December 2004
  
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From Buildings to the Enterprise via IT

  Anto Budiardjo
Clasma, Inc.

The building industry needs to focus on that word “Information” because it is the information that can be extracted out of buildings that will provide the value to the enterprise.

The humble building has stood on its own for many decades. Though most often owned and operated by large organizations, buildings have tended to be disconnected from the corporate nerve center, this has left the down-playing of buildings as a distant cost that can only be managed by groups that often seem to be beyond the close control of organization. All that could often be expected is that the cost is kept low, the occupants of them be happy then simply feed the cost of the building as a line item in the corporation’s P&L sheets.

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One of the fascinating benefits of the convergence of building systems and IT is that the very mechanism that is bringing much needed control of many facets of organizations of today is now being more and more connected to building systems. We are talking of course of IT, all of the technology involved with connecting information generating, storage, analysis as well as reporting entities around the corporation.

The collection of all of these systems, connected by IT, is what most people are referring to as “The Enterprise”. By their near real-time connectivity and ample storage and analysis power, the information from all corners of the organization is brought together for the benefit of the organization.

IT’s focus on Human Resources, Supply Chain, Customer Relationship and Finance has brought about in recent decades, an increase in the efficiency of the organization unheard of in the middle of the 20th century. Supply Chain is now so efficient that most of the world’s stock do not sit in warehouses, they sit in container ships, ports, rail and trucks. They are designed to arrive at their destination just when they are needed. Customer Relationship systems tell organizations when their customer’s are likely to need products, little time is spent chasing worthless leads, producing sales organization efficiencies previously unheard of.

It is time to plug the building into this nerve center, time to discover the efficiencies that can be extracted out of connecting these buildings to the organization’s functions that depend on facilities for their success.

As several attendees and speakers commented after BuilConn 2004 in Dallas, connectivity is no longer the challenge, neither is the technology. The challenge is to search for how the information that comes from buildings can be useful to the enterprise.

The building industry needs to focus on that word “Information” because it is the information that can be extracted out of buildings that will provide the value to the enterprise. Just look for a moment at the “information” that brings value to Supply Chain and Customer Relationship; it’s information like the location of a shipment, the time it will take to get to destination and the quality of the environment of the container. It’s the time since a customer purchased a product, the customer’s demographics, the customer’s satisfaction of a product (yours or your competitor). All of this information is somehow useful to the Enterprise. Before connectivity and IT, all of these information pieces were there, just not connected and not available to the Enterprise, and thus not available for the enterprise to make decisions based on them.

Now let’s go back to buildings, think about that humble temperature sensor on the wall or the card reader by the door or that humble light switch. In the past they were only there to switch on and off some HVAC equipment, to allow or deny access through the door and to allow humans to illuminate the space.

In the connected building, those devices that we are all familiar with have greater value yet to be determined. If a well programmed and structured Enterprise based system can have access to the temperature in all of the buildings, have knowledge of who and when passed through doors and have knowledge of which spaces are being illuminated (consuming energy), then surely it can use such information to some good for the organization.

For decades, the buildings systems industry have strived to integrate, with the function of integrating being the end-game of fancy closed and open systems based technologies able to do magic in transporting data from one device and system to another. The author for one spent many years developing and marketing software products just for that purpose. The value for integration for its own sake is marginal at best, the author learnt that the hard way!

Control Solutions, Inc The effort was noble, the technology works, the only thing wrong is the objective. Integration is not the end-game. Integration is purely a mechanism to aggregate disparate pieces of data so that they can be presented to the enterprise in a coherent manner, using a single method of interface for all of the building systems that are found installed in today’s facilities.

Without integration, without some way to gather all of the information together, it would be impossible or at least very hard for enterprise systems to make use of the disparate pieces of data found in buildings. So the decades of work on integration and open systems was not in vain after all, it is for a purpose, one could argue for an even greater purpose than anyone would have foresaw.

So, now that we know we can collect the information, we know that we can transport the information to enterprise systems, we also know that organizations large and small are eager to squeeze as much efficiency out of all of their resources – why cannot information from buildings be fed into this information hungry enterprise machine to figure out how it can be used for the benefit for the building owner?

IT is the enabling connection between buildings and the enterprise. IT is the same enabling connection to all the other corners of the organization’s functions to the enterprise. The opportunity is now to figure out just how this information can benefit building owners. Once found, it will change how we look at that sensor on the wall or card reader for ever.

Where are these issues being defined? The current BuilSpec educational seminars going round the US are defining some of the issues and the upcoming BuilConn 2005 in Dallas March 21-24 will undoubtedly be a discussion forum for much of these issues, look for speakers and sessions at the event dedicated to this very subject.

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