Facilities management in the digital age
The janitor and the guy he reports to. That's really the traditional view of facilities management, an essential set of tasks that are nevertheless executed in a rather earthy and hands-on manner.
However, all that is changing, says Dewald Booysen, Chief Technology Officer for Dimension Data's Advanced Infrastructure business, who explains that the emergence and widespread use of Internet Protocol networks is driving a revolution in facilities management.
“The various tasks and assets which fall under facilities management have never enjoyed the same levels of precision, control and discipline that is found in the data centre,” says Booysen, “But the fact is that the functions for which the facilities manager is responsible, are just as important to operating a business as the functions in the data centre.”
He points to HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning), electric power, plumbing and lighting systems, safety and security as common facilities management tasks, which can benefit from computerised control and automation. Added to these are other tasks such as cleaning, decoration and grounds-keeping, which retain the necessity for human intervention and activity.
“There is no lack of evidence to demonstrate how important these functions are to keeping a business running effectively,” says Booysen. “The electricity crisis of 2008, for example, showed that air conditioning and stable power are critical business resources.”
Building Management Systems (BMS) and building automation are rising in relevance for those companies that seek to establish and maintain safe, secure, clean and habitable work environment. It is here that Booysen raises the relevance of Internet Protocol (IP). “IP has become the de facto standard for building networks. More than just 'business data', they now also carry security camera signals while also providing a ready network for the connection of most aspects of building management,” he says.
Noting that major international vendors are active in this environment, Booysen says the advantages are clear. “The facilities manager is going to become an IT-savvy person. In fact, many aspects of facilities management are increasingly falling into the domain of the IT manager, given the emergence of computer-controlled, automated systems. Everything from safety and security, to air-conditioning, can and is being controlled through IP networks feeding information into intelligent systems.”
There is another perspective, which is growing in stature, too - that of improved energy efficiency. “Worldwide, there is a push towards 'green' buildings and systems. In the data centre, that's largely centred on better-performing hardware and more effective cooling. On a broader scale, the same principles can be applied throughout a building. Equipment, such as HVAC, lighting, water consumption, can be better managed. Automating that equipment provides for the ability to not only record when and how it is used, but also to automatically control it for optimum performance and efficiency.”
It's a convergence of physical and digital worlds, which Booysen admits can be trying for 'old school' facilities managers; already there is some ambiguity in terms of whether it is the IT or facilities manager responsible for certain aspects of building management. However, he believes the benefits are clear and the trend inexorable. “Computerisation and automation of facilities management reduces human intervention. It also brings 'data centre discipline' into an area formerly regarded as simply a necessary set of functions. And it removes that jurisdictional ambiguity between IT and facilities management by merging the two functions.”