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Article - March 2000
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...the future of facility management is clear: it’s putting buildings online.

Gerry Lands, President and Chief Executive Officer, has a BSEE degree with graduate studies in systems management.

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EnFlex Corporation


Company A has one building.   Company B has a campus with multiple manufacturing facilities and administrative offices.   Company C has stores in 50 states.   Company D has large, multiple-building campuses in a score of cities around the world. 

As diverse as these companies seem, what they all have in common is an opportunity to “put buildings online” using new technologies that allow precise monitoring and control of total energy consumption, whole systems such as HVAC or security, even a single switch or valve, over the Internet or their own enterprise network. The same system allows different users having different management and reporting responsibilities to gather facilities’ data based on geographical areas, operating divisions, weather regions or any other meaningful grouping depending on their management, analysis, and reporting needs.

The benefits of such an enterprise-wide facilities information system go deep into the organization --- and beyond. Real-time information from sites or groups of sites helps energy managers, maintenance and service managers, network operations personnel, and general management to better manage the facilities of a large, diverse enterprise. Moreover, as energy deregulation accelerates, the system allows unprecedented demand-side control, making it particularly attractive to utilities, energy services companies, energy marketers, and control contractors. 

The technology to create this type of networked facilities management system is only now coming to market, and standards are still being established. But it is real. It’s here. And before you take steps to integrate one into company operations, here are a few considerations you should make.

Assess the network structure.
An enterprise-wide facilities monitoring and control system should be based on a logical, hierarchical structure with an intelligent, interactive gateway at its heart. 

At its lowest level are digital and analog inputs and outputs connected to a dedicated controller which is in turn connected to a network host computer. Information from host computers is aggregated into a larger entity, the facility, representing, for the sake of this model, one building. Several facilities can be grouped into a site such as the campus in the example above, or into site groups. At the top of this network structure is the Command Center (or Help Desk) which contains the master enterprise database and software that supports information delivery throughout the enterprise. Together, this structure provides the kind of real-time information companies need to efficiently operate facilities, maintain support systems, procure energy, and deliver value-added services.

Develop the database and support software.
Without going into technical specifications, the database should be compatible with the existing data structure, be accessible by the facility information gateways, and be compatible with the data visualization, reporting, and network software used by the enterprise.

Information technology management should, in conjunction with network users and facility management personnel, carefully map out the specifications for a consolidated, SQL-compliant facility information database: 

Present the collected information.
To make information useful, there are a number of software packages featuring data graphing, filtration, and viewing capabilities which enable users to spot anomalies and easily recognize subtle data trends. The general structure and features of the system should provide the organization with options on what information is available and how it is presented. A few examples:

Network and gateway considerations.
The function of the network is to transport information rapidly, accurately and clearly, and provide for the seamless linking of all enterprise nodes.

Other network considerations include ongoing routine maintenance of not only network servers, routers, user workstations, etc. but also the individual facility gateways and installed facility systems. The enterprise must be able to remotely manage, troubleshoot, and upgrade all software components as well as provision and integrate new facilities into the infrastructure. 

The facility information gateway is the single point of connection representing the site to the enterprise. It should gather information on energy and demand from all energy streams, gather data from environmental and other installed sensors, and be able to exert supervisory control and monitoring for lighting, HVAC, generators, and other facility systems. 

The gateway should have several capabilities and be capable of performing certain common network functions:

Integrate facility systems.
Facility systems are all of those devices used to perform facility related tasks such as lighting and HVAC control, energy monitoring, security and access control, environmental monitoring, and water and sewage metering. For some companies there is even greater value in monitoring process-related functions such as compressed air, chilled water, ventilation and exhaust, etc. Having these facility systems integrated at the gateway and sharing common information makes the management and operation of the facility a far simpler and more efficient task. For example:

Put buildings online.
An integrated enterprise facility monitoring and control solution is a complex assortment of hardware and software, bound together on a network to deliver a highly-desirable range of facility services:

As the size, business, operations, and facility designs of enterprises vary, so will the solution that will deliver the site management capabilities needed by the enterprise. But the future of facility management is clear: it’s putting buildings online.

Gerry Lands is president of EnFlex Corporation, a Prescott, AZ manufacturer of information gateway systems to directly connect devices within a building or group of facilities. The system then collects data, controls operations and delivers information via an enterprise network or the Internet. For more information, contact EnFlex Corp., 1040 Whipple Street, Suite 225, Prescott, AZ 86305, phone 520/776-7101, fax 520/776-9078, or www.enflex.net.


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