The Facility Technologist: A Mandate For Efficiency

As part of the buildout team for his company's new headquarters, Condon rides the "third wave."
As part of the buildout team for his company's new headquarters, Condon rides the "third wave."

The Facility Technologist: A Mandate For Efficiency

The Facility Technologist: A Mandate For Efficiency

By Tom Condon, RPA, FMA

Published in the January 2009 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Facility Technologist SDI

Organizations of all kinds are increasingly moving towards a digital future where a single, unified Internet Protocol (IP)-based network backbone supports all of their facilities systems. However, the constraints of legacy systems and the cost of upgrading often mean that few facilities can actually implement this digital ideal. In January 2007, this column addressed this “third wave” of facility technology evolution [“Riding (And Surviving) The Wave”].

In 2008, I had the rare opportunity to lead a team charged with designing a state of the art facility technology infrastructure—the third wave realized. The company I work for had outgrown its corporate headquarters, and the plan was to build out a new facility (about 25,000 square feet of space on one level).

We were lucky to be able to start from scratch with a raw space that we could design any way we wanted. Our company president’s mandate was clear: create a completely modern facility, use the most current facility technologies, and make it energy efficient.

Our architect, OWP/P in Chicago, had designed an amazing space for us, and we were going to add the technology that would complete the third wave vision. The first step was to assemble the internal technology design team and bring that group together with the architect. The team consisted of experts in the technologies we would use; our facility manager, Aaron Nute, was instrumental in many of the design decisions as well.

It was crucial to have this internal design team involved from the very beginning of the project. Far too often, technology is almost an afterthought, and key decisions are made without regard for this aspect, which often leads to problems over time. We found that OWP/P and the MEP designer, Environmental Systems Design, Inc. (ESD), also of Chicago, were leaders in their fields and recognized the importance of technology in facilities design.

Next, we began visioning sessions in which we compiled a technology wish list regardless of cost or practicality. These sessions were very productive, because they allowed people to dream a little, which often resulted in some great ideas. After narrowing down the choices and conducting cost-benefit and ROI analyses, we finalized our design to six main elements.

The network. A high capacity, Power Over Ethernet (POE) network would form the backbone of the facility’s technology. With a gigabit fiber backbone and 10 megabit capacity to every desktop, the network was segmented into Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs). This would direct traffic from various systems into discrete “channels” that could be load balanced and secured separately. This way, traffic loads from one VLAN would not interfere with traffic on others, meaning that one physical cable could simultaneously act as multiple virtual networks.

Video surveillance and access control. We implemented a unified IP-based video and access control system where all cameras and door devices were linked and managed in a Web-based interface. For access control, doors had either proximity card or biometric readers, which would be powered and communicate using a single CAT6 POE cable. This system was actually less costly than a traditional access control system, because we only needed a single CAT cable for each door (rather than the multiple cables for power and communication used in traditional systems).

This security system also had some very useful functionality. For instance, if an alarm at a door was activated, the video from that location automatically appeared on the system monitoring screen; e-mails were then sent to key staff members to tell them an alarm had occurred. If a staff member was off-site, he or she could log in to the system from any Internet connection to view the alarm information along with live or archived video.

IP cameras would be located at strategic points in the facility, so if an intruder did manage to gain entry, that person could go nowhere without passing in the range of a 4-CIF (common intermediate format) camera with night vision. A CIF camera represents a resolution of 352 x 288 pixels; a 4-CIF camera has a resolution of 704 x 576 pixels (capturing four times more detail).

Digital signage. To keep company staff informed, digital signage was used at key traffic points to display information, messages, or television channels. These signage screens were all digital, with content delivered via IP over CAT cables; no coaxial cable was installed in the facility.

For the lobby, OWP/P and ESD designed a display that would be projected onto a reflective film on a piece of glass; it appears to hover in the space.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Considering the architecture of the new facility’s network backbone, implementing VOIP was a no-brainer. Working with ESD, we compiled requirements and reviewed several products before selecting a system that had the right balance of cost and functionality. The system had a Web interface that allowed users to log in from any Internet connection to manage their preferences, listen to voicemails, and make calls from a laptop. This has been valuable for staff members who travel often; they can check messages on their laptops via Wi-Fi at airports, hotels, and other locations without using cell phone minutes.

Lighting. Key to creating an energy efficient space was lighting. ESD designed a system that used high efficiency 277 volt, 2′ x 4′ recessed fixtures with T5 ballasts. Dimmable electronic ballasts in conference rooms allow occupants to reduce lighting levels when natural daylight is sufficient. Each enclosed room contains an occupancy sensor that turns lights on when we enter and off after we leave; nobody ever has to touch a light switch unless they want to activate a custom lighting scheme. Open office areas are equipped with a timer system that dims or turns off lights at preset times.

Data center. With all of the technology contained in the new facility and all of the technology that we host for clients, it was clear we would need a data center to house it all. The data center was sited in the “technology suite,” a secured area that includes our system administrators’ offices and a setup area for provisioning new or repairing existing equipment.

The space was outfitted with a dedicated HVAC system, conditioned backup power, and environmental sensors that alert administrators via e-mail if temperatures are outside acceptable ranges.

While it is easy to focus on all the technology put into the new space (which we occupied in June 2008), the bottom line of the facility is efficiency. The company’s utility costs are less per square foot than in the old space; we spend less time managing systems; and it better serves our nationwide, highly mobile staff.

While some of the elements used cost more than conventional, “20th century” systems, the overall price of using the third wave technology infrastructure was lower. Part of the savings was found in initial installation, because we eliminated so much cabling. Traditional access control systems can have as many as 12 separate cables associated with each door. We also eliminated the need for cabling for a traditional phone system and for coaxial cable for television. That was all replaced by a single set of CAT6 cables.

Reduced electricity usage is another savings the company has reaped. Each system we installed uses less power than its traditional counterpart, while intelligent controls prevent waste. And those savings will continue on with us year after year.

In designing a new facility, state of the art technology is becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity, especially in the current economic environment. Third wave technologies will cost less over the long-term, be more reliable, and provide functionality. It’s time to ride the wave.

Condon, a Facility Technologist and former facility manager, is a contributing author for BOMI Institute’s revised
Technologies in Facility Management textbook. He works for System Development Integration, a Chicago, IL-based firm committed to improving the performance, quality, and reliability of client business through technology.

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