Next time you pass your CFO and COO in the hallway, ask them these two questions:
Now that you have their attention, all you have to do is explain how. The short answer is to accomplish this by blending new and enhanced information with the IT systems. However, I have a feeling you’ll be faced with a more difficult series of questions, so let’s quickly review the details.
How can we make these claims?
The Internet took everyone by storm. But while all this was going on, building management systems (BMS) were stuck in a proprietary, closed world—one that required complex, head-end software as well as extensive training.
Then, the light bulb: Someone realized applying IT standards to a BMS could simplify things. Instead of using a single computer loaded with an expensive software package, you could extend the system’s value to anyone with a browser and a password.
Suddenly, terms such as TCP/IP, HTTP, XML, and SNMP weren’t just alphabet soup. They could truly fulfill the promise that BMS always had: providing valuable information across the enterprise for efficient building operations. But with the Internet revolution, accessing difficult data from point-of-sale, shipping, and security systems was no longer unimaginable.
How can we squeeze more value from the building management system?
Let’s consider: If you’re the person responsible for the entire building’s network of equipment, why wouldn’t you want to control the equipment spanning all functional areas of the business? From the front door to the back door, you keep everyone—from customers to employees—comfortable, safe, and operating efficiently. Your enterprise can benefit from this pervasive system if you extend the information gathered and points managed to the rest of the company. For example:
Applications for analyzing and mining data are limited only by your imagination. Possibilities include:
Real estate or development departments can examine energy or maintenance cost data for stores in a similar area to help in negotiating lease terms.
For restaurant chains, food safety departments can access reports about freezer and cooler temperatures to ensure that food is being safely stored.
Legal and quality assurance departments at grocery retailers can gain valuable data that will verify the retailer’s compliance with health codes.
Adapting energy consumption from lighting, HVAC, and other environmental to local and enterprise inputs across your multiple sites.
Monitoring enterprise equipment run times to optimize maintenance intervals.
Watching power quality to avoid equipment damage and drive utility bill adjustments.
Performing demand management via multi-site coordination to reduce peak demand charges.
Observing parking lot light and sign amperage to improve safety and energy conservation by alarming when light bulbs burn out.
Counting the number of door operations you saw last hour.
Determining if a recent ad campaign increased traffic in the stores.
Comparing customer counts to weather conditions or to sales data.
Measuring all the above information against retail revenues or other business workflow indicators like inventory or shipping performance.
How can I integrate with the building management system?
Talk is cheap. Now you have to make it happen:
1. Build a partnership. One of the most critical steps in successfully integrating the BMS with the rest of the enterprise is a strong relationship between the building manager and the CIO or head of IT. It’s time to put aside long-standing differences regarding decisions such as management styles and choices of technology. It’s imperative to work together and get the job done. Start by thinking together in terms of return on investment by discussing certain criteria that are important to the IT types. This philosophy can be a win-win for both IT and Facilities types. For example, a BMS identifies an impending failure and e-mails an alert to the service contractor, the facilities coordinator, and store manager. The service contractor logs on to the corporate network and uses the browser to schedule a visit. (This information can also be accessed through a wireless PDA.) Upon job completion, documentation, notification, invoices, and payments are handled automatically online. The process was handled efficiently – money was saved, outages were avoided, and everyone involved could track the status of the job.
2. Make the additions. Add the necessary input or control points to the BMS across all sites, providing your new IT comrades access to that information. The latter is easier than ever before, thanks to choosing an open system. One that is: customizable, allowing you to add capabilities to several sites in a similar, step-and-repeat fashion; offers the use of third-party tools such as report writers for accessing the databases; and uses contemporary IT standards for data transport and storage.
3. Make it accessible. The system will need to be extended to bring the information and control points out of the old, closed-in BMS software world and into the era of the Internet. This is accomplished by giving the IT, and ultimately the internal end-users, a low- to no-cost method of accessing the BMS live information and control parameters. This means storing any historical information in an open database to allow desktop, laptop, PDA, or any other automated processes to access the information, perform analysis, and affect conditional control. It’s also important to extend a BMS that is usually conditionally accessible to authenticated individuals or processes for real-time control. Of course, these tasks must be web-enabled so users can access the information they need to make timely operating decisions, regardless of their location.
Now for the final question: How much is this going to cost me?
Such a scenario can be implemented very cost effectively by leveraging your existing corporate network—with a few additions:
Drop a network connection (typically a CAT-5 cable) to the BMS panel in your stores, and dedicate a server or two at corporate to receive the data.
Establish some databases, determining what information you want presented and how. (Because you’ve used open systems, this part goes smoothly.
Sit back and watch your organization enjoy the benefits of open systems.
Of course, you’ll be asked to identify the return on investment. Every situation is different, so a magic formula doesn’t exist. The best advice is to start with what you want to accomplish. Is your goal to aggregate your utility information and negotiate for lower energy costs across your chain? Do you want to integrate your service contractors into your operation to reduce maintenance costs? Is legal or quality assurance/food safety interested in reducing liability exposure by documenting that foods were maintained at safe temperatures? Once you’ve identified the problem or problems you want solved, bring the relevant parties to the table: your BMS provider, facilities, IT, and any other affected departments. Then figure out what hardware or software will be needed to accomplish the task. Compare the price tag to the anticipated savings to get your ROI—and a pleasant surprise.
Hopefully, the end result will be you and your CFO seeing eye-to-eye. The BMS world is quickly changing, and for the better. Those who make a quick transition will gain a huge competitive advantage over the laggards. Which group will your company be in?
Rob Hamon is global product manager for enterprise software at Copley, OH-based Novar Controls.
About Novar Controls
Through its Novar Technology Center network, Novar Controls provides energy management systems to meet the building management needs of industrial and commercial businesses. Novar Controls’ building management systems and analysis tools assist customers in eliminating energy waste—increasing energy cost savings. For more information, please call (800) 348-1235; e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org); or visit Novar Controls’ website (www.novarcontrols.com).