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For smarter buildings, we need to bridge the IT-facilities divide

IoT technologies are starting to bring significant benefits to organizations that operate multiple physical locations, reducing equipment costs and downtime and providing a better experience for customers. But to build the infrastructure and data pipelines that enable these benefits, facilities managers must work more closely with IT teams at their organization. To get the most from IoT, we need to bridge the IT-facilities divide.

IoT enables multi-location businesses to centrally manage and monitor facilities equipment, allowing them to proactively manage maintenance and repairs. If a refrigeration unit goes out or an elevator breaks down, contractors can be dispatched immediately to get the unit back up and running. Even more powerful, analysis of historical IoT data reveals patterns that allow for smarter decisions about when to schedule repairs — and helps facilities managers hold vendors more accountable for their products. My own company just did an integration with Microsoft’s Azure IoT Hub to make it easier for facilities managers to implement IoT in their organizations using Microsoft’s cloud services.

But while facilities managers understand their equipment and the data they wish to collect, it’s the IT staff that implement the technologies and connect them back to facilities management applications and other corporate systems. Historically, these teams have not worked together closely, and unless they start to do so conversations about taking advantage of IoT won’t even begin.

There are two key reasons for closer coordination between facilities and IT:

  1. IT must secure the IoT infrastructure layer within the corporate environment. Connected IoT devices create a potential attack surface for hackers, and the infrastructure must be secure from end to end to protect corporate networks.
  2. IoT data must be piped into applications where it can be analyzed to extract value, both for facilities management and also other parts of the organization.

To understand the benefits of uniting facilities with IT, the data center industry provides an example. Tech industry leaders such as Google and Facebook recognized long ago the cost and uptime benefits that come from smarter management of mechanical and electrical infrastructure. Google is even using machine learning to fine-tune equipment settings automatically on a continuous basis.

It’s not surprising that tech companies would lead the way here, but facilities managers in other industries now also face pressure to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Technology is transforming all industries, and CIOs know that if they don’t shave 20% from their facilities bills and provide a better environment for customers, one of their competitors will surely do so.

Where does this pressure come from? Retailers, banks, restaurants and other physical businesses are competing in a new “experience economy,” driven by new entrants that have both an online and a physical presence, and which are taking a full swing at aging businesses by using technology and creativity. Every piece of equipment, from the air conditioner to the robot burger maker, directly affects the customer experience, and it needs to work every time. That’s easier to ensure using IoT.

So, what steps should organizations take to bring IT and facilities together and build an effective IoT strategy?

  • Investment. There’s no escaping that IoT requires investment in technology (either new or retrofit), IT infrastructure, analytics and people with the right skill sets.
  • Clear objectives. These investments will pay off but require clear business objectives to be enumerated up front. These include improved customer experience, increased sales, more insights from customer data and lower costs in areas such as repair, maintenance and energy use.
  • Strong ownership: Projects will require C-suite backing and strong ownership of business goals at the executive level. The CFO may be responsible for ensuring cost targets, for example, while store operations may own customer experience and data.
  • Cross-functional teams. As stated above, teams will need to work together across disciplines with a strong leader to ensure for successful implementation.

IoT projects are an opportunity for facility managers to shine and take part in a new journey where they have an important seat at the table. With automation looming fast over all industries, IoT projects are an opportunity for facilities managers to expand their skills and increase their value to the organization. This means working closely with IT teams — and seizing the challenge to lead new initiatives that create value for the business.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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