Building planners in the 1970s probably never envisioned how businesses would function 30 years in the future. Fax machines didn't exist. Workers spent their days in private offices, rather than cubicles or open-plan floors. Computers were a novelty, not a necessity.
Planning for future business developments is key when making telecommunications decisions for long-term commercial investments. But - short of consulting a psychic - how do you plan for changes you can't predict?
Designing an Easy-to-Maintain System
Workplace trends like hoteling and telecommuting have resulted in employees switching workstations more frequently. On average, 30 percent of a commercial office building's power and telecommunications system must be reconfigured each year.
As the workplace becomes less structured, the telecommunications infrastructure must become more structured in order to respond to these changes. Choose a home-run cable configuration, which runs all the wires from each location back to a central point, instead of a loop-to-loop structure. A loop-to-loop configuration runs wires from one workstation to another to another, and finally back to the central connecting point - which means that if the connection to one workstation goes down, all the connections beyond that point go down. If a connection goes down in a home-run configuration, only that one workstation will be affected.
At the central connecting point, terminate the wires in a patch panel - a flat plate with rows of phone jacks numbered to correspond to the building's outlets. This central patch panel provides a simpler, more flexible way to manage networks. If an employee moves to a new workstation, the company can switch cables running to the old station to the new one. It's much more convenient than bringing in the phone company to reconfigure the system every time someone moves.
Keeping Wiring Under Control
The most common wire management system is a wall-and-ceiling distribution system. Power and data run through the ceiling plenum and feed vertically into the walls below. Wiring can be inserted through the walls to serve locations near the office perimeter, while power poles bring data and power to work areas in the center of the office.
A new method that's gaining ground in new construction is the use of floor tracks. Cables are run in tracks underneath the floor and can be fed to workstations anywhere on the floor, eliminating the need for power poles. Initial costs are generally higher than a wall-and-ceiling distribution system, but the more flexible floor-track system may prove less expensive in the long run. It's a good choice for buildings that will have a high density of workstations and a high use of plug-in electronic devices, such as faxes, modems, telephones, and personal computers.
When it comes to telecommunications planning, remember: Invest in quality up front. Consider more than your current wiring needs, and choose technology that will be able to handle whatever the future brings. Create a system that's easy to maintain, and install additional locations in anticipation of future growth. Investing in a telecommunications infrastructure that's able to respond to change will protect the value of your building in the long run.
Mark McKersie is president at FIRST Telecommunications Corp. (http://www.first-tel.com), headquartered in Grand Rapids, MI. McKersie has more than 25 years' experience in the telecommunications industry.