as you grow you have to both balance upkeep of what you previously installed with bringing on new and so we’re seeing that now uh in the need for replacement of end of life Advanced meters continual monetizing welding automation systems uh all while we’re looking to fill new Solutions like addressing new gaps that are in our needs so we’re currently in the process of deploying a unified user interface as well as deploying smart sensors at scale for our portfolio and again it’s very important that we get the foundations right because as you add on if the it’s going to need to layer into the rest of the portfolios that’s already been established.
Memoori: I think that’s some excellent advice I mean in terms of Open Standards um you mentioned data normalization and can you speak a little bit more about that what kind of techniques or what kind of Open Standards are you guys using?
Ana Rawson: For Open Standards we have a great deal of our inventory is BACnet my regions previously used LON that’s very little actually of our portfolio but a great deal is BACnet then you know our smart buildings team is really focused on working with our counterpart the way we’re structured is we have our 11 regions and within each region there’s a smart Building Group or program manager so our national team coordinates with them based on what is existing projects that are coming on board we have a naming standard guide that is used for our projects and so that is what we lean on as well as our smart building overall program guide that provides broader guidance or how these projects are to be executed and in 2001 actually it’s in December of 2001 our administrator signed our first smart buildings directive which further pushes alignment across our organization between our GSA partners the project delivery and facility management to ensure that we’re following our standards for each of our projects and our operations.
Memoori: Great so one of my last questions, it’s fantastic you’ve obviously done a lot of work on this and it’s quite mature now right. Project’s been going on for a long time but I mean if you’re looking back what would you what would you do differently now if you were to start again?
Ana Rawson: Now I think we at that time missed the opportunity to look at our research Esa world through the operator’s lens that they needed to have the information at the Forefront and right now a priority for us is you know ensuring that we are doing that. We are entering an age of experience both from the operator’s perspective uh facility manager’s perspective and more importantly the occupants perspective so whereas at that time we were really focused on the analytics the data now it’s much more what helps the end user what helps the occupant have a better experience what makes it an easier day-to-day for a facility manager to partner well with our operations and maintenance contractors and so to that end again we’re focused on a unified user interface many of us have had that experience or we have many different systems we need to use day to day and all these passwords Etc to have to keep up with it you know again out of sight out of mind so we’re trying to bring all these systems together uh in one one system one view single pane of glass is what it’s often called as well to better allow for depending on the roles to absorb the data on whether that’s the local operator the facility manager you know energy manager sustainability managers asset managers Etc so we’re looking at different profiles and the different systems that contain the information that’s important for their day-to-day activities so that’s what we would do different is looking back data is important but really focusing on the need of the people we build buildings for people not just to be built and so keeping that at the Forefront I think that will set us on a good path going forward.
Memoori: Great point because it sounds like you’ve got a lot to do in the future as well you’re not stopping now are you so you’re going to be developing more I mean what does the future look like?
Ana Rawson: so I right now I’m glad you asked that so we have an open RFI, our green Proving Ground program Center for emerging building Technologies is another part of the program under my group and our green Proving Ground has an open request for information it closes in on December 9th and it’s focused on helping us achieve Net Zero carbon so really an emphasis on improving operating efficiency promoting healthy work spaces uh whole building electrification carbon reduction on-site generation Renewables and then there’s also a component to the electric Fleet I mean we we spend a lot of time day-to-day talking about electric vehicle Supply equipment we have our applied Innovation learning Laboratories our sites first one kicked off back in August at the Denver Federal Center looking to and build on technologies that that green Proving Ground has identified and will continue to identify through these processes like the route request for information that’s open. Right now so we have our green Proving Ground that helps identify the emerging Technologies partnered with Department of energy and so they do measurement and verification on these emerging Technologies to help really support their you know emergence through the commercial sector where they prove affect it and so it’s a pipeline for us at GSA we see if they’re successful and then we’re able to adopt them through our portfolio and such is the case with our smart sensors and our ui for example those were tested Technologies within the GPD that are now being deployed through smart buildings.
Memoori: Well I wish you luck with that that’s what sounds awesome and thank you I think just to say thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us I think that’s going to be really interesting for people and I think in terms of scale there’s not many people who are deploying so many buildings and across so many different types as well so it’s really interesting to hear what work you guys have been doing thanks for your time I really appreciate it.
Ana Rawson: Thank you for having me Jim I appreciate it.