Energy Management Maintenance October

Listening To IBM’s ‘Building Whisperer’

EP Editorial Staff | October 11, 2011


This IBM veteran is helping the century-old global giant known as ‘Big Blue’ boost an already strong environmental record with a holistic approach to managing facility energy.

Dave Bartlett, VP of Industry
Solutions at IBM, understands
and interprets the language
of buildings.

By Rick Carter, Executive Editor

Dave Bartlett has a special rapport with buildings, especially those in need of an energy tune-up. To help wasteful facilities, he gathers and analyzes, in real time, everything that their energy-management systems tell him. In this holistic approach to solving problems, system inequities stand out and become targets for correction in new software IBM writes for system operation. Bartlett’s changes reduce energy use and cut maintenance costs. His ability to make them—even in buildings that are already considered to be relatively efficient—has earned him the memorable title of “building whisperer.”

“I would argue that you will not find any campus or portfolio of buildings owned by mid- to large enterprises where anyone is taking a holistic approach,” says Bartlett. “People listen to pieces of it, and individual control systems are monitoring individual units. But if you listen to everything, you can make higher-level decisions based on that high-level knowledge. That’s why I came up with this analogy of the building whisperer because if you really listen to all of the data, the results we’re getting show that you can heal buildings of their wild energy- and water-wasting ways.”

Bartlett, 58, hasn’t always been a building whisperer. After college, his plan was to pursue a career in ecology, which was—and is—his passion. But prospects in this field looked slim at the time, he says, especially when compared with the excitement being generated in the computer sector. So Bartlett returned to school for a graduate degree in computer science, and in so doing, created a skill-set tailor-made for the age of sustainability. Today, his balanced understanding of metrics, software and environmental issues enables this IBM vice president of Industry Solutions to fulfill the promise of his title for his company and its customers by helping them save energy in a vital new way.

The big picture
Now in his 28th year with IBM, Bartlett leads the development of global industry solutions under IBM’s “Smarter Planet” initiative. He has held this position for several years, during which time the Armonk, NY-based technology company has racked up impressive figures for its own portfolio:

  • Since 2008, IBM has saved over $50 million in electricity expenses and conserved 523,000 megawatt hours of electricity, company-wide. This is enough energy to power 47,000 average U.S. homes for a year. The savings were the result of 3100 conservation projects at more than 350 IBM facilities in 49 countries.
  • From 1990 to 2010, IBM avoided 5.4 million megawatt hours in energy use and nearly $400 million in associated direct energy expense. Its continuing conservation efforts aim to eliminate 1.1 million megawatt hours of energy consumption by year-end 2012.

Some of these savings are directly attributable to Dave Bartlett’s team and a program for IBM customers that was pitched to IBM CEO Sam Palmisano in 2009. Palmisano liked what he heard, but directed that the program be tried out at IBM’s own ’90s-era corporate headquarters building in Armonk, before being offered outside the company. It became the trial run for Bartlett’s holistic approach and, eventually, its showcase. The first thing IBM did was replace the building’s existing sensor network with one based on an Internet protocol (IP). The facility manager was immediately impressed with the new network’s ability to monitor the building’s 7600 data points in the blink of an eye. “‘Wow, that’s fast,’” Bartlett recalls him saying, which was music to his ears.

Bartlett explains that in this first implementation of those IBM has done since, they do not reconfigure how equipment is monitored, but how data is analyzed and used. “We’re not replacing sensors,” he says. “We tie into all of that and take the data and warehouse it. And in real time, we correlate it, sort it, and run analytics and rules on it, so it’s a lot of data analytics at a high level. That’s the big differentiator: real-time sensing and real-time analytics to do real-time optimization of the performance. It also optimizes how we do maintenance,” he says, “because with real-time monitoring, it’s easier to pinpoint exactly where an outage is and what the part is and what skill level is needed, all of which lower maintenance cost.”

IBM’s approach is also not about redesigning a building’s energy-management system. In most client projects, “they’ve made great advances in terms of the systems they’re running,” he says. “But we want to go beyond that. Without an intelligent system over the entire enterprise, managers are missing comparisons of how one building compares with another, how one air-handling unit compares with another, and how one boiler compares with another.” The result, he says, is that program rules don’t reflect this data and fall short of what can be done to optimize energy use. “So we end up relying on the building-management systems to do local optimization as well as for all the higher-level decisions that have to be resolved.”

This can open the door to unwanted scenarios, such as when two HVAC components work at cross purposes in the same building—one producing cold air and another heat, simultaneously. “Both systems may be doing it very efficiently,” says Bartlett, “but why are they opposing each other? In some cases, this is valid, but in many cases it isn’t, so coming up with rules to look at things like this is an example of the problems we address. We also monitor equipment to achieve more of a condition-based maintenance approach as opposed to a scheduled, preventive approach. So when the condition of a filter merits the filter being replaced, that’s when we replace it.”


40 Years Of Environmental ResponsibilityIBM was among the earliest large corporations to make environmental responsibility a part of company policy. Its Corporate Policy on Environmental Responsibilities, written in 1971, is now supported by the company’s global environmental management system, which calls for environmental leadership in all of the company’s business activities. These include addressing waste that results from producing its products as well as working to prevent pollution by considering the consequences of product-development processes. In the late 1990s, IBM became one of the first major companies to earn a single global registration to the ISO 14001 environmental management standard. And in October 2010, Newsweek magazine ranked IBM the top green company in the world.


The Rochester challenge
Bartlett’s team completed the Armonk project in time for Palmisano to display the results to board members who were gathering at headquarters. With the building starting to produce savings, Bartlett expected to begin working with customers, but instead received another IBM-centric assignment. In early 2010, the company’s real-estate team asked him to apply his methods at one of the corporation’s largest energy-using sites: the  35-building, 3 million-sq.-ft. manufacturing/R&D/laboratory campus in Rochester, MN. Though the site had recently undergone an energy overhaul using IBM’s Intelligent Building Management software­—which produced a 7% energy savings—the real-estate team thought Bartlett’s approach could do better.

Like Armonk, Rochester’s energy-management practices followed the traditional route. Though it had a world-class energy-management system, “no one was listening to all the data across the campus,” says Bartlett. “No one knew what was the best- or worst-performing building or what was the best assembly area or the best air-handling unit.” Unlike Armonk, however, the number of data points to sample at Rochester topped 300,000. “It was a massive amount,” says Bartlett, “but this is where computer science comes in. Taking a lot of data and making sense of it very quickly, warehousing and running it, that’s what computer science is.” Without it, he adds, it would be essentially impossible to both collect, monitor and filter data in real-time as well as “take any type of event coming forward and enhance it with what you know from the asset-management systems that track maintenance history and service issues.”

Despite having a green light to implement his approach at Rochester, Bartlett didn’t arrive as the big man on campus. “There were skeptics who thought we couldn’t do more than was already being done,” he says. “They told me they were already the best in the industry. But our chairman saying he wanted to do it provided the impetus to get these groups together who weren’t used to working together.” Everyone involved, he recalls, had to put aside the old role definitions and stop protecting their skill expertise. As he puts it, the facility guys had to jump more into the IT world and the IT world had to jump more into the facilities world. Those “jumpers” included Bartlett himself. “I was uncertain about the types of rules that make sense in a large building or manufacturing operation,” he admits. “So when we got all that data, I didn’t know how to prioritize it, how to sort it and how to set up rules for it. The facility guys were incredibly valuable helping me do that.”


Hard-drive assembly is one of many activities at IBM’s Rochester facility, which, thanks to Bartlett, now uses 15% less electricity than it did two years ago.

After tackling obvious targets, such as the buildings’ highest energy-using air handlers, Bartlett’s team pursued more complex issues like concurrent heating and cooling conditions. The opposing actions he found in one Rochester building were due to an air-handling maintenance mistake. “We learned that, as the guys make preventive maintenance checks on the units [in warm weather], they put them into override to check the heat. And after checking 400 air-handling units, somebody left one in override. In a facility that big, you wouldn’t notice it being too hot. With so many other air-handling units pumping out cold, the ambient temperature was achieved even in a competitive situation,” he says. “The only way they would have found it was by chance or on the next energy bill. But we picked it up immediately and corrected it.”

Opposing HVAC operations are most common in large office buildings, which are numerous at Rochester, says Bartlett. In these structures, south-side summer cooling often makes the north side too cold. When this happens, “if people have thermostats, they’ll put the heat on,” he says. “And if they can’t get heat, they put portable heaters under the desk.” The way around the conflict is to use biometric parameters—those based on actual climate conditions—rather than allowing individual preferences to rule. “Think of what the real objective of the building is, based on the season and the set points you have established,” says Bartlett. “You must also ask if you even need set points if people can override them or if the points are not readjusted for seasonal shifts.”

The first and most important step, says Bartlett, “is to get the visibility—the data—and start to work on it.” In addition to the need to rapidly monitor data points, this can involve thermomapping of floors to determine hot and cold spots. “The idea of thermomapping is that, when you see a thermal layout, you can lay it over any of the modeling data you have for the building or any of the architectural drawings and understand how to achieve a more consistent temperature for each section,” says Bartlett. If a stuck valve or breach in ductwork is present, he continues, this [methodology] can help find it.


IBM’s 2010 Sustainable Gains (click to enlarge)

According to Bartlett, as data poured into Rochester and was evaluated, maintenance work orders multiplied since “suddenly we had end-to-end visibility. There was a lot of low-hanging fruit, based on the rules and what we were targeting.” After the initial surge, however, “the work orders went way below what they were for maintenance because we were ahead of the curve. Maintenance was not waiting for someone to call with a problem and sending someone out with a flashlight to figure out what it was.”

As Bartlett had anticipated and IBM had hoped, the Rochester implementation resulted in even greater energy savings for the campus. “After nine months, we achieved 8% on top of their previous 7%,” says Bartlett. “The facility manager told us we taught them a whole new way to think about the space. And at the end of the 12-month period in January of this year, they were getting a lot fewer service orders and seeing a 200% return already on the investment. They also projected a 10% improvement in maintenance costs.”

Ready for the world
In June of this year, IBM offered its Smarter Planet software to customers. Underscoring the product’s universality, Bartlett says he “bundled it differently because it’s not going to the traditional IT [data-center] target. I’ve pre-configured and pre-imaged it so it’s already installed and can be delivered on whatever hardware the customer has. We’re taking the best lessons we’ve learned about how you can configure and install it for this type of application and done that already. And we’ve priced it per square foot, which, for IBM software, is a big shift.”

IBM is also expanding the system into more of the 1700 buildings it owns worldwide. “Next year, instead of doing one big site, we’ll do 10,” notes Bartlett. “The real-estate team has declared that, regardless of what happens to the price of energy, IBM’s energy bill cannot go up. So when you’ve already implemented all of the obvious things, you’re looking for new ways, and this gives them something for that.”

Bartlett concedes that, with the growing need for sustainable approaches to energy management, he could, if he wanted, be on the job 24/7. “But I don’t feel like this is a job,” he says. “It’s a mission, something you live and breathe, and I never leave it.”

Bartlett says he fully expects IBM will make a substantial contribution to a more energy-efficient future. “In five years, I’ll show you a transformed IBM, and I’ll tell you the impact I’ve made reducing electricity, our carbon footprint and water usage. For just one company, it will be significant. I’ll also tell you about other companies that have implemented this and seen the same result. And if you extrapolate that to all the companies in the world or just the five million buildings in this country alone,” he says, “you’ll appreciate the impact this initiative can have on our planet. It’s going to be an exciting story.” MT

More About The ‘Building Whisperer’

As IBM’s vice president of Industry Solutions, Dave Bartlett leads the company’s development of global industry solutions for a Smarter Planet. He is responsible for the architecture, design and implementation of industry-focused solutions that include Smarter Buildings, Cities, Healthcare, Transport, Chemicals & Petroleum, Telco and Banking as well as Smart Grid and Smart Water. Prior to assuming his current role, Dave spent close to 10 years in Europe as IBM’s vice President of Europe, Middle East and Africa; director of Europe’s software development laboratory; and country site executive. Before joining IBM, Dave worked as a computer scientist and engineer for United Technologies and Univac.

For additional details on Bartlett’s holistic approach to building energy management, visit

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