There is a digital revolution in facility management; it is gaining steam as you read this.
What does “digital revolution” mean to facilities managers, especially those responsible for critical facilities? And what does it mean to the manufacturers, dealers, contractors, and consulting engineers who serve them?
It means change—big change. It’s nothing less than a sea change in the way facilities are being managed.
That’s good because the digital revolution is helping to alleviate a list of facility managers’ pain points. This list includes managing the increasing complexity of buildings, merging legacy buildings and their systems with facilities’ expansions, and maintaining aging infrastructure. It also includes enhancing efficiency, and ensuring business continuity and emergency preparedness. And no list would be complete without the requirement to do more with less. However, two pain points at the core of the digital revolution are keeping up to date with evolving technologies and working with too little or too much data.
In fact, the digital revolution in facility management is empowering managers. Those embracing the revolution know about operational issues sooner, make decisions faster, and take action more insightfully. Helping empowered managers alleviate their pain points requires manufacturers, engine-generator dealers, and contractors to be empowered as well, or be left behind.
The Internet of Things
What’s enabling this revolution is the Internet of Things (IoT). For the uninitiated, it’s when a light in a home can be turned on and off by the homeowner from his smartphone, wherever he or she might be. Basically, it’s any device that includes a sensor with computing capability and a wireless connection to a central computer or the Internet. Those sensors are being integrated into increasingly more devices. Soon, they will be everywhere.
In automobiles, they automatically transmit information about tire pressure, total mileage, and time for an oil change, any of which can become an e-mail to the auto owner. In buildings, equipment with sensors include automatic transfer switches, engine-generators, and even radiators and fuel tanks.
Taken together, the array of sensors in buildings creates an interconnected facility management system that senses, transfers, and acts on specific information that each sensor is designed to monitor. The system could be designed for a single building, a multi-building campus, or geographically dispersed facilities. It could comprise hundreds or thousands of sensors.
This type of smart system adapts to, and anticipates, facilities managers’ needs, and even proactively manages their environments within the parameters they establish. How many and what types of sensors do your equipment and components integrate?
In terms of a building’s connectivity, or its ability to collect and share information, it wasn’t that long ago that serial networks provided only data and were commonly connected only to HVAC, fire, and security systems. Today, Ethernet networks with access to the Internet provide data, plus analysis and/or interpretation, and interact with other systems. It’s fair to say that facility networks now resemble IT networks.
With advances in connectivity, buildings have a variety of equipment and devices with differing capabilities for sharing operational information. Some may have simple status annunciation. Others may be able to monitor and provide a steady data stream, and still others may be able to react with related equipment. Some may feed data to building management systems either with twisted pair, Ethernet, or wirelessly. And some may even have Internet connectivity.
Digitally managed critical power
For a critical power management system (CPMS), for example, sensors already help monitor and control every aspect of system operation. A nationwide, independent survey of facility decision makers about critical power monitoring and control sheds light on the capabilities they have and those they want. More than 66% of those responding either have, or would like to have, monitoring capability from their CPMS. More than half either have, or need, control and reporting capabilities from their CPMS.
Almost half of those who have control and reporting capabilities also have some sort of integrated system to manage it. About 45% of respondents have some type of power quality monitoring and analytics (see Figure 1).
"When a client needs such power quality details as waveform capture or transient harmonic displays, extremely high rates of speed are required,” said Morris Toporek, senior vice president of Environmental Systems Design. “When you are doing forensics, you need fast and accurate time marks to track down where things went wrong.”
Because that’s what facility managers want to do, the question becomes, “How are EGSA members going to help them accomplish it?” The answer is, “By embracing the digital revolution. Become a source of expertise who facility managers can turn to for advice and products.”
The following example is a new paradigm of how facility managers are beginning to think about the equipment and systems that comprise their facilities. It’s a natural leadership opportunity for EGSA members.
While not exactly a “Brave New World,” the new paradigm for critical power management specifically, and facilities management in general, is cluster management (see Figure 2). Related equipment and systems will be monitored and controlled as a cluster. Critical power certainly will be one cluster. Others will be HVAC, and safety and security. Each will have detailed monitoring, measurement, and control within itself. And each will stream data to an overarching system, such as a building management system. The overarching system will orchestrate facility managers’ policy decisions using the aggregated data.
Cluster management will significantly affect equipment and devices in a cluster and how they’re managed. All equipment and devices will need to be completely compatible, share information freely, and otherwise operate seamlessly.
What are the ramifications for vendors who manufacture only some of that equipment and those devices? Will manufacturers who offer all equipment for a cluster have an advantage? Will facilities managers gravitate to cluster purchases of equipment, or buy individual pieces of equipment and devices? Does cluster management lead to facility management ecosystems?
The importance of an ecosystem
An ecosystem is an array of equipment, devices, and components that are designed to work with each other. For example, Apple has created an ecosystem of “iProducts.” Someone who has an Apple iPhone, iPad, accessories, and apps designed for them is unlikely to switch to an Android ecosystem. Blackberry, by comparison, did not develop a successful ecosystem and lost customers in droves. It did not adapt to its market’s own digital revolution.
For critical power, some manufacturers have made inroads on building their ecosystems. But not all companies have the resources to start from scratch and build a complete solution independently. And realistically, there’s no need to do that. Manufacturers, generator dealers, electrical contractors, and others can evaluate existing systems and leverage the expertise, development, and field experience that went into creating them. Do not be a Blackberry.
The result of cluster management, sensors on almost all devices, and the IoT that pulls everything together is Big Data. Consider that 90% of total data worldwide didn’t exist 24 months ago. Facility managers are entering that world. They will be seeing more data than they’ve ever seen before. And they’ll be expected to interpret it. That has important consequences for facility managers because data can be their best friend or worst enemy. It’s another opportunity for EGSA members to help facility managers master the data and become an indispensable resource for them.
The rising value of data
Interpretation is what makes facility management data valuable. For CPMS, it’s a change agent for reducing energy consumption, projecting capacity requirements, streamlining maintenance, resolving operational issues, and meeting reporting requirements. And that’s the short list of benefits.
To be truly useful and valuable, however, data need to be fingertip available. The time required to access it is crucial. For example, Boston Consulting Group reported that the website Shopzilla experienced a 7% to 12% sales increase and a 25% page view increase when it reduced the speed of loading website pages from 7 sec to 2.
Timely access to data depends on the structure of the information stack in which it is managed, visualizing the data dynamically and using it intelligently. Sequential stacks take longer to provide information than nonsequential structures. Dynamic visualization presents Big Data in easily and quickly understandable groups (see Figure 3). Effectively visualizing information enables predictability of future data, enhanced productivity, and problem avoidance.
Harnessing Big Data intelligently is best accomplished with a systems thinking approach. Systems thinking considers problems as integral elements of an overall system. It advocates that reacting to specific parts, outcomes, or events could potentially contribute to unintended (a.k.a. negative) consequences. With the systems thinking approach, Big Data becomes three-dimensional, no longer two-dimensional.
Data that have value are data that require protection. Data continuity needs to be assured by a self-healing network that avoids disruptions or overcomes disruptions instantaneously. Data security must be assured by multiple levels of encryption: application layer, native database object, network, and point-to-point. Programmable cryptography, digital certificates, and time stamping also should be part of a data protection program.
Data security isn’t just for major corporations. It’s for small companies as well. Security is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. In fact, corporations demand that contractors have adequate security. EGSA members might ask themselves, “What security level does my company have to help protect my customers? Could my company trigger tomorrow’s headlines about a massive data breach?”
As it continues to develop, the digital revolution in facility management will require a major change in how facility managers and their vendors do their jobs. For those who embrace the revolution, it will help alleviate a number of pain points, and, in fact, empower facility managers to know, decide, and take action confidently. They will be able to run the tightest ship imaginable.
Bhavesh Patel is director of marketing and customer support at ASCO Power Technologies, a business unit of Emerson Network Power. He is an accomplished public speaker with expertise in power system markets and has delivered presentations at NFMT, PowerGen, and ASHE. He has written many articles about power reliability and quality, and has hosted roundtable discussions of industry stakeholders to continue surfacing issues that help to improve power reliability.