The Facility Technologist: Cutting Edge Facility Technologies

By Tom Condon, RPA, FMA
Published in the January 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Despite the dizzying array of cutting edge options available, many facility managers (fms) are stuck with obsolete technologies not only in older facilities, but sometimes in brand new buildings. The reasons are numerous and can be frustrating. Since you will have to live with these decisions, your opinion is the most important. After all, you are the direct representative of the owner and the greatest stakeholders in your facility.

Consequently, you have a great deal of power. You don’t have to accept what a vendor, architect, or consultant tells you. You can change the course of your facility’s future, from lackluster, mediocre technologies to those that are truly outstanding. Simply remember these five points:

1. Do not accept “business as usual.” There are many companies that have been providing systems and services for a long time…some for too long. They have not kept pace, and some even have a vested interest in ignoring the latest options. Many designers, for example, continue to recommend obsolete technologies because they are comfortable with them, or worse, they get commissions from the product vendors.

Ask them why they are making certain product recommendations. Have they reviewed the entire market to see how their recommendation stacks up to other products? Example: During a recent project, a security consultant recommended a product that was almost 20 years old and had significant limitations. When pressed, the consultant finally admitted that it was “just what they were used to installing.” The client asked for a better solution, so I conducted a review of dozens of products on the market and found something newer that had far greater functionality—at a lower cost.

2. Embrace the Web. We live in a Web based world, yet many facilities are notoriously behind the curve. Facility stakeholders, whether they are workers, facility owners, or visitors, are accustomed to dealing with their retailers, banks, and other relationships online; your facility should be no different.

An example from a recent project of mine was a brand new 200,000 square foot facility that houses over 4,000 people. I designed a Web portal where tenants could find information about the building and surrounding area, request work orders, and conduct most of their administrative business with the building. The benefits have been significant; tenants have access to the portal 24/7/365 and do not need to call the management office as frequently. The tenants love the portal, because they have access to all of the information they need in a format they are used to…the Web.

If your facility does not have this kind of portal, you should start planning for it. Even if you are not ready, you can start by reserving a domain with your facility’s name or address.

In my project, I also changed the designs of some of the key building systems from older, client-server systems hosted on-site to Web-based systems which have several key advantages. First, they don’t require an on-site server or the related costs and maintenance. Also, they are available from any browser; all you need is a URL and a password. Finally, Web-based systems are offered in the Software as a Service (SaaS) model where you pay a monthly fee for access. Upfront costs for SaaS are far lower than those charged for client-server systems.

3. Analog is dead; long live digital. Beware of analog systems in areas like video surveillance, where low prices can be alluring. The prices are low because the systems will soon be obsolete. Splurge on digital technologies that have a future; don’t cut corners and end up in dead ends.

4. Mobility is no longer an option. People expect mobile technologies in every part of their lives. Your facility is no exception and should provide capabilities for management as well as occupants. For example, in a recent project, I equipped security guards with wireless tablet computers that provide access to all facility software. They are no longer tethered to a desk. Letting facility occupants use their smart phones to access the building portal is another way to go mobile.

5. IT skills are essential. With all this technology, fms will need IT skills in the design, implementation, and management of cutting edge technologies. If you’re building or renovating a new facility, hire a technology consultant. To maintain and update your technologies, invest in support. Find a tech guru who knows networks, servers, and facility technologies.

The world is changing, and facilities must keep up to date to remain functional and competitive. Don’t be afraid of cutting edge facility technologies; embrace them. They are your key to a world-class facility.