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Smart Facilities Demand Converged Networks


Smart campuses and buildings and the Internet of Things (IoT) are the logical next phase of network convergence, which my consultant firm Technology Plus has been focused on for the last 20 years. As intelligence is added to everything from lighting to trash bins, the network is becoming the central nervous system for the physical environment.

Concurrently, users and employees expect network connectivity everywhere, self-service everywhere, and connectivity to every device and service. These two trends fuel each other, and the rate of change continues to increase. But who is responsible for these interrelated concerns in the design and construction process? One physical network may now support:

  • Operations
  • Traditional LAN Functions
  • Security, Cameras, and Access Control
  • Building Automation and Control
  • Power Management
  • Smart Lighting
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • IoT
  • Big Data Analysis Collection and Applications
  • Digital Signage and Wayfinding
  • Service Delivery
  • Telecom/Unified Communications
  • Life Safety
  • Paging
  • Audio and Video
  • Internet Access
  • Ubiquitous Wi-Fi
  • Distributed Access Systems and Cellular Microcells
  • TV
  • Mobile Apps
  • Everything Else You Can Imagine

These technologies are revolutionizing facility efficiencies and situational awareness, but also tenant services, guest services, customer services, and employee services.

Smart buildings and IoT are bringing another level of complexity to the construction and developer industry. Smart campuses require smart infrastructure. A tall building can be considered a vertical campus, and developers of high-rise buildings face many of the same challenges for efficiency, security, and services.

Traditionally, work was performed in silos only concerned with a specific discipline. Now the infrastructure of different disciplines is increasingly networked together. Cybersecurity is not, typically, an expertise of the various construction disciplines. Multiple independent networks installed and managed by vendors for whom network security, reliability, and performance are not core competencies will provide more risk.

Wherever possible, these disciplines will need to integrate their systems with a single converged network. While the disciplines will be converged to a single network, the network needs to be designed so that each system can be isolated. This allows the network to maintain high security, reliability, and performance standards while serving systems with a wide range of maturity--from systems that have sophisticated network services and secure implementations to those that have only recently been adapted to IP communications and may not have well-understood security features. This will require coordination and planning between the various disciplines and the IT implementation team.


IT, Design, and Construction

For smart campus initiatives to be successful, an IT role needs to be included and integrated into the design and construction process. This new role--the technology coordinator or owner's representative for technology--must address the design and implementation of the network with a focus on cybersecurity to allow the systems to run efficiently secure. The person or team in this role must be aware of every service and system being installed in the building and manage the process of integrating or deciding not to integrate it into a converged network. A converged network in a building or campus presents many security issues that need to be addressed which are unique to the design construction process, so this should be addressed in the design phase and managed throughout the construction process.

Whether the project is new or existing construction; whether a single building, a campus with an integrated network, or a campus comprising multiple buildings with independent networks; there are efficiencies and savings to be gained that may not be apparent without this focus on network convergence.

While this shift is happening, changes in employee and user behaviors as well as business requirements are resulting in vanishing perimeters. Sophisticated, managed cybersecurity has never been more important. A well-planned, well-understood network is critical for security.

Some of the requirements of a converged network are:

  • Secure, managed access to a wide (and evolving) array of devices
  • Appropriate segmentation
  • Well-defined processes for provisioning access, bandwidth, etc. to systems from various disciplines
  • An understanding of the unique requirements and service-level expectations of technologies as diverse as HVAC/mechanical, security cameras, video conferencing, and IoT sensors
  • Well-defined and realistic processes for network maintenance
  • Robust, flexible, and forward-looking network monitoring and management
  • An increased focus on redundancy and reliability

Impacts of Converged Network

Fortunately, one of the most obvious benefits of the converged network is the elimination of the duplication of infrastructure for each discipline. This allows for increased investment in the robustness, reach, redundancy, and resiliency of the common network infrastructure. Increases to the capabilities of that common infrastructure are leveraged across all disciplines that rely on it.

Medium and long-term savings result from increased energy efficiency (HVAC, lighting, etc.), smart and proactive maintenance, centralized and remote building and campus management, and positioning to take advantage of future developments. Green initiatives such as reducing light pollution, improved waste management, and overall energy and heat efficiency are increasingly important to potential customers and the public. Services such as digital, responsive wayfinding and emergency or event management can leverage the smart infrastructure as well. And next-generation employees will have ever-increasing expectations for intelligence and connectivity in the workplace. Modern construction projects are complicated endeavors necessitating increased coordination between the various verticals and disciplines. True network convergence requires enhanced focus on this coordination but can actually reduce the complexity of the project. The various systems that comprise a building or campus have, in reality, been networked for many years. But these were initially specialty networks, with little thought for the future. In the past decade these systems have either adopted IP networking or options have been developed that will enable it moving forward. With the right understanding, the integration of these systems will reduce infrastructure, increase stability and reliability, and position properties for the ever more connected future.

There are operational efficiencies to be gained in the management and maintenance of the infrastructure as well as the training of personnel. Connectivity and intelligence promise to revolutionize management of the campus or building. The end result is higher property value and a more attractive environment to tenants, employees, and customers.

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.

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