Case Study

Smart-Building Sweet Spot: Connecting Building Data With Service Technicians

MacDonald Miller

MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions makes buildings work better. The Seattle-based contractor not only designs and builds energy-efficient buildings, but it also ensures that they stay that way through post-build optimization services. Its new connected field service solution lets it know when a building’s system is using too much energy or about to fail and dispatches service technicians with the right information, tools, and parts needed to make a first-time fix.

With IoT-enabled Dynamics 365, we learn about—and fix—potential problems before the building maintenance manager or owner even knows they exist.


Bradd Busick: Chief Information Officer, MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions

We sat down with three leaders at MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions—Bradd Busick, Chief Information Officer, Perry England, Vice President of Building Performance, and Jeremy Richmond, Building Performance Manager—to learn more about how the company is revolutionizing facilities management using Microsoft Azure IoT services, Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Field Service, and ICONICS Smart Building Software.

Give us a sense of how facilities management has traditionally worked.

England: Most large buildings today contain many islands of technology—systems for controlling HVAC [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning], lighting, fire and life safety, elevators, room scheduling, and security. They’re typically from different vendors and completely independent of one another.

Then there are computerized maintenance management systems, or CMMSs, which building owners use to run their building maintenance programs, including scheduling service calls and tracking repair histories. But in most buildings, the CMMS isn’t connected to the various other systems.

Richmond: The result is a disconnect between the data being collected by building systems and the repair technicians who are maintaining them. It’s led to a very reactionary model for facilities maintenance. Building owners basically wait for something to break, set up a work order in the CMMS, and then send out a service tech—or in our customers’ case, they call and ask us to send out a tech.

The service tech arrives at the job without knowing anything about the problem or the equipment repair history, usually without the right tools and parts, and of course under big-time pressure to fix the problem quickly.

Busick: Let’s just say that it’s an industry ripe for digital transformation. Most buildings and maintenance staffs are stuck in the 1980s.

Has MacDonald-Miller been ahead of the curve in this area?

Busick: We’ve been on a journey to upgrade, standardize, and connect our internal technology systems so we can do a better job of helping customers do the same with their building technologies. We see smart-building technology as a competitive advantage, so we make sure we stay on the leading edge. A lot of these technologies are just now getting to the point where we can do what we want to do in terms of combining Internet of Things (IoT), predictive analytics, and field service software.

England: We got into IoT for buildings about 10 years ago using ICONICS building analytics software to offer our customers a unified view of all their building systems. It connects all the IoT data coming from those disparate building systems, giving building owners a comprehensive view of a building’s health. We offer ICONICS analytics as an optional service.

However, we ran the software on our own servers, and that, in combination with the cost of the software, made the solution cost-prohibitive for all but our largest customers.

Richmond: We began our journey into smart building over a decade ago, and approximately four years ago we transformed the market by offering analytics as a service. We accomplished this with the ICONICS Software Suite running in Microsoft Azure, which was perfect for offering our solution to customers at the right price.

What was still lacking?

Busick: We still didn’t have building data connected to field service data. If a furnace generated an alert in ICONICS that it was using excessive levels of power, the building maintenance manager would receive the alert from ICONICS and pick up the phone and call us. We would then deploy a technician. Still a very reactionary model.

What we’ve done is extend ICONICS with Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Field Service and Azure IoT services to create a connected field service solution. Now, when that furnace generates an alert in ICONICS, the alert is passed to Dynamics 365, which automatically creates a trouble ticket for our service staff. The technician shows up at the customer site knowing what the problem is, with a complete repair history—because this information is in Dynamics 365—and bringing the right parts and tools to be efficient, effective, and able to make a first-time fix. With IoT-enabled Dynamics 365, we learn about—and fix—potential problems before the building maintenance manager or owner even knows they exist.

Cool. What kind of technology do your technicians carry?

England: We outfit our 135 technicians with tablets and wearables to enable them to work in a hands-free manner and even record their work. The tech arrives at the customer site and uses the audio, video, and telepresence capabilities of the wearable device, filming and narrating the whole service procedure. We package up the video and send it to the customer, so they can see what we just did for them.

When our technicians use Dynamics 365, they see their service calls for the day, along with the recommended tools and parts to bring. All the building health and repair history is pushed into the work order, along with probable fixes and links to necessary maintenance manuals, so the tech can get right to work. If a part needs to be replaced, Dynamics 365 sends a notification to order it.

What do you use for reporting—to customers and your own staff?

Richmond: We’ve used Microsoft Power BI to create custom dashboards for our technicians, service managers, upper management, and different customer personas. Our technicians can access a mobile “top 10 problems” dashboard for every customer building, with the ability to click down on any system or piece of equipment to see repair history data.

We have management dashboards that show things like which customers have the most maintenance problems and what their top problems and service costs are.

We’ve created other dashboards for customer property managers, showing them the financial performance of their buildings, and for building engineers, who want to see the kinds of things that have gone wrong. Customers can visually monitor the health of their buildings, which helps them make informed plans for future capital improvements and make better proactive decisions.

Busick: We manage about USD1 million worth of energy savings performance guarantees each year, which is a big financial commitment for us. We guarantee that a customer will achieve certain energy savings with their building. We use Power BI dashboards to confirm that we’re on track with those savings. We also share these dashboards with utilities to get our incentive checks. Utilities see MacDonald-Miller as an innovator, which is pretty exciting for us.

What has customer reaction been to your building optimization service?

Richmond: Customers love it. Because we catch warning signs before they develop into failures, most of our repairs are preemptive, meaning we send notices to customers after the fact, saying, “We noticed that a circuit board in your HVAC system was not working, so we replaced it. Here’s the data and a video of the service call.”

What kinds of energy savings are customers realizing with the service?

Richmond: The average customer sees between 10 and 20 percent energy savings. That adds up to a lot of money over time. Plus, peak energy efficiency is important to owners who are applying for or maintaining LEED and other green-building certifications.

What’s the upside for MacDonald-Miller?

Richmond: By picking up alerts from ICONICS and converting them into service cases inside Dynamics 365 for Field Service, we get a new revenue leg. Before, we didn’t know the pain points in the building, so we couldn’t be proactive. Now, we can. And because the Azure-hosted version of ICONICS is more cost-effective for more customers, we can make building optimization services available to more customers.

And we can do more with a field service staff of the same size, because our technicians are more efficient. We have better transparency into their locations throughout the day and what they’ve accomplished. Our techs are more confident in their work. They don’t have to hunt for problems—they have the IoT data right in their work order to guide them to what to look for. Having this information in the palm of their hands is huge. It’s a big competitive advantage for us and a big reassurance to our customers.

How quickly were you able to get this offering to market?

Busick: Incredibly fast… within 60 days. We shortened it by our familiarity with Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Office 365, both of which we adopted in 2017. And the assistance we got from the Microsoft Digital Applied Innovation team and the Dynamics 365 engineering team as we implemented connected field service helped decrease our time-to-market.

What’s next?

Busick: We’re investing heavily in cloud-based, geo-specific user experiences that give customers the opportunity to virtually see behind the walls of their buildings. We’re also near completion of a computer-aided virtual environment (CAVE), which will provide architects, general contractors, and our customers with a virtual experience that enables them to see and experience their building in virtual reality before it’s built.

Read Bradd Busick’s blog for more about how his company uses Microsoft solutions to bring innovation to the industry and better serve customers.

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