Strange Bedfellows in Sustainability: Facilities and IT

Example of data center designed with sustainability in mind

Example of data center designed with sustainability in mind

By Kim Allen, PhD, TFI Environment Consultant

Applying a sustainability lens to business has resulted in strange bedfellows: the Facilities and IT departments. These two groups have not traditionally worked together, but more and more, they find themselves in the same meetings with a need to collaborate, especially as tight budgets require coordinated efforts to save energy and optimize usage of capital.

The relationship between Facilities and IT is at an early stage. Facilities folks leverage their IT colleagues when learning to use automated systems with IP connectivity and dashboard control for energy and water consumption, and the LEED certification system has required taking a holistic view of building management. On the IT side, some folks remain attached to maximizing equipment up-time before even considering efficiency, but mandates for cost and carbon reductions have raised IT managers’ awareness about reducing power and cooling.

The story of the “convergence” of facilities and IT could be told from the IT side. IT is becoming a driver of business operations through its integration of analytics and control into convenient dashboards. And the sophistication of most IT industry platforms far surpasses that of building automation software. IBM has partnered with Johnson Controls to market a “Smart Building Solution” (initially targeted at the government and education sectors). It seems natural that IT would move to incorporate facilities into its portfolio.

But not so fast – experience shows that the marriage between facilities and IT is more complex than a simple takeover by IT. During 2011, Cisco, Microsoft, and Google all exited the building management market. And from the facilities side, Schenider Electric acquired Viridity’s EnergyCenter 2.0 platform.

Why are the supposedly less-tech-savvy facilities groups leading the integration of IT into building management despite the greater skill and financial resources of the IT group? There are likely a number of reasons. Here are two key ones:

1. People. The facilities department has always worked with the human factor – buildings are kept warm, well-lit, and comfortable so that the people who work in them are happier as well as more productive. The hard analytics of many IT solutions do not as readily account for humans – and data centers are not exactly optimized for people, either.
2. Top-level control. Many office buildings house a number of businesses who lease the space. In such situations, the highest level of integration occurs with the building owner, who then works with the various businesses, including their individual facilities and IT departments. Software providers take note: this is where the bulk of the market lies for those selling software solutions that integrate facilities and data center management – they will need their products to be understandable by building owners before data center managers.

In the world of sustainability and energy efficiency, both facilities managers and IT managers are critical, with the former playing a surprisingly key role in the adoption of new technology platforms.

How is it at your organization? What contributions have Facilities and IT made in your efficiency efforts, and to what degree do they collaborate toward common solutions? Post a comment.

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2 Responses to “Strange Bedfellows in Sustainability: Facilities and IT”

  1. Sara Schoen says:

    Great column! IT expertise is indispensable to building managers (or energy/sustainability managers like myself) in getting more sophisticated building monitoring systems set up. And the need for building systems software products to be understandable to building owners and facilities managers cannot be overstated. We certainly want our buildings to become more hi tech, but it will never happen if property managers and building engineers are not actively involved with, or even driving, the effort.

  2. Kim Allen says:

    Thanks for the comment, Sara. Given the importance of building management for both cost savings and, increasingly, softer factors such as employee retention, it seems quite possible that software makers will have the incentive to work directly with folks like you.

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