Once again about the convergence of IP and IT.

Апр 16, 2024
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Anto Budiarjo, President and CEO of Clasma Events Inc

Today there is a lot of talk about the convergence of information technology (IT) and automatic control systems for utility systems in buildings. When I attended the AHR Expo in Chicago, I was asked the same questions over and over again. In this article I will try to answer them.

It seems that the main questions are as follows:

1. The Building Automation Systems (BAS) industry is already moving to the use of IP, why else involve additional use of IT?

2. There are already so many problems on the way to business development, why are new difficulties needed?

3. What are the advantages of using IT for developers and creators of BAS?

I will not answer each question separately, but I will try to explain the essence of some of the problems, and in the epilogue I will show how these problems are related to each of the above questions.

IP vs IT

Let’s be honest. Very often these two terms are used interchangeably, but this is a huge mistake, especially in the context of talking about the BAS industry.

IP is a technical abbreviation most commonly used to refer to a family of network protocols: TCP/IP, UDP, HTTP, FTP, etc. These are the network protocols on which the Internet is based, and they are almost as ubiquitous as electricity. In the future, IP will be inextricably linked to an entire class of devices, and therefore asking whether these network devices are IP compatible will be as stupid as asking whether they use electricity!

The term IT has two meanings, which further confuses the overall picture. Firstly, IT refers to information technology. The term was first used in the 1980s to describe a new field of technology that emerged from data processing technologies. If you look back, it becomes clear that the term IT was someone’s very clever invention.

Its introduction was facilitated by the understanding that large volumes of information will soon become the main value, and handling them will require special technologies designed not only for processing it, but also for collecting, transmitting, storing, analyzing and other ways to make a profit from it.

I must admit that when I first heard the term “information technology” in the 1980s, I did not fully understand its meaning.

I understood computers, software, and systems connectivity, but I didn’t fully grasp the true depth and meaning of the term IT until the mid-1990s, when I first started using the Internet.

The Internet has contributed to the development of information technology like nothing else, and today we perceive it as a tool that allows us to work with information to improve our business and everyday lives.

The second meaning of the term IT is associated with people working, directly or indirectly, in the field of information technology.

In this case, we are talking about the IT industry (including companies such as Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco, etc.), as well as the IT departments of various companies and organizations that have begun to play a leading role in almost all existing structures .

IT Service

In most cases, IT departments have become very influential «kingdoms within a kingdom» in both commercial, as well as in non-profit organizations. Why is this happening?

To find the answer to this question, it is necessary to understand the principles of construction and functioning of organizations. Companies are fundamentally defined by the purpose of their existence, the products they produce and the people who make up them. All this is united by information.

In a modern organization, for it to work effectively, everything must be measured, correlated with the established goals of its activities and with other control data.

We’re familiar with the Wal-Mart stories where this idea was taken to its logical conclusion: knowing everything about the company’s customers, the products on the shelves, and how the products get on those shelves.

Modern organizations need a similar operating principle to attract shareholders (or sponsors, as in the case of non-profit organizations).

The reason why IT departments have grown to their current size is because of the importance of information, which was illustrated above. Its importance increases even more for those organizations that are interconnected. Information should not be stored as dead weight.

It is important that information about available labor resources is integrated with information about production, sales, financial resources, etc.

So what is the purpose of these IT departments?

The simple answer is that their goal is to provide technologies (in the broad sense of the word) that allow organizations to optimally use their resources to achieve their goals. People involved in the creation and operation of building automation systems need to be aware of this very important point.

IT departments should not manage the work (although their staff often believes just the opposite); they must serve the needs of the respective organizations.

IT departments are responsible for collecting and processing information, but these activities should always be carried out to meet the business needs of their parent organizations.

I will also note that one of the most important responsibilities of IT departments is to ensure the security of the assets of their parent organizations. This task cannot be approached carelessly, and the reasons for this are quite obvious.

IT brings success

Since the late 1980s, when the term IT began to gradually replace the concept of “data processing,” information technology has become more and more necessary for the daily work of organizations. This led to huge investments in the implementation of IT projects.

This process has continued continuously, and the value of the IT industry has now exceeded $200 billion.

It may seem strange, but it is often very difficult to prove the return on investment made in such large projects. However, investment is still ongoing.

For example, in the 1970s and 1980s, supply chains began to operate as a means to control and account for the inventory of goods on hand, and organizations needed to know what stocks of their products they had in their warehouses.

Today, in most organizations, the quantity and storage location of all goods is known from the moment they are received, and in many cases this data accompanies the goods directly from the moment of their production or shipment.

Establishing supply networks requires significant investment from both the organizations themselves and their supplier partners.

The benefits of supply chain networks can be seen today in both Wal-Mart and virtually all manufacturing organizations. But these advantages could not have been foreseen at a time when the only obvious advantage of inventory control was the awareness of the purchasing department.

Another interesting example is the Y2K problem. Investments aimed at solving this problem have yielded virtually no direct return on investment.

Yes, I know fear played a big role; Huge amounts of money were invested in IT as a safety net to ensure that life as usual did not stop on December 31, 1999.

In reality, all organizations benefited significantly from investments aimed at solving the Year 2000 problem. This benefit was the acquisition of new hardware and software that, in addition to preventing potential Y2K problems, better assisted these organizations in achieving their goals.

Thus, in the eyes of most organizations, investment in IT may not be unnecessary. The benefits they bring in terms of indirect return on investment and prevention of possible troubles are, in most cases, enormous. Conclusion: if there is any problem in the organization, then most likely it can best be solved by the IT department.

Now compare this perception with the perception of various systems in buildings (security systems, heating/air conditioning/ventilation (HVAC), etc.).

Most people who work in a building know the HVAC workers as the ones who have to complain about the heat or cold in the building, and the security workers as the ones they have to contact when their access cards don’t work. Most of the attributes, i.e. associations associated with employees of such services are always negative.

Global desire for convergence

We often perceive the concept of “convergence” as the unification of various technologies and IT. In reality, and especially in large companies, everything is combined with everything. IT departments play a central role in this process, since they are the ones who enable and simplify all the necessary interactions.

Previously, data departments had relatively narrow responsibilities within their organizations. In the future, almost everything will be related to IT, which will be involved in all areas: telephony, shipping and transportation of goods, research and development, finance, sales, service delivery and all other aspects of business activity. Buildings and utility systems will also be part of this overall picture.

Does this mean the disappearance or reduction of the role of relevant aspects of business activity?

Does this mean that telephones will disappear, or goods will no longer be transported, that scientists and engineers will disappear, that financiers will no longer be needed, or that all traders will disappear?

No, that won’t happen. It’s just that all these areas will use the services provided by IT, which will help employees not only perform their functions, but also integrate them with the functions of other people.

You can’t see the forest for the trees

If you focus all your attention on just one problem, it is quite difficult to see the true effects of convergence. Because the BAS industry often focuses on construction issues, many ignore the broader issues facing building owners.

This can be a problem for most people, as their work is often structured in such a way that their attention is focused on narrow professional tasks rather than on the big picture. Also, many view convergence as a general factor that is not related to the short-term aspects of business activity.

Integration of IT and BAS is now becoming a pressing issue as technological barriers are gradually disappearing due to the widespread use of IP in this industry, as well as in all departments of organizations that own buildings. Plus, customers (building owners) are demanding the same level of output that they have seen from their IT departments over the past couple of decades.

Knowledge is power is money

Predicting the future is something you can accept, use, or observe from the sidelines, or… completely ignore. The choice is yours!

History shows that convergence, the increasing use of IP and the growing influence of IT cannot be stopped. Believing that this will not affect the BAS industry is simply foolish. The trend towards convergence in this area is likely to create two types of players: the first will link its future to air temperature control in buildings, and the second will focus its attention on various security systems.

The second type of player will actively embrace convergence and benefit most from the use of IT in this area.

Someone recently said to me, “But our company specializes in enterprise management systems.” Today this approach is acceptable for isolated companies, but in the future it will mean the same thing as the thesis “Our company specializes in inventory accounting.”

Answers to questions

1. The BAS industry is already moving to the use of IP, so why involve the use of IT?

IP is purely a networking technology. It is very important and it will be widely used in buildings. A true understanding of information technology and the work of people from IT departments is a completely different question. It is neither a technology issue nor an issue that only applies to the construction industry. BAS are becoming part of the information industry.

2. There are already many problems standing in the way of business development, so why bother with new difficulties?

New problems will very soon become much more serious than those that exist now. This must not only be accepted and realized, but such a prediction is quite easy to make. Open field-level systems are already widely used in BAS, but only the best will survive. Therefore, unless you strive to take a leading position in your field, then the problems that stand in the way of business development in the short term are exactly what their definition implies, i.e. having their significance only for a short period of time.

3. What are the benefits of IT for BAS developers and creators?

Convergence with IT provides greater opportunities for BAS players to position themselves higher in the market. Now is the time to make such decisions and make the necessary changes, since in the future the market situation will become unfavorable for new players. All the contractors and integration specialists I know who have started using IT are doing very well today.

Adapted from Consulting-Specifying Engineer (Reed Business Information)

Anto Budiarjo
President and CEO of Clasma Events Inc

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