FM Issue: Brawn Over Buzz

By James Dagley
From the November 2013 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Push the envelope. Break down the silos. Peel back the onion. If facility managers (fms) had a dollar for every industry buzzword or term that came their way, the average retirement age for the profession might be quite a bit younger. But a chosen few terms live up to their reputation. One such term is “smart building”—an industry term du jour for “dozens of intelligent systems that, when integrated properly, help run a facility more efficiently while saving precious human and capital assets.”

More fms are finding that the owners and CIOs or information technology (IT) directors of their organizations are demanding more information about the performance of their buildings to reduce operating costs, protect assets and information, and keep occupants safe, comfortable, and productive. A smart (really smart) building requires the facility management (FM) and IT departments to practically be BFFs (“best friends forever” for those without teenage children). However, neither of these departments has traditionally been seen as close allies.

Since responsibility scopes are creeping when it comes to smart buildings, fms who want to focus on “brawn over buzz” for their role in the development, deployment, and ongoing management of such a facility should consider how to further the integration of facility systems. This involves showing, sharing, and strategizing.

Show Off Smart FM Strategy

The building systems operating inside most facilities—everything from sensors to software—have probably been pretty smart for the last few years. This is thanks to the era of connectivity, open architecture, and interoperability. Fms have pushed the building control industry to make great strides in moving from proprietary systems to an open architecture that allows devices to become interoperable. Today it is possible to have a zone inside a facility maintain optimal temperature, humidity, and light based on the security, HVAC, lighting control, shade control, and web based weather systems seamlessly sharing data.

Fms can show their IT counterparts how FM applications have allowed intelligent, standalone building management devices to do much more than connect, or “talk,” to one another over a standard communications network. These devices are now able to have meaningful “conversations” that tap into their embedded intelligence. If a building has older systems in place that aren’t “talking,” there are many affordable “black box” translators to give these systems a voice. Working together, without human assistance, they can predict trouble and in many cases take preventive actions to avoid problems. In essence, smart buildings help fms attain their organizations’ facility related goals by optimizing the capability of all equipment and systems across the entire enterprise.

The facility team doesn’t have to sweat the asset—managers should have more flexibility in choosing components from various manufacturers. If they decide to replace one vendor’s system with another—or add to the system with another vendor’s equipment—they can do so without dismantling the existing technology and starting over. By using a common communications language, hardware and software from different companies can continue to perform their facility operations functions. If procuring a new system, fms should be sure to specify that it can communicate via BACnet protocol and that it also is compatible with other communication protocols, such as N2 and LonWorks.

Share Building Data In A Smart Way

These integrated systems are ready to impress with their enhanced abilities to deliver a wide array of facility related data to aid in achieving an organization’s goals. The great promise of integration is finally being realized. Here is the challenge: presentation is everything.

Fms can share with colleagues the benefits of a comprehensive, cloud based building management system. Operating on an open platform, new technologies simplify the complex process of collecting real-time data from disparate building systems and create a single integrated view of building and system operation that allows FM, IT, and higher ups to see a bigger picture. With better visibility into metrics, stakeholders can work together to make better decisions for optimizing energy savings and building performance.

And colleagues may not be aware that building management applications are available in a “pay as you go,” software as a service (SaaS) model. The cloud based applications and advanced analytics provide insight into a building, or buildings. These tools help FM staff detect abnormal energy consumption and identify equipment faults; create energy baseline models and track savings from energy efficiency projects based on meter data; track energy usage and carbon emissions across an enterprise; and provide trend analysis to compare facilities, diagnose problems, and report performance.

Smart buildings can comprise integrated control of lighting, HVAC, IT, and other energy consuming systems, using weather data and information from security, scheduling, and other systems to optimize performance. (Photo:
Smart buildings can comprise integrated control of lighting, HVAC, IT, and other energy consuming systems, using weather data and information from security, scheduling, and other systems to optimize performance. (Photo:

Strategize “Smarter” In 2014

Fms can find it useful to approach their IT counterparts with the latest industry models for new and existing building needs. If embarking on a new construction project, fms may want to encourage this person to get involved in the design process early and often (as the fm should as well). Both departments share the challenges of managing multiple, duplicate, discrete systems under various vendors, contracts, and proprietary protocols—especially in the ever changing technology landscape.

There are companies that will serve as a customer’s single point of contact for technology selection and design integration through all phases of a major construction project. For many, the solution will provide a single source of responsibility; give a better way to balance first and life cycle costs; eliminate system and infrastructure duplication; converge individual systems into a technology solution; and guide implementation to maximize efficiency and cost- effectiveness.

When talking about smart buildings with their IT counterparts, fms will most likely find the conversation transition to data centers. With the explosive growth of data needs, most organizations are planning to increase the capabilities of their data centers. Because racks of IT equipment are consuming more power and generating more heat, a limiting constraint for a data center quickly becomes cooling—so data center decisions need to involve the fm. Instead of entering into a debate over which department owns data center management, fms should talk about common goals—reliability, efficiency, and flexibility.

Data centers are a notable line item for any owner, IT director, or fm. Each party is interested in a better way to reduce cost and mitigate risk without adversely impacting operational performance. That area is certainly important to fms, especially since their departments are responsible for the supporting heating and cooling infrastructure in a data center.

As with any integration approach, new strategies can, and should, be applied early in the design and construction of a new data center. Also, fms should be prepared to discuss modular data centers. This approach is gaining industry traction as a way to consolidate servers and sites; accommodate growth in space, power density, and cooling; mix and match tiers of reliability; and optimize utility costs.

As an aside, when planning energy related facility systems projects fms can take a look at energy saving performance contracts. FM has most likely used this, or at least researched the model, as a way to address aging infrastructure needs. Working with a proven energy savings company (ESCO), utility savings are guaranteed to offset the cost of the project over the term of a contract. It’s an established approach, now applied in every corner of the United States. However, IT may not be aware that this approach can be used to tackle their technology needs as well. Many public and private sector organizations are using performance contracting to update or consolidate their data centers.

Making It Work

It’s important for both fms and their IT counterparts to appreciate that smart building and integrated facility systems projects are not for the casual contractor. It requires people with distinct skill sets to blend control with communications and systems integration. Firms that specialize strictly in one area of IT, controls, or integration most likely will not be capable of delivering a truly smart building.

And for the next generation of building systems, facility professionals will require access to even more information to make informed decisions and take full advantage of intelligent systems. Smart buildings will surely become much smarter in the future. Skills and training must keep pace with the technology breakthroughs—along with great partnerships between fms, IT heads, and vendors.


Dagley is the vice president of channel marketing and strategy for the Johnson Controls North America Systems business. He served as a Captain in the United States Air Force, working on the NAVSTAR Global Positioning System. Dagley holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and material science from Duke University and an MBA from Chapman University.