Though largely overshadowed in press by the hubbub around the Center for Green Schools launch, in my opinion the biggest news for practicing LEED APs is the relatively obscure technical development of a platform for third party companies to integrate directly with LEED-Online. The USGBC is calling it LEED Automation (official press release here), and it will hopefully result in an exponential increase in innovation in the way LEED projects are documented. After "$10 million in total investment in LEED-Online" (Chris Smith, COO of USGBC's words), many users still find it a frustrating tool (my words). "From the very start, LEED-Online was never intended to be a USGBC tool... It was intended to be a plug-and-play platform for others to build on." (Chris Smith again).
Now think about how the open iPhone and Android app markets make their phones far more useful than Apple or Google could do on their own. That is the goal of LEED Automation in a nutshell. Mike Opitz indicated that they ultimately wish to open a "USGBC App store"... In his words "The world of LEED execution just got faster, cheaper, and easier."
Where Does It Stand Today?
I'm going to profile a few projects that were used as case studies of what can be done with the data and integration capabilities that are now available.
Lorax Pro - This is a 'virtual LEED consultant' that has already been around for awhile, and one I've been meaning to profile for some time (sorry... still doing this in my spare time!). In a nutshell it's a tool to organize, schedule, and assign work to the various parties in more detail than offered by LEED-Online (e.g. your project is mapped on Google and can automatically calculate things like access to transit and community connectivity at the click of a button). Again, this has already been around for awhile, but the news here is that now their online software can translate your work DIRECTLY into LEED-Online without having to force you to pull everything down manually and re-enter data. Taken to the extreme, you could potentially mean that you'd never have to work directly in LEED-Online again!
O+M Track - Green Building Services is a consulting company has developed a tool that will be extremely helpful for those pursuing LEED-EB O+M. Basically this is a management tool for your performance periods, where a facilities manager is provided with scheduled tasks to ensure they are keeping all of their ongoing performance measurements for the life of the building, greatly facilitating recertification efforts that are needed to be performed every five years. Again, the news here is that work entered into their system can be directly loaded into your LEED-Online project, helping to reduce the overhead and costs associated with compliance.
Building Dashboard - This is a web-based software developed by Lucid Design Group that allows real-time updates of a building's performance along various metrics, largely centered around utilities. Other vendors offer similar services, and it was unclear from their presentation how this will affect those working on LEED projects today. On the other hand, if they work out directly updating these results into a LEED-EB certification/recertification similar to the GBS tool, it could mean huge reductions in overhead for those pursuing such projects.
WorkFlow Pro - is a service from GreenWizard.com that harnesses the wealth of material data embedded in their system and allows the population of those onerous MR credit templates if you build a project in their system, making the lives of specifiers and contractors that much easier.
Green Building Information Gateway - This is a pilot project led by Dr. Chris Pyke, VP of Research for USGBC in conjunction with ESRI. It is a comprehensive map of LEED projects in Chicago, but it contains a wealth of additional layers that is pulled directly from a stream of data that the USGBC is now making public. The information from any specific project is compared live against the performance of every building in the set. Basically this is a benchmarking tool designed to allow designers to show their clients how their design might stack up against others in the area. There's even a trend tool that allows you to view this data over time. It's based on a post-certification data stream, so it's applicability to those working on current projects likely won't be huge, but it could be very helpful for banks and others trying to make a business case or valuation assumptions measuring the impact of LEED certification or even individual LEED credits.
What's On the Horizon?
It's hard for me to explain how huge the potential of this. I see Trane Trace and other energy modeling software allowing direct uploads of model results into LEED without the very significant data entry headache that exists now. Revit could directly upload daylighting calculations without the architect ever having to open up a credit calculator.
Mike Opitz indicated that there's still kinks that need to be worked out, specifically citing energy modelling. At the core, there is the issue of standardizing data exchange protocols to ensure that everything is accurate, and not just easy. As energy modeling is so critical to the performance of a building, they cannot sacrifice
So What's the Catch
Well... all this innovation does not come free. In the same way that there are paid apps on the iPhone and Android marketplaces, some of the case studies above have subscription fees or other charges that will be in addition to what you're paying the GBCI for certification fees. Don't want to pay extra? You're welcome to stay with the current LEED Online, but I suspect that many firms will find that the productivity gains of these tools will far exceed the costs.
As this market get's more sophisticated, I suspect we'll see a profusion of micro-tools that may be ad supported and offered for free, but time will tell whether the development process is easy enough for such small scale tools to be worth their development costs.
I'm sorry to the other companies that demo'd their automation innovations that I did not include here... I can only type so fast! If you have a new product that harnesses this technology please don't hesitate to let me know, as this blog is all about providing readers with tools that will make their live's easier.*FULL DISCLOSURE - GreenWizard.com is a sponsor of this site.