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|Let’s Talk Facility IT
I am talking about the use of information technology to ensure that the building systems are performing and delivering on the needs of the organization who pay for and rely on the facility. I call this Facility IT.
|Anto Budiardjo, Fractional
Originally published New Deal for Buildings blog.
For a while now,
I’ve been unsure how to answer the question of what industry I work in.
Though I mainly hang around building automation people, my discipline
has been much more in line with information technology.
I tell people I’m in building automation, they typically stare at me
blankly, though not as bad as when I mention HVAC. If I try and explain
that I work with buildings and facilities, they may react, “Aha! You
help manage offices”, close, but no cigar. Sometimes I try and talk
about information technology in buildings, but here, the disconnect
between the two is, in many people’s eyes, way too hard. Most see IT as
modern, app- and mobile-centric sector, and all about software, while
buildings are the old, physical and decidedly un-digital infrastructure
of life. The two don’t mix they think!
this were just a personal grudge, you’d be forgiven to see why it’s
relevant. However, lately, I’ve heard similar rumblings from industry
thought leaders, especially in the area of analytics. These people
understand that the technology they market is more in line with today’s
tech companies, while the “space” they occupy, and the data they deal
with is mostly emanating from buildings; automation and control
systems, energy meters, lighting and many others. Moreover, often these
days, the target of the resulting information is the facility managers
who manage the day to day operation of facilities. So, what industry
are they in?
way this has surfaced in recent months is the so-called “IT-OT debate.”
Who, the debate goes, are responsible for these new systems? The IT
department, or the people who manage the “Operational Technology”? Of
course, that is the wrong question. Armed with self-interest, people
from both side would say “we do!”, this debate doesn’t help.
has to be a better way to think about this problem.
suggest that if we look at fundamental problems with these three
sectors (BAS, IT and FM), we can see challenges that can be solved with
a simple and elegant way forward. Let’s look at these challenges.
BAS (controls, HVAC, lighting, security, and others), a challenge today
is to differentiate the value created by information technology from
the value created by their core function. In HVAC, for example, the
core function is to ensure comfortable temperature and environment.
When focused on information technology, a better value definition would
be to ensure that the investments made to facilities are enabling the
facilities to deliver on the needs of the occupier. Automation is
primarily installed to ensure efficiency, in other words, a cost
mitigation exercise on an already small portion of the enterprise’s
expenses. Information technology, on the other hand, is promoted by the
‘C’ suite as a productivity tool to improve the top line performance of
the enterprise; in areas such as ERP, CRM, and Supply Chain, IT has
enabled considerable increases in the top- and bottom-line performance.
The BAS industry is not in a good position to persuade buyers of this
higher value since questions related to BAS are typically pushed down
to the boiler room where it has been for decades.
companies in the IT space (big data, analytics, infrastructure, and
ERP), IoT is an opportunity to bring information technology to the
digitization of the physical space. This is an opportunity that is very
appealing to them since, in essence, they think that BAS and FM are
just information systems! These attempts have been going on for
decades, I have witnessed first hand over my years in the space.
However, the building sector has been hard for IT to penetrate;
enterprise and consumer tech is subtly different from buildings tech.
Also, the typically closed industry and its quirky channel dynamics
haven’t precisely lent welcoming arms to IT’s overtures.
Lastly, the FM (Facility Management) sector lie at the tip of the spear of the disconnect between the technologically aware, mobile phone carrying occupants they serve, and FM’s inability to fully orchestrate their facility’s multitude of systems. FM is primarily a low-skill service industry, serving the needs of the occupants, using disjointed and siloed systems found in buildings, from maintenance ticketing, energy management, staffing management, enterprise systems, and so on. All this makes it impossible for them to deliver the sort of service their occupants get when they leave the building and order an Uber, use OpenTable, Yelp or jump on a Lime Bike.
believe that the intersection of these three disciplines is the nexus
from which a new discipline is emerging. I am talking about the use of
information technology to ensure that the building systems are
performing and delivering on the needs of the organization who pay for
and rely on the facility.
I call this Facility IT.
For Facility IT to be successful, it cannot merely be an extension of BAS, FM or IT. Facility IT has to be its own space where these disciplines meet, collaborate and deliver what facility owners and occupants desire and deserve; a modern, information-aware facility that is comfortable, cost-effective, safe, responsible and functional for their needs.
For the needs of facility owners to be truly realized, and for this emerging industry to deliver on its promise, we need to address and highlight this space, and as an old boss use to tell me, “everything has to have a name.”
My call-to-action to professionals from these industries is to consider Facility IT as a way to forward and expand their respective markets. Do remember that Facility IT is inherently collaborative, your Facility IT offering should acknowledge new customers, people, and companies from adjacent industries that have a similar but different problem than you. Done right, this will expand your user base; a great business opportunity!
Many of you reading this are already doing Facility IT, let’s call the rose by its correct name.
what industry are you in?
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