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Article - January 2004
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Enterprise Facility Information Systems

 

Enterprise Facility Information Systems

David Wolins
VP Business Development
EnFlex Corp.

Case Study
Optimization of facility operations lies with the ability to evaluate information from EFIS and dispatch effective controls throughout the enterprise.

Summary

Following the installation of energy management systems (EMS) at multiple sites, the effective and simultaneous monitoring and control of campuses and individual facilities presents additional opportunities to benefit from an enterprise’s networking capabilities. Reaping these benefits, however, requires careful consideration, planning and a vision into the future of facility operations. 

This document describes the goals that guided two years of software development by EnFlex Corp. as well as some of the requirements that surfaced in cooperation with Costco Wholesale during the implementation of their unique Enterprise Facility Information System (EFIS). This EFIS guide is presented as an evolutionary step in the development and deployment of useful, cost-effective, integrated building networks.

An EFIS consists of a number of interoperable hardware and software components that provides a common set of capabilities to an enterprise with regard to facility management:

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The deployment of an enterprise level system to support the above functions for facilities scattered worldwide must first, and most importantly, be consistent with the defined facility management goals of the organization. The process is analogous to a “funneling” process wherein the broad operational goals of the enterprise are reduced to system design and performance requirements.

The EFIS capabilities and design must necessarily conform to and be consistent with the existing management infrastructure of the corporation. It should enhance the fundamental management principles and practices of the enterprise and not require enterprise management to alter its organization to accommodate new software. However, the implementation of an EFIS is nevertheless inherently complex and calls for initial and ongoing efforts from management, operational staff, and facility users to implement and successfully utilize the system.

Background

Energy management systems (EMS) constitute the bulk of the building controls and local facility management capabilities for most commercial buildings. EMS delivers basic control and alarm management for the installed HVAC, lighting, and refrigeration systems. Though it may be debated by the EMS suppliers, there is relatively little difference in the ability of any of these systems to deliver adequate control within the criteria established by typical building occupants and managers. From one generation to the next, the control and reporting capabilities of all EMS have steadily improved. For the purposes of implementing EFIS, EMS is treated as a source of data and the method of implementing facility control.

In addition to the facility control characteristics and capabilities of EMS, there is the user interface that represents the systems and the facility in which the EMS is installed. Typical retailers and other customers with a large number of buildings must address a variety of EMS by various manufacturers. Each of these control systems operates independently and provides its own set of control, monitoring, reporting, and alarming capabilities accessible through proprietary software packages.

Most existing user interface software is typically provided by the EMS manufacturer and provides a common set of services to the user:

This software generally requires extensive knowledge or training in order to utilize it and interact intelligently with the EMS. Most building users do not have this ability. With the recent introduction of web-enabled interfaces this problem is being overcome; however, most user interfaces address a single EMS and do not aggregate data.

Remote monitoring of these systems is often outsourced with few mechanisms in place for management’s interface other than as a provider of trouble calls and complaints.  Little if any facility data or control capabilities are available outside of a small group of responsible operating personnel.

The management of enterprise facility and energy operations has been typically accomplished by personnel with system specific knowledge analyzing one facility at a time. Their ability to interpret the data available to them is a challenge due to the volumes of data and alarms potentially generated by each facility. When this is multiplied by the number of facilities managed by a typical retailer or REIT, the data can quickly become overwhelming. It becomes difficult to glean the most important problems from the data and then to implement a solution. This creates the need for EFIS.

EFIS Requirements

Control Solutions, Inc Effective and large scale management of facility operations begins with the local aggregation of data from the EMS within a single facility. The addition of other devices in the facility such as refrigeration controls, utility meters, security and access control systems, and even certain process systems further adds to the complexity of the process. Local data aggregation should be intelligently done at the facility level to avoid placing excessive workloads on the database. This also provides local reporting and control capabilities that can augment the central functions of the EFIS.

Data must be further aggregated from multiple facilities which require the use of a capable enterprise database that will serve multiple users and multiple applications. Successful data acquisition and consolidation is the foundation on which the EFIS is built. Successful data collection and aggregation must be planned and programmed in consideration of a number of factors:

Since the objective of collecting and aggregating EMS data is to facilitate the intelligent analysis of the operation of facilities and provide for operational improvement, the database should contain the data necessary to do this. Point naming conventions and the other factors noted above will enable the operator to create a database that allows the meaningful comparison of the performance of one building or group of buildings with another. Mention is made of exception handling since the operator can expect that not all data will be accurate 100% of the time. Facilities lose power and data transmission can be corrupted; the EFIS data acquisition process should provide for a consistent method of handling “holes” in the database.

An efficient alarm handling method is another facet of data acquisition and distribution. Besides being essential to the ongoing maintenance of facilities, alarms are a quick and easy method of identifying operational “hot spots” and troublesome facilities to control facility maintenance costs. Alarm data, as with conventional “logged” data, is an essential part of the facility database.

After addressing the data acquisition and consolidation for EFIS, the enterprise should address the data analysis requirements for EFIS. This element can be as simple as extracting certain exceptions (e.g. high energy usage during a period, excessive number of alarms, etc.) from the data. Analysis can also include more sophisticated statistical analysis, fuzzy logic, and even use neural network methods to predict behavior. The results of data analysis are then organized and presented through the report generation process. Again, the requirements and sophistication of these processes should directly support enterprise requirements and facility management goals.

The next problem to be addressed is the user interface and how to enable effortless but managed access to system reports and other features. The enterprise needs to provide flexible reporting capabilities using criteria that will render necessary and useful information to the user, when it is needed, and in a form that is easily interpreted by the user. Current web design and technology allows information to be presented in various graphic formats, as charts, or simple text as specified by the enterprise. Certain reports common to many users should be standardized and centrally controlled. Other reports may be unique to an individual user and may be customized as necessary to best present the desired information. The overriding design consideration, however, is to provide simple, secure, managed access to information to whomever requires it within the organization.

An extension of the user interface and the essential reason for data acquisition is the ability to control the operation of enterprise facilities in order to optimize their performance consistent with corporate goals and requirements. The ability to exercise control over facilities from an enterprise level takes a number of forms depending on the philosophy and structure of the enterprise. Control may be in the form of providing instructions to maintenance contractors; it may be in the form of individually programming facility EMS’s; it may be in the form of issuing a single setpoint or schedule command that is sent to an entire group of facilities. Control may consist of all of these and the EFIS must support all methods. Optimization of facility operations lies with the ability to evaluate information from EFIS and dispatch effective controls throughout the enterprise.

Finally, it is the connectivity management system that glues the EFIS and all its components together. This EFIS functional element includes the capability of the central software application to manage the interconnection of users, database, software applications, and facility systems. This component is the inherent networking that makes all of the others work and must be a consideration when determining the requirements of all of the others.

Network connectivity is thus central to EFIS and dictates the early and active involvement of customer IT personnel in the system design and specification.

Figure 3-1.  EFIS Hierarchical Structure

Figure 3-1.  EFIS Hierarchical Structure

EFIS Implementation

EFIS is more than software that reports energy management data. The successful implementation of EFIS not only involves the system design in consideration of enterprise capabilities and requirements but also the acceptance and immediate usability of the system.

Reliable Controls It is highly recommended that the enterprise project begin with site pilot projects, the installation of a small but representative group of locations that are used to validate the intent of the project. Preparation of these sites primarily includes the installation of a gateway or equipment upgrades sufficient to connect the existing building systems to the enterprise network. Other site installation requirements should include recommissioning of control and monitoring systems as well as the facility equipment (i.e. HVAC units, refrigeration, meter calibration, lighting controls, etc.). After the scope of work is determined for providing network connectivity to a site, the site installation process will normally follow the normal contracting and installation process for the corporation.

Concurrent with the installation of the group of pilot sites, enterprise software installation can begin. Although this will probably be the responsibility of the corporate IT department, the project manager should have a clear understanding of the responsibilities for installing, configuring, testing, documenting, and maintaining the software. These items, in addition to training and routine technical support, are normally spelled out in the software purchase or licensing agreement for the software but need to be clearly understood by everyone involved in the project. The vendor will ordinarily offer a maintenance and support plan for the software effective after the warranty period. Ensure that this is specified as part of the project.

The concept of universal managed access for EFIS users needs to be tempered with security and manageability. Although it is surprising how many jobs and managers can benefit from the information in EFIS, not everyone in the company needs access to the EFIS. Though any employee or contractor with a PC and browser can now can now access and manage facilities it certainly would be counter-productive. Develop and implement a plan for providing access to the system to only certain users, a specification for what privileges are extended to each user, and a program for training users. Consider grouping users to simplify the definition of what privileges are granted to a new user. A new user can be assigned to a use group to expedite the process of adding new users. Consider also having a responsible administrator review user lists to delete users who no longer require access.

Training and documentation should be available when the first site is available to the enterprise software. Newer web-based systems are more intuitive and require less user training than traditional user interface packages, but it is still important to get off to a good start and have users understand the reports, features, and capabilities that are available. Besides initial training on the system to those involved in the pilot program, a plan for training additional users is needed as the system is rolled out to the entire enterprise. Further, a system should be put in place to update all users on changes and upgrades made to the system.

In addition to training users, it is highly recommended that the EFIS incorporate an interface to a “help desk” that gives all users a place to call when there is a problem or question. This help desk may actually consist of IT people that can help with PC or network problem as well as energy and facility personnel to respond to technical questions. The help desk is also the method by which the project manager can garner customer feedback on the usefulness of the system and what additional features may be needed. A customer-centric environment for the EFIS provides a mechanism for the continuous evolution of the system.

It will be necessary for the enterprise software application to be incorporated into the IT procedures for the enterprise. IT personnel will need additional documentation on the software sufficient for them to routinely maintain the software and perform database backups in compliance with corporate policies. Since they must contribute to the operation of the help desk function, they must have sufficient knowledge of the system to professionally accomplish this. IT personnel will appreciate it if the enterprise software can be managed with the standard network and database management tools that are already being used by the IT department. This also applies to the management and support of software deployed to remote sites.

It should be clear by now that any EFIS should be open and flexible to accommodate user requirements that will surface as the system is employed as well as advances in technology that will present themselves. Additional facility optimization opportunities will present themselves as the basics of facility optimization are brought under control. These may require additional facility information channels as well as different analysis and reporting techniques. The system must also remain compliant with the IT technologies of the future. During the implementation phase the enterprise can expect to work through a number of new user and IT requirements that will emerge as users experience the capabilities and limitations of the system. 

The result of EFIS implementation is a system that pays for itself through improved facility operational efficiency and maintainability. By implementing EFIS with a flexible but powerful infrastructure the system will grow with the enterprise and adapt to emerging technologies and user requirements.


About the Author 
David Wolins has been Vice President, Business Development at EnFlex Corp. for the past 10 years.  Prior to this he served for 17 years as an energy consultant specializing in HVAC, controls and refrigeration in commercial and industrial facilities.  For further information regarding this project please contact EnFlex Corp. and David Wolins via the EnFlex web site at www.enflex.net.


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