Overcoming the challenge of multi-site facility management

by FM Media
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In a perfect world, facilities managers would always choose to optimise building performance. But in the real world, with dwindling resources and tight budgets, building optimisation can seem like a pipe dream. Indeed, today’s facility managers are often forced to do more with less. This is particularly cumbersome for enterprises with multiple distributed facilities.

With a diverse stock of buildings, each with their own set-up and individual requirements, the challenges of day-to-day operation are significantly amplified for multi-site facility managers. Juggling disjointed building control systems, maintenance and emergency repairs, just keeping these facilities in operation can be a struggle for management.

One of the major challenges confronting building managers is coordinating multiple facilities with different levels of automation in place – from simple (stand-alone) to sophisticated (integrated or full-blown BMS, building management systems). In these circumstances, managing the big picture and fine-tuning building systems is impractical, if not impossible, for many enterprises.

Schneider Electric's Cara Ryan

Schneider Electric’s Cara Ryan

While these controls may help locally, they operate as silos and do not provide any visibility or control at the enterprise level, leaving corporate management with no way to be proactive, share best practices or make informed energy-related decisions. As a result, corporate views of facilities performance typically can be obtained only in occasional static reports.

Thankfully, the development of the cloud and other technologies has forged a new opportunity for facilities managers to take control of operations on a large scale. By using the cloud – which offers connectivity, data storage and applications without major investments – it is now possible and cost-effective for companies of all sizes to view and manage their facility’s landscape in a consistent, centralised way.

With the cloud, monitoring multiple sites with different systems and requirements has never been easier. HVAC, lighting and energy use data can be read from the various buildings at regular intervals. This data is then sent to the cloud, where it is collected, aggregated and delivered via reporting applications.

The idea is simple: instead of purchasing and maintaining enormous IT centres, companies can use the cloud to strategically outsource portions of their operations. Any number of remote locations can be linked via the cloud, and more can be easily added as growth occurs.

For enterprises wanting to scale in the future, the cloud is an ideal solution that offers unprecedented agility. It’s also a cost-effective option, and is able to solve data storage, processing and management problems, as well as many other inherent security and networking challenges at significantly less cost than building and operating your own server.

[quote style=’1′ cite=”]With a diverse stock of buildings, each with their own set-up and individual requirements, the challenges of day-to-day operation are significantly amplified for multi-site facility managers.[/quote]

One of greatest benefits of a cloud-based platform is its ability to significantly increase visibility into building performance. As the old adage goes, you can’t fix what you can’t see. With cloud, all staff from the chief information officer (CIO) to the maintenance director can have near real-time visibility into energy use and occupant comfort across the enterprise. This visibility can include:

  • live monitoring and control of HVAC, lighting and metering devices across all locations
  • visualisation dashboards to view performance metrics, spot trends and gather insights, and
  • graphs, charts and conversions (i.e. kW to dollar cost).

While visibility is valuable in itself, cloud-based solutions can take things one step further with some centralised applications offering control capability, allowing remote adjustment of local environmental settings.

This, however, will require an ‘open system’ platform. By adding control capability to a cloud-based solution, enterprises can manage their entire facilities landscape almost as if it were a single structure. Executives can not only monitor all sites, but they can also control the environment within their property portfolio whenever necessary, from any location on any device.

Perhaps the strongest argument for implementation of a cloud-based platform is its ability to store vast amounts of data from across the enterprise. Facility managers wanting to truly make the most of the cloud should consider performing analytics on all the big data they’ve captured.

After all, it’s the analytics software that interprets the underlying data, showing not just where inefficiencies occur, but why. This intelligence empowers facility managers with actionable information for troubleshooting and preventative maintenance. Most importantly, the insights obtained enable managers to always stay two steps ahead, by allowing them to proactively optimise and commission building operations more effectively than with a dashboard alone.

An agile and cost-effective solution suited to facilities of all sizes, the cloud is an ideal platform for multi-site enterprises. Helping to alleviate the challenge of monitoring disparate sites, often with different building systems in place, utilising the cloud not only allows operations data to be streamlined and centralised, it also enables issues to be easily identified and more quickly rectified. Last but not least, with a cloud-based platform, multi-site facility managers can create more productive environments for workers and customers and facilitate more informed executive decision-making at the corporate level.

Cara Ryan is building performance centre offer manager at Schneider Electric Australia.

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