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Why IT should get in the facilities business

Why IT should get in the facilities business

Energy savings throughout the company can be cut if IT applies its technology know-how to managing facilities

The intertwining of IT and facilities outside the datacenter

The focus of cooperation and even convergence between facilities and IT in the datacenter is driven by ensuring business efficiency and continuity. But outside the datacenter, there's a simpler motivation: cost savings.

Traditionally, HVAC systems are overengineered, so there's redundancy and future capacity built in. That translates to extra ducts and greater cooling or heating capacity than needed -- a reasonable approach because it's been cheaper to allow such waste in return for not requiring major, expensive rework when your demands grew over time. But with ever-increasing energy costs, that approach no longer works well.

Today, IT has the ability to analyze data on energy usage, work patterns, and other facilities domains to reduce the need for such overengineering, thus lowering costs, says Tom Debin, CEO of Equity Through Energy, a building automation supplier. For example, analysis can tell you how many kilowatts are being used per square foot in a building, helping planners decide whether or not to close or renovate the facility.

Or take the case of something as simple as a water heating system in a restaurant. The designer will design for maximum flow on the maximum day with 100 percent use and then put a fudge factor of 25 percent after he gets it printed out and goes to the plumber. The plumber thinks, "I don't want to be called for a repair later, so I will buy the next model up," adding another 25 percent. So by the time it gets to the job site and the customer has a say, you may have a water heater that costs more in both material and energy costs than is justifiable by the actual demand. "Bigger isn't better," says Debin.

The benefits of analysis-based energy management include lower costs for energy, decreased equipment maintenance costs, a reduced carbon footprint, consistency across the real estate portfolio, and increased effectiveness and decreased cost of the extended enterprise, says Dan Sharplin, CEO at Site Controls, a building automation supplier.

"Intelligent" building automation systems that control power usage based on actual consumption and building designs that are less overengineered both bring challenges when deployed, says James Jones, product manager at Infor, an enterprise asset management vendor.

First, managing these systems requires the pervasive use of sensors that are networked together. It is IT that must manage the network and the data it generates. "IT takes responsibility for information systems that get installed at the site," says Jones. "While the guy you want to fix the boiler needs to be a journeyman technician, a lot of times what you are dealing with or alerted about is a condition coming from an information system. So does IT own that?" Whether or not IT owns it, "IT needs to be able to run with it even if someone else installs it," he adds.

Second, IT needs to be able to understand and intelligently act on the data that the building automation systems generate. IT's role doesn't stop at ensuring the system is running as planned, but extends to helping identify new, better ways to reduce waste and increase efficiency. "The key is having the data available to the extended enterprise in an actionable format," says Site Control's Sharplin.

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