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.