IBM smart building software helps schools counteract budget cuts

IBM smart building software helps schools counteract budget cuts

Three of the biggest U.S. school districts are among those working with IBM to increase energy efficiency, create new revenue streams and counteract budget cuts.

About 90 percent of schools in the U.S. face significant budget cuts and are more often turning to energy efficiency, solar and now smart buildings to counteract that.

Schools in Florida, Oregon and Nevada are installing smart building management software made by IBM, which "raises the IQ of school buildings."

By discovering how efficiently physical assets are being used -- and finding new uses for its buildings -- schools are able to reallocate resources to instructional purposes, save money and potentially generate new revenue streams.

The City University of New York uses the software to track and analyze energy use, compare school buildings' efficiency, forecast power needs and run simulations on the benefits of doing various kinds of retrofits.

Clark County School District in Las Vegas -- the nation's 5th largest public school system -- uses smart building software across 392 schools and administrative buildings spread out over 8,000 square miles.

The software automatically alerts maintenance staff when there's a problem -- anything from broken lights, pipes or other infrastructure needs -- and shows them where it is.

In this case, the software helps manage 110,000 work orders that are in play each year. In one instance, the software alerted repair teams that a building's HVAC system was fluctuating, helping to avert a massive electrical outage that would have disrupted thousands of students.

Photo of the entrance of a school at the Portland Public Schools provided by Werewombat via Wikimedia Commons.

At Portland Public Schools, the largest district in the Pacific Northwest, the software is helping to update buildings, most of which are 70 years old.

Increased awareness about where repairs are needed not only prevents major problems like watermain ruptures, but also prioritizes where retrofits are needed most.

"Updating our campus facilities is a significant priority for the district, but the time and resources required to do this effectively can be demanding," says Andy Fridley, data analyst of Portland Public Schools. "By finding a quick and efficient way to identify and predict which areas on campus require attention, we're able to fast-track our modernization efforts while also achieving cost savings on reactive maintenance."

Palm Beach County, Fla. -- the nation's 11th biggest public school system with nearly 178,000 students -- generated $4.5 million in new leasing revenue last year by simply keeping track of which buildings were vacant.

Facilities managers use IBM's software in 187 buildings to learn where energy efficiency can be better optimized, where potential maintenance issues might exist and which rooms and auditoriums are empty -- and when. The information helps the county manage more than 3,000 leases and short-term rental agreements a year far more efficiently than in the past.

"The ability for the School District of Palm Beach County to generate additional revenue is incredibly impactful, since those funds are reinvested toward improving campuses and providing the best education tools to our students, including the highest quality teachers," says Joseph Sanches, chief of support operations for the school district.

IBM's "Smarter Planet" projects are a key strategic growth area for the company, expected to drive $10 billion in revenue by 2015.

The U.S. Airforce is using the software to improve efficiency across buildings in 170 locations around the world, and the U.K. Defense Ministry is using it for the thousands of buildings in its portfolio.

This story is reprinted with permission from Sustainable Business.