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Dashboards: Transforming Data into Information

Data is raw material. Its real value is in transforming the data into useful information. Information is the finished material when some intelligence has been gleaned from analyzing or studying the raw data.

Building systems can provide a lot of data through BAS points, sensors, meters and measurements, yet yield little information. Many of the graphics used to display data in a traditional BAS system seem like legacies.

They require enormous setup time and are generally reused from job to job. Today's more advanced integrated building management systems use browser-based dashboards for the human-machine or user interface.

It is digital dashboards that can provide relevant and timely information to several levels or groups involved with a building's performance. These different users can be facility technicians, managers, C-level executives, tenants, occupants, or visitors via kiosks or a web page. The information provided may cover the specifics of particular building systems such as HVAC, electrical, or specialty systems, but, tend to focus on energy usage, costs, performance trends, alarm management, comparisons with similar buildings, and KPIs.

The key to the use of dashboards is twofold. First, one needs to determine the right information for the viewer of the dashboard. Facility technicians have different information needs that C-level executives, though some of the data to create the information may be similar. The second key is the creation of the user interface and interaction with the dashboard, which involves visual design and human factors. This is more about how humans perceive, evaluate, process, and act on information. What follows are some tips on creating the most effective dashboards.

Information can be emphasized or de-emphasized by its position on a dashboard. The visual dominance is the in the center of the screen. Depending on how the culture reads (left to right, or right to left) the other area of dominance will either be the top left or top right of the screen. The other corners are neutral, or in the case of the bottom right, actually deemphasized. So the most important data should go in the center or the top left of the dashboard. This is especially true if other secondary data on the dashboard can only be understood based on understanding the primary information.

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