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2019-06-30

Digitization in Facility Management

When it comes to facility management, it means managing buildings, maintaining technical facilities and repair equipment. IT administration of these facilities on the other hand requires a different skill-set altogether. Often facility managers and their teams are faced with products or equipment that require a basic understanding of information technology.

The intelligent Thing(s)

If you believe in the leading market research and analysis organizations such as Gartner or IDC, there will be more than 20 billion so-called “Smart Objects” in 2020. What does that mean? First it is important to understand what these intelligent objects are exactly and how the industry is planning to simplify our life with them.

Definition: What are IoT, industry 4.0 & M2M?

There are various buzzwords like “Internet of Things” (IoT), “Industry 4.0” or “Machine-to-Machine” (M2M). The latter is where technical systems communicate with each other. In fact, human activity is non-existent in M2M. A conveyor belt for example communicates with a robot arm, so that it doesn’t function if the belt has stopped. As long as this interaction works seamlessly, humans are left out. The situation is different in IoT.

Internet of Things (IoT) or Industry 4.0?

With IoT, human interaction is desired in order to remotely regulate the room temperature and lighting for example or receiving a message on your smartphone if any motion has been triggered in the backyard. The concept of “Industry 4.0” is a German invention that has not yet been established internationally.

If IT is not involved in the Digitization of Buildings

In speaking with corporate IT managers, societies and universities/colleges, it gives a clear picture of the lack of IT involvement. In the ongoing digitization in buildings the IT team is often involved too late in projects. For Example, in a university there are IP-controlled locking systems of a renowned German manufacturer, whose constituents should be in the same network segment campus-wide. After this promising solution was purchased and installed, it was noted that there was no campus-wide network. This resulted in the purchase of additional control units for the locking systems.

Pay Attention to Standards!

Another aspect of these new smart devices is the TCP/IP stack. It links the operating system of each device with the network. Instead of relying on established platforms such as Linux or Android, many IoT manufacturers build their own stacks. Also, we frequently observe that basic network protocols such as DHCP are not implemented as a standard practice. This is similar to if a manufacturer does not stick by the standard dimensions for the holes of car wheels.

When used in your own home environment this may not be noticed, but in a heterogeneous enterprise environment, this is a serious miss: When you cannot rely on standards, “crafting” by the IT is necessary. That makes the whole thing highly prone to errors, it does not scale, and it costs unnecessary time and money.

Customers want Security

When speaking directly with the customers, the most critical point is always the system security. Most solutions offer a web-based user interface that can’t even be accessed via a secure HTTPS connection. Some products with HTTPS support fail when importing their own certificate and end up using the “self-signed”. In some cases the login field accepts only numbers and letters as input for the password and can’t be linked to external authentication. I believe that the manufacturers of such user interfaces have no idea about IT security, which was developed based on 20-year-old principles!

Facility or IT: Who is responsible?

The matter of fact is that these roles are clearly defined: The facility management takes care of maintaining technical systems and repair equipment. The role of IT is processing data and information for redundancy, security, etc. based on the requirements of the business. Thus both teams have their fair share of the new smart objects that they need to have a good control of.

The real Challenge of Digitization

In future, a facility manager won’t need a degree in computer science and an IT administrator won’t need to install any lighting system. However, these two colleagues will end up working fairly closely together. As per my previous evaluation of the new building equipment, the IT or network team has to be involved at an early stage to avoid surprises and to be able to plan. On the other hand, the colleagues of facility management need more insight into the structures and operations of the IT department.

The Solution: Software plus personal Exchange

Neither the facility management and certainly not the IT operate with paper and pencil. Both departments use software, where we can create synergies. Often the cooperation of both teams is based on the fact that modern building technology is connected to the network. Control units have a LAN connection and various sensors or cameras use the campus WiFi.

Software supports Management

Today’s network and IP address databases provide a single pane of glass for each network and each IP address. So-called IP Address Management Systems (IPAM) also features a granular assignment of access rights up to the two-man rule. In this way, a facility manager might get limited access to the network documentation to place IP-enabled systems/devices by him/herself.

The IT administrator on the other hand is not held by the complex daily business, because he/she has to type in addresses. He/she can leave the facility managers alone - without losing control of the network database. The IPAM system documents each change carefully and also allows an evaluation of the data to keep an eye on the network utilization with all these new devices. An automated coupling between the facility database and the network database is also possible with so-called Application Programming Interfaces (API).

Conclusion: Let your Employees talk

It primarily comes to communication. Not between machines or between machines and humans, but between people. The continuing digitization of buildings makes it necessary to cooperate. Tools like IP Address Management systems may be a first intersection at this point.

Admin - 13:07 @ general, dns, dhcp, security, ipv6