How IT Tools Are Reshaping the Future of Facilities Management

How IT Tools Are Reshaping the Future of Facilities Management

The facilities and IT departments of an enterprise have historically been separate, and, much to the detriment of energy efficiency efforts, siloed divisions of a company. But a number of factors -- including economics, sustainability objectives and technological innovation -- have made facilities the last frontier in the enterprise, and the convergence of IT and facilities promises both rapid growth for the major players as well as significant improvements in the corporate carbon footprint.

Because facilities organizations haven't traditionally needed to work with the IT group for solutions, the two departments have evolved their solution sets very differently. Facility pundits will question the IT industry's ability to understand their business, but this convergence has been years in the making, as traditional building automation systems (BAS) have been incorporating IP connectivity and integration through protocols like BACnet.

The IT industry now has the means to extend their reach into the facility ecosystem, and the biggest players -- Cisco, IBM, SAP and Accenture among them -- rightly see the considerable growth potential the convergence offers to their bottom lines, and have begun to place big bets on transforming the facilities industry into an enterprise network and application strategy.

It's important to note that the building automation solutions that control the assets that manage millions of facilities around the world haven't innovated their technology platforms at the same rate as the IT industry. As a matter of fact, the average IT pundit would be shocked at how antiquated this technology really is compared to the rest of the enterprise.

The IT industry has moved aggressively into the facility-management space as a natural outgrowth of its enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, and bringing with it sustainability, energy efficiency and reporting tools. LEED certification serves as an example of how a company-wide process has become dependent on involving both IT and facilities to achieve certification status. Furthermore, thanks to the aforementioned IP-enabled/open protocol BAS platforms, IT is typically required for implementing all facility-wide solutions that leverage their network infrastructure.

With the removal of technology barriers and enhanced economic incentives, the door is now open for the IT industry to help shape the future of facility management. "Convergence" will dominate innovation and solution adoption moving forward throughout this market segment.

How the Big Players are Betting on Convergence

Cisco. In recent years, Cisco has invested significant resources to grow its customer's reliance on their products, notably with its "Connected Energy" business, which includes Smart Grid, Home Energy Controller and of course their acquisition of the Mediator set of building-automation solutions. The company has not only worked to maximize their dominant hold on the backbone of the IP-based businesses in the world, but to now target the development of extensive "energy-centric" hardware and software solutions that extend the customer's investment in their IT-specific network into the facilities business. Even though Cisco is not the top dog in the facilities-management space, they nonetheless have the ability to open many C-Suite doors on their converged offerings as a result of their install base and years of expertise.

IBM. Extending strategic customer investments in enterprise-wide software solutions is a theme that IBM has thoroughly embraced. Through a number of recent acquisitions -- Informix, Maximo, Lombardi, SPSS, Tririga and others -- as well as through its own internal software development capabilities, IBM has been integrating and broadening the value of these solutions, providing a clear indication of where they want to take their Smarter Buildings initiative: into the enterprise.

IBM is in a unique position to substantially improve how business decision makers do their jobs. It's all about the data: Analytics inspires innovation, and enterprise-wide analytics is transformational. And IBM wants to own the business intelligence space, period.

On top of smart acquisitions, IBM has made smart partnerships in this space. Recognizing what it lacks in facilities experience and alignment, IBM teamed with Johnson Controls, the BAS services/solutions leader in the facility market, to supplement this gap nicely. The two companies have gone to market with a cohesive "Smart Building Solution" offering, which although initially focused on the government and educational sectors, substantially distances itself from such competitors as Schneider, Siemens, Honeywell and United Technologies, who have no such message -- yet. The power to provide end-to-end solutions that extend from the facility business all the way to the C-Suite are unique to the market and are a strong sign of things to come.

SAP. The soup-to-nuts solution offering is a mandate that strongly resonates with SAP as well. Through its ERP efforts, SAP not only understands the need to transform facility data through its Energy Management Module but more importantly, move the results from SAP BusinessObjects right into their Financial Module for "seamless" decision making.

Another interesting capability that will certainly be integrated into the Converged Architecture is Business Process Management. SAP's NetWeaver BPM platform can automate the workflow processes that impact the effective management of facility portfolios. One of the biggest constraints influencing managing facilities in numbers is gaining transparency into performance, maintenance, equipment, energy, labor and other expenditures attributed to the facilities business, and then normalizing this data for continuous process improvement opportunities.

With BPM, an organization has the ability to transform and automate not only processes surrounding the facility business, but look for ways to remove bottlenecks, improve work-order management, collaboration and communication with internal and external resources and integrate disparate systems into one enterprise-wide converged solution. I suspect we'll see the likes of Accenture maximizing on this approach as well by providing integrated sustainable offerings that sit on top a BPM platform and leverage the likes of SAP, IBM, Cisco and others to create a true "Smart Buildings Solution."

In addition to the holistic solutions these companies are all creating, the convergence will also bring to market subscription-based options rather than purchase-only tools. With the advent of many of these software-as-a-service solutions, less intrusive alternatives to hardware-dependent solutions can be fully realized throughout the portfolio.

Convergence and Building Optimization

At the core of convergence is building optimization. To have real systemic transformation throughout the enterprise, open architecture, standards and systems will have to be adopted to maximize this opportunity for innovation. Once a building is variably controlled with all of the IT-related barriers removed and embedded systems are in place, building optimization can be realized as the next frontier.

Having the ability to manage the facility business through a single cloud-based interface that integrates into all disparate systems will give operators and business owners the ability to manage policies at the portfolio level and realize maximum returns on their "converged" investments. As the industry consolidates -- continuing on IBM's recent purchase of Tririga, Schneider's acquisition of Summit Energy, among others -- the pace of innovation and adoption will accelerate, making "convergence" a common word in our everyday language to describe how our businesses operate.

Photo CC-licensed by Dan DeLuca.