Facility managers are used to accommodating change, but today’s facility manager is faced with understanding and managing a broad new range of rapidly developing technologies and applications collectively called the Internet of Things and the closely related Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Unlike past systems, that were relatively isolated from each other in terms of both signal transmission and information exchange, todays systems often communicate over a converged building network allowing nearly seamless inter-system control and data exchange, not only from within the building but from anywhere in the world via the Internet.
Bill Gates’ famous 1990 “Information at Your Fingertips” multimedia presentation at the fall Comdex trade show was one of the first presentations to show how data mining and analysis could both increase top-line revenue and bottom-line profit. The scenarios were based on using networked personal computers running the Microsoft operating system and Microsoft software at a time (when mainframe and minicomputers were still mainstream I.T. department hardware). The message was powerful; capture data, analyze the data, present the data in easily understood formats. Hence gain a competitive advantage. Facility managers may not be able to directly affect revenue and profits, but they can control both capital and operating expenses by taking advantage of today’s converged networks that make real-time, historical and trending information available at their fingertips.
“Information at Your Fingertips” also addressed something else that was characteristic of that mainframe-centric period: a potential solution to the extensive, and often unacceptable, delay between when a request was made to the I.T. department for a report and when the report was delivered (six months was often quoted as the average time). As a result, by the time the I.T. department was able to write a program to produce the requested data, the decision had already been made without the benefit of being able to obtain and analyze critical data.
Things are very different today. While mainframes still do the heavy lifting in some industries (e.g., finance, air traffic control), the rest of the world revolves around networked personal computers, tablets and smartphones to provide information at our fingertips. The wireless networks are changing the way we communicate and share data. Looking forward, it will be a collection of wireless networks and technologies that will create the next generation Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; 5G cellular and dedicated cellular industrial cellular networks.
The challenge for the facility manager will be finding a way to manage the increasingly complex data communications networks: Facility Manager meet the I.T Manager.
Depending on how you define it, the converged network is roughly 20 years old and rapidly becoming the all-in-one network that was originally envisioned. The first wave of convergence was the move away from legacy PBX-based telephone hardware and software to network-based VoIP applications. The move to VoIP did more than just integrate voice and data, it forced networks to become better engineered and more reliable. Network engineers and administrators had to concentrate on minimizing network delay and jitter while simultaneously increasing network availability. Today all networks are optimized to support VoIP and the list of potential applications suitable for a converged network is long and growing. Below are some of the most common applications utilizing today’s wired and wireless converged networks. Some are “front-facing” applications and services used by the building’s occupants while others are “rear-facing” applications and services used by the building’s operations and management personnel.
Voice (VoIP); Data (file storage and exchange); Email; Video (IPTV, CATV); Audio (digital audio transport); Streaming video; Video conferencing; Multimedia (AVoIP); Digital signage; Security devices (cameras, card readers, etc.); Remote sensing; Asset Management System (AMS); Access Control System (ACS); Building Control System (BCS); Building Automation System (BAS); and Building Management System (BMS).
The critical factors for the continuing development of increasingly sophisticated converged networks are both technical and economic. Technically, the principle drivers are a standards-based structured cabling infrastructure, a common information transport protocol (TCP/IP) and scalable network capacity. On the economics side the drivers are low-cost, mass produced wired and wireless network interfaces (ethernet and cellular radio chip sets), a highly competitive supplier marketplace and a large pool of technical talent with either formal or self-taught data network knowledge.
Structured cabling is often described as the foundation, or enabling technology, that supports all other technologies. There are design standards, product standards and testing standards that ensure the installed copper and fiber optic (and wireless) technologies will provide support for almost any required application. Structured cabling is an often overlooked technical and economic triumph of engineering. For example, during the mainframe era, each company used a proprietary cabling system. So, if a company wanted to switch from its current mainframe (e.g., Univac) to a competitor’s (e.g., IBM, GE) it had to not only give serious consideration to the cost of hardware and software conversion, staff training, and required building modifications, but also the cost of rewiring the building’s computer cabling. On the telephony side, PBX wiring was more standardized, but the same considerations applied to varying degrees when switching from one PBX manufacturer to another.
Facility Manager meet I.T. Manager. The future is based on a strong collaboration between them. To the FM it’s a smart meter, an occupancy sensor or pressure transducer. To the network, it’s an IP address, a VLAN and Ethernet switch. The convergence of the two domains is Information at Your Fingertips. The converged network is described as the “Fourth Utility” meaning it is simply expected to be available in the building in the same way that electric, water and sanitary services are all part of a building’s basic infrastructure. Two-wire industrial ethernet will become the cabling and data transmission protocol of choice for industrial equipment. The number of networked devices worldwide is expected to exceed 75 billion by 2025, the majority of which will be wireless.
About the Author
Mr. Schirmer, RCDD/NTS, is a Supervising Engineer with WSP USA, Transportation and Infrastructure, specializing aviation and airport projects. He earned his MBA in Information Systems from Binghamton University and holds degrees in economics, business administration and electrical engineering technology.
Name: Ernest Schirmer
Title: Supervising Engineer
Company: WSP USA, Transportation and Infrastructure
Address: 2000 Lenox Drive, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648