Four considerations to make the most of today’s business technology

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Facility managers can achieve significant benefits by implementing the right technology to help with tasks such as building maintenance. Choosing the right technology can have a big effect on tenant comfort as well as staff productivity.

It’s a competitive market, so it’s important to choose innovative technology that will meet the organisation’s goals without blowing the budget. However, the business landscape is crowded with enterprise technologies, with new options emerging all the time, making it difficult for organisations to determine which is right for them.

Most facility managers would benefit from an integrated and optimised suite of business systems that can share data and inform each other. The results can include more efficient air-conditioning systems, stronger security systems or more environmentally friendly lighting patterns, just to name a few. To achieve this, facility managers need to evaluate their current technology ecosystem, then determine which technologies will best work with the existing business systems.

Here are four key things facility managers should consider when evaluating future technology investments:

Business systems
Many newer facilities have moved towards cloud and mobile business solutions, and are ready to move to the next step, such as hybrid IT. For older facilities, the priority should be to integrate legacy business systems with new, cloud-based ones.

Integrating legacy infrastructure with new systems isn’t always an easy task. For example, a lot of older buildings may be using automated systems on proprietary network protocols. These need to be switched to open protocols that newer systems can use. It’s a hurdle, but gateway software middleware can fix it by translating protocols.

Systems integrations can deliver valuable benefits. For example, linking traditionally separate systems can offer greater insight and efficiency of facility operations. Think of the integration of fire alarm systems with other building systems, such as the building’s heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, to control smoke and ventilation, helping to stifle a blaze.

Data
In many cases, effective business systems integration comes down to combining the systems’ data. Most conventional systems of data management make use of so-called siloed data, where specific data sets for individual departments or purposes are held and used only for those departments and purposes.

Freeing data from silos by integrating disparate systems means it can be used across the organisation for a range of purposes. It also increases the value of the data. Rather than looking at data from a single building system, for example, a facility manager can use a database with multiple systems to use data more holistically through analysis.

Data analysis is fast becoming a core competency for organisations in a range of industry sectors. Facility managers can use data analysis to improve efficiencies for some of the sector’s core concerns, such as energy usage and other resource management.

It’s no surprise then that a growing number of organisations already understand that, by harnessing their data, they can become much stronger businesses. For analytics to work in the best possible way, however, all the data needs to be in a single location.

Combining all of the facility data into a single data management environment can reduce the costs associated with storage, and can provide business systems with enough information to oversee the organisation from end to end.

To overcome the restrictions that siloed data create, organisations should conduct regular data audits, and get a handle on all of their data.

The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) has received a lot of attention recently because of the potential associated with its consumer applications, but connected devices have long had a place in many enterprise-grade applications.

Now, with the consumer IoT market on the rise, enterprise-level IoT technology is entering a new age of sophistication, which presents organisations in a whole range of industries with some exciting new opportunities.

Generally speaking, most of the internet-connected devices on the market are designed for two main purposes: to monitor and to control. Given these two core traits, IoT technology lends itself particularly well to facility management, as IoT technology can be used to help keep building systems working optimally.

Strictly speaking, the mechanisms that operate a multitude of internet-connected building systems, such as automation systems used to control lighting, HVAC, communications systems, security and others can be considered IoT devices. As the scope of the IoT expands beyond traditional uses, more attention is being paid to the deep data that such devices can produce.

To achieve the full potential of the data produced by the IoT, companies will need a solid data analytics strategy. With the right analysis, facility managers can make buildings more resource-efficient, and generally operate far more smoothly than they would without the extra insight garnered by the IoT device data.

Getting IoT technology insights requires systems integration at multiple levels. Once companies have achieved this, they can begin to integrate the broader IoT landscape into their approach, which is a major first step in making the most of what the IoT can offer.

Security
Information security is the new frontier for many businesses. As more business operations are digitalised, and more core processes involve connected systems, the greater the digital threats are for organisations.

Facility managers need to consider the security of the business technologies they adopt to ensure information security and the safety of those in their facilities. If hackers gain access to the facility’s systems, they can steal sensitive information and gain control of building systems.

Even Google Australia’s Sydney office has fallen victim to hackers, albeit ‘white hat’ hackers, with its building control system falling victim to two IT security researchers in 2013. The hackers were able to get full access to the building management system, including settings that could be changed, blueprints and plans. The incident highlighted the weaknesses in modern computer-based building management systems used to control things like HVAC, lighting and fire systems.

If it can happen to Google, it can happen to just about any building with computer-based systems. When these systems are outsourced to third parties, it becomes even more important to put adequate security in place to prevent breaches. Such breaches do continue to happen, but one of the processes that will drive new security approaches is formal risk analysis.

A lot of companies believe they might be doing some form of risk analysis but, when examined, it is not very thorough. Companies need to think about security differently, and it starts with a formal, comprehensive risk analysis.

Overall, the benefits of today’s connected building management systems still outweigh the security risks but, if those risks can be mitigated, then the building will be more secure and less susceptible to worst-case scenarios such as terror attacks.

Technology is a significant business enabler and can deliver a sharp competitive edge. Facility managers can benefit from the improvements delivered by the right technology. By taking these four important considerations into account, facility managers can carefully consider what technology is right for the organisation, and how to implement and manage it. As new technologies continue to emerge, smart facility managers will find ways to integrate them into existing systems to gain even more efficiencies and performance improvements.

The author, Jim Hamilton, is vice-president, Member Communities at CompTIA. The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), based in North America, is the voice of the world’s information technology industry. This article also appears in the April/May issue of Facility Management.

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