Technology And FM: The Internet Of Things

Dynamically visualizing facility systems (such as a critical power management system, as seen here) helps operators quickly and easily assimilate data. Meanwhile, the capability to monitor and control multiple locations improves decision-making.
Dynamically visualizing facility systems (such as a critical power management system, as seen here) helps operators quickly and easily assimilate data. Meanwhile, the capability to monitor and control multiple locations improves decision-making. (Photo: ASCO Power Technologies.)

By Bhavesh Patel
From the May/June 2015 issue

The other day, a colleague who works in facilities asked me: “What’s the Internet of Things, and what does it really mean to me?” I told him it’s integrated building automation on steroids. It’s smart buildings, resilient buildings, and sustainable buildings. It’s facilities intelligence. That’s a lot for anyone to get their arms around, but it’s true. The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming facilities management. It’s a digital revolution facilitating some of the industry’s hottest trends.

It has the power to alleviate facilities executives’ “pain points.” Improving reliability and efficiency, ensuring operational continuity, managing the increasing complexity of buildings, merging legacy buildings and their systems with facilities expansions, maintaining aging infrastructure, and improving reporting and compliance are examples. And let’s not forget “doing more with less.”

The emergence of IoT will change the way facility executives do their jobs and the type of talent they find and retain. They also likely will have a new colleague—the CDO, or chief digital officer. Consider that by the end of 2015, a quarter of all organizations could have one on board. The CDO will develop a strategy for integrating the digital revolution within the organization and help empower operations and engineering managers to implement it.

In A Nutshell

IoT integrates sensors with computing capability into a range of devices and components that communicate wirelessly via the Internet or to a central computer. Lighting that can be turned on and off with a smart phone from anywhere outside a facility is one example. Other, more sophisticated examples remove humans from the equation entirely. They sense, transfer data, and act on information. They use little energy, adapt to and anticipate user needs, and proactively manage the environment within established parameters.

A consumer example is Nest home thermostats. These products “learn” how cool or warm occupants want their environment, and how quickly the home can be cooled or heated. These kinds of devices are helping consumers realize the power of IoT. Like Nest, consider industrial devices, components, or systems, such as HVAC, lighting, building management, and power management for critical systems with the same “smarts.” They adjust to their environments, or operating condition. Rather than run to failure, they call for maintenance. Ideally, they modify their operation to accommodate for wear or other issues, then alert related machines and the operations staff responsible for them.

Smart sensors are being integrated into more and more devices. The overall economic opportunities boggle the mind. A National Intelligence Council1 report2 named the IoT as one of six disruptive technologies that could potentially affect U.S. economic interests. The report included a number of scenarios describing the timing and depth of IoT market penetration. The more aggressive scenarios seem to be materializing. Some estimates set the value at up to $32.2 trillion, leading to a $10 to $15 trillion jump in global GDP over the next 20 years3. According to Cisco, about 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 20204.

What a change. Not that long ago, a building’s connectivity comprised serial networks providing only data. They were commonly connected only to HVAC, fire, and security systems. Today, Ethernet networks with access to the Internet provide data, plus analysis and/or interpretation, and interact with other systems. It’s fair to say that facility networks now resemble IT networks.

Taken together, the array of sensors in buildings creates interconnected facility management systems called “clusters.” The clusters, comprising hundreds or thousands of sensors, could be designed for a single building, multi-building campus, or geographically dispersed facilities. Natural clusters are HVAC, safety, security, and critical power management. Each includes detailed monitoring, measurement, and control. In a critical power management cluster, for instance, power transfer switches, switchgear, engine-generators, and even radiators and fuel tanks need to share information freely and operate seamlessly.

But, what critical power monitoring and control capabilities do facilities executives actually have?

A nationwide independent survey5 of facilities decision makers shed light on the capabilities they have, and those they want. More than two-thirds of respondents either have, or would like to have, monitoring capabilities for their critical power management systems. More than half either have or need control and reporting capabilities from these systems. Almost half of those who have control and reporting capabilities have some sort of integrated system to manage it. About 45% of respondents have some type of power quality monitoring and analytics.

There is obviously room to improve, and industry expert Morris Toporek, senior vice president of Environmental Systems Design, drives home the reason. “When a client needs such power quality details as wave form capture or transient harmonic displays, extremely high rates of speed are required,” he says. “When you are doing forensics, you need fast and accurate time marks to track down where things went wrong.”

As facilities executives build or upgrade their critical power management cluster, will they tend to specify cluster purchases of equipment, or buy individually and integrate them? Does cluster management lead to facility management “ecosystems”?

An ecosystem is a cluster of devices and components designed to work with each other. Apple, for example, has created an ecosystem of “iProducts.” Someone who has an Apple iPhone, iPad, accessories, and apps designed for them is unlikely to switch to an Android ecosystem. Blackberry, by comparison, did not develop a successful ecosystem and lost customers in droves. It did not adapt to its market’s own digital revolution.

Cash In On Data Dividend

The result of cluster management is Big Data. Facility executives will be seeing more data than ever before. And they’ll be expected to interpret it, quickly. That has important consequences because data can be their best friend or worst enemy.

Dr. Richard Soley, executive director of the Industrial Internet Consortium, says, “For end users, real-time analytics becomes the basis for information based decision making.” Interpretation is what makes facility management data valuable. For critical power management systems, it’s a change agent for reducing energy consumption, projecting capacity requirements, streamlining maintenance, resolving operational issues, and meeting reporting requirements.

Data that has value is data that requires protection. Its continuity needs to be assured by a self-healing network that avoids disruptions or overcomes disruptions instantaneously. Its security needs to be assured by multiple levels of encryption—application layer, native database object, network, and point to point. Programmable cryptography, digital certificates, and time stamping also should be part of a data protection program.

Real-Life Results

Chris Liedman, operations manager of engineering and maintenance at Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in Minnesota, realizes the value of precision, accuracy, and reliability of an IoT based critical power monitoring and control system. “The big win for us is automated reporting and trending,” he says. “Before, everything was handwritten. Now, we generate reports that are tailored to meet the requirements of healthcare facilities so they’re perfect for our monthly run report.”

Trending shows power demand history so Liedman and his team know where they have adequate capacity and, more importantly, where they don’t. They overlay this with future construction plans, which helps project critical power system scaling to keep it in line with hospital growth and kW demand.

Another convert to the digital revolution is master electrician Mike Wiruth at the Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln, NE. New critical power management capabilities that Wiruth had installed enable him to view the status and testing of critical power from a single computer screen.

Automatic e-mail alerts and reports have proven to be one of the biggest benefits because gen-sets and transfer switches are in parts of buildings where no one is around. “When a generator starts or a load transfers anywhere on campus, I know it,” says Wiruth. “When I was on vacation, my partner did a ‘no-load’ test, and I knew it got done because I got an e-mail telling me it was done.”

This digital shift in critical power management also benefits a top 10 global investment banking firm that is remotely operating an on-site power system at one of its trading and data centers nearly 900 miles from the firm’s power control center in New Jersey. Web client enabled critical power management capabilities allow the facility management team at the control center to monitor and operate the entire power chain at the firm’s Nashville, TN office.

Top to bottom monitoring of the Nashville facility’s power chain encompasses data center load density (kWh/sf), PUE6 (power usage efficiency), power quality, energy management systems, alarms, uninterruptible power systems (UPS), and a battery monitoring and prognostic interface.


As the IoT continues developing, it will require major change in how facility management teams do their jobs. For those who embrace it, it will help alleviate a number of pain points and, in fact, empower facility executives to gain knowledge and take action confidently.

Patel is vice president, global marketing for ASCO Power Technologies, a business of Emerson Network Power.



1The NIC is the center for long-term strategic analysis for the U.S. Director of National Intelligence in his role as head of the intelligence community.
2National Intelligence Council Conference Report: “Disruptive Civil Technologies, Six Technologies with Potential Impacts on U.S. Interests out to 2025” (April 2008)
3“Industrial Internet: Pushing the Boundaries of Minds and Machines.” General Electric, 26 November 2012.
4Cisco: “Seize New Product and Revenue Opportunities with the Internet of Things.”
5National Power Monitoring & Control Survey of 15,000 facility management personnel sponsored by ASCO Power
6PUE is a measure of how efficiently data center compute equipment uses energy and is represented by the formula: PUE = total facility energy/IT equipment energy. A PUE of 1.0 would indicate 100% energy efficiency.