How the Cloud Can Help Manage Multi-site Facilities

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Friday, March 18th, 2016
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In a perfect world, facilities managers would always choose to optimise building performance.

Consuming less energy, improving occupant comfort and productivity, reducing equipment failures and repair emergencies — these are all ideal goals.

But in the real world, especially for enterprises with multiple distributed facilities, building optimisation can seem like a pipe dream. Resources and budgets are already stretched to the limit just keeping buildings in operation. Most organisations have a large stock of older buildings with varying degrees of building automation controls, or often only simple thermostats. Growth, mergers, and acquisitions create even more headaches for facility managers.

In this environment, activities like managing the big picture, sharing best practices, and proactively fine-tuning building systems have simply been impractical, if not impossible, for most organisations.

Recently, the development of the cloud and other technologies has created a new opportunity for facilities managers to take control of operations on a large scale. By using the cloud, which provides connectivity, data storage, and applications without major investments, it is now possible and cost-effective for companies of all sizes to view and manage their facilities landscape in a consistent, centralised way.

These advantages make the cloud an ideal platform for enterprise facilities management. HVAC, lighting and energy use data can be read from the various buildings at regular intervals. This data is then sent to the cloud, where it is collected, aggregated, and delivered via reporting applications to both local and corporate decision makers.

Any number of remote locations can be linked via the cloud, with more being able to be easily added as growth occurs and the large amount of data generated by facilities becomes easily manageable.

Cloud-based solutions can also significantly increase visibility into remote building performance. The old adage, “you can’t fix what you can’t see” applied to building management. With cloud technology, all staff from the CFO to the maintenance director can have near real-time visibility into energy use and occupant comfort across the enterprise. Added visibility can include live monitoring of metering devices, or visualisation dashboards to view performance metrics, spot trends and gather insights. It can also include  graphs, charts and conversions such as kilowatt-to-dollar cost, which helps decision makers understand data. Specific benefits for building management include:

  • Continuous improvement: Facility managers can see into individual or overall building operations, evaluate energy costs, and compare performance across sites to drive continuous improvement.
  • Proactive maintenance: Problems can be identified before they become serious, helping reduce downtime and repair costs.
  • Occupant comfort: Local conditions can be continuously monitored to ensure the comfort of workers and customers at all times in all facilities.
  • Real-time alerts: Unexpected events and out-of-spec conditions can trigger automatic alerts, enabling swift action and problem resolution.
  • Crowd-sourcing: The cloud makes it easy for people to share information, enabling an enterprise to take advantage of crowd-sourcing. Reusable assets can be stored in the cloud and accessed anywhere.
  • Improved services: Overall building services can be improved by making more information available to the right people, from local maintenance to corporate planners.

Most enterprises will need to make an initial investment in local building controls so sensors can be standardised and linked to the cloud. Once a basic local infrastructure is in place, enterprises can then tap into the cloud to take advantage of centralised reporting and analysis capabilities.

A common question from businesses is how they keep their systems safe when implementing cloud technology. Contrary to some popular views, cloud computing can provide an environment that is more secure and less costly than most internal IT systems, due to centralised data storage, governance, and control. In fact, some cloud services offer the same technology as that used by secure banking.

Now more than ever, new advances in cloud technology are enabling enterprises to centrally monitor, control and manage their medium and smaller sized facilities in a secure and cost-effect way. The benefits of the cloud facility management approach enables facilities managers to achieve reduced costs, improved occupant comfort, and overall enhanced building performance across the enterprise, as well as helps to create more productive environments for workers and customers.

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