Article - November 2001
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Babel Buster Network Gateways: Big Features. Small Price.
Control Solutions, Inc. - Minnesota

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William J. Stermer 
Director, Marketing and Technical Sales Support 
SRS - Strategic Resource Solutions

No longer can the facilities manager, energy manager or financial manager continue to exist independently of the corporate mission. 

Bill Stermer has spent more than 24 years in the building controls and security industry in various sales and marketing roles, specializing in integrated solution sales. He was hired by SRS as National Sales Manager for SiteNet™ Command Center and was recently promoted to Director of Marketing and Technical Sales Support.

Integrated Facilities Management (IFM) is a term used to describe the total integration of facilities resources at the network level, thereby optimizing the ability to effectively address energy price volatility and other cost of operations issues. Until recently, disparate technology and proprietary platforms were obstacles to the implementation of such an initiative. That situation has changed.


Current industry trends embrace web-based solutions. The migration in this direction has been slow to develop and many times cumbersome to implement. Not all systems can be easily and successfully elevated to a web-based platform. Many Building Automation System (BAS) vendors have introduced platforms integrating their latest, state of the art systems, while leaving legacy investments as a future interface. This is not unusual due to the cost of providing technology integration between older (legacy) systems and current platforms. This cost is sometimes born by the vendor; however, it is often a cost of doing business absorbed by the end user. Even with the advent of open protocols, such as BACnet and LonWorks, customers are still caught in the technology gap between proprietary and open platforms.

Now let's add to the equation numerous other facility resources which in the past have operated as independent fiefdoms, having little or no integration with other systems. Energy monitoring and aggregation have seldom been integral components of the BAS platform. Different manager…different vision…different priority. Work and facilities management software have also not typically been integrated with BAS technology because controls vendors had little to no practical field experience with automated work order systems. Then consider other energy and process systems such as asset tracking and management, capital asset planning and facility scheduling. You can easily see the impact upon any facilities manager, juggling disparate systems that operate independently without focus or strategic vision.

No longer can the facilities manager, energy manager or financial manager continue to exist independently of the corporate mission. Communication mediums designed to share information and resources across an organization now exist - Local and Wide Area Networks. Combined with emerging Internet technologies, the opportunities are limitless if you have a platform totally committed to openness. That technology is now appearing on the radar screen, but in very limited numbers.

Vendor neutral (BAS independent) platforms are now beginning to surface in the market. ODBC (Open Data Base Compliant) programs are readily available and are designed to easily integrate with other open platforms. Openness and information exchange are becoming the keys to assist energy and facilities managers in their quest to uncover and identify hidden energy anomalies and operational inefficiencies. Couple these features with the integration of work orders generated automatically by equipment runtime and alarm-based events, and the picture for total IFM begins to unfold. Remember, today's deferred maintenance, if left unattended, will be tomorrow's costly capital improvement projects.

The new approach to resolving such operational issues is total integration on an ODBC platform. This allows the existing and open facility systems to remain independent, yet linked via a powerful and cohesive information highway where process efficiency and the bottom line can coexist. The individual points of pain experienced by every facilities manager can now be collectively integrated into a common platform, whereby the benefits of networking and true client/server architecture can be realized. Imagine being able to monitor and control all of your facility resources, without any proprietary software, from your office, any remote facility, your home or from your car. Access to your Intranet or the Internet and a standard web browser is all you need. There are no more expensive graphics packages residing on specific laptops or workstations. In essence, so long as there is network connectivity, where ever you go so follows the ability to effectively manage all of your resources.

So, if you have a platform which allows for total facilities integration (and they do exist in limited numbers), what does this really mean? Imagine you come to work, enter your office, turn on your workstation and hit a special icon. Immediately a web page appears detailing energy usage and any consumption beyond "preset" budget levels. Or imagine you manage a school district with numerous sites and many different BAS platforms, and you have the ability to view the critical alarms from each school/BAS system on a single screen. In the age of proprietary software and systems, such an event was impossible. Now you can view your entire enterprise, not from multiple CPU's and monitors, but from a single, non-proprietary workstation through a standard web browser.

Imagine you work for the Federal government and have independent work order systems, a load shedding system, a load shifting system, multiple BAS systems and an RTP (real time pricing) feed from the local utility company. Through standard algorithms, you now have the ability to engage in war games with your energy usage and its associated cost. Knowing when it is more cost effective to switch (whether manually or automatically) to an alternative energy source (such as an emergency generator) or initiate load shedding initiatives and watch the resulting cost savings becomes a pretty powerful equation. If you reside in a deregulated state, having a historical load shape with daily and monthly load curves can empower you to negotiate the purchase of power in good faith, but more importantly in a position of strength. Even in a regulated environment, such information is vital to ensure you have the most beneficial utility rate structure.

So far we have discussed BAS, energy and work orders. What about assets, both fixed and capital? Have you ever been tasked to develop a capital improvement plan, but you did not have sufficient data available? Over the next three to five years, accurate data relevant to the condition of your facilities infrastructure can enable you to make informed recommendations that cannot be disputed. You may lose the budget war, but at least your facts and economics will be sound and defendable.

When was the last time you required updated drawings for a proposed renovation project? If you were fortunate, you might have been able to locate some "marked up", as-built drawings. But who provided the revisions, when were they last modified, and do they really represent what exists? How much easier would it be if original project drawings in AutoCAD were imported and available on one of your network servers to be used, modified and maintained by your personnel? In addition, if these drawings were to reside on your network and were available to an AE firm via web access, how much more effective could that firm be in providing engineering services for a retrofit project? Outdated, as-built drawings once stored in a closet have now been replaced by dynamic, living documents protected by a control process.

Remember the hurricanes and flooding of the Carolinas in 1999? How many organizations could not accurately account for the majority of their fixed assets? Once again, the ability to provide accurate data could have meant cost savings and improved ability to quantify the severity of loss.

We have begun to paint a picture of separate yet integrated databases and systems that enable sharing of information and resources because they occupy an "open position" on the corporate network. What other advantages can we realize from IFM?

How about E-Commerce integrated with building controls and work order systems? While acceptance of the "electronic signature" has yet to be fully embraced, its usefulness is obvious. Imagine a large industrial facility with hundreds of air handling units, each with filters of various sizes and makes. What is the cost to maintain the appropriate type and quantity of filters on site? In lieu of this cost, allow the integration of three facilities resources to provide the solution. When the BAS receives a dirty filter alarm, the IFM server will be alerted and will subsequently notify the work order server to generate a work order. We can carry this one step further. In addition to the work order being generated, why not issue that work order to a third party contractor (via the Internet) to have the particular filter on your loading dock the next morning? "Just In Time" with a technology twist.

We are all aware of the changing mood within our educational system. It is no longer considered safe from terrorism. Columbine dispelled that fact. How much more effective could the local SWAT team be if they were allowed access through your network and provided with updated site and floor plans, as well as video surveillance? Such information provided to emergency response units could minimize potential loss of life and destruction of property. What would be the value to these organizations of having such critical information prior to arrival at the scene?

Cost savings cannot only be a direct result of aggressive energy initiatives, but also an indirect result of risk mitigation. IFM can have a very positive impact on preservation of budgets and improving the quality of life. It does however require a commitment and the vision to operate outside "the norm". If these two conditions are understood and embraced, the concept of IFM can become an integral component of any organization's strategic plan.

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