IT the new FM frontier?
The way we were
Just a decade ago a fairly typical large company with a high rate of churn could easily be in the following position. Teams would be formed new recruits would be added to teams whilst elsewhere numbers might be cut as requirements changed. However the moves that took place each weekend were carried out by the FM team but were limited by IT to no more than 30 people per weekend! So moving a department of 200 would be spread over at least seven weekends. Today this scenario is much less likely due to changes that have gradually taken place both with new technology as well as with the development of FM.
However it seems increasingly likely that we are now at a crossroads with regard to the FM and IT functions and who controls what. In some organisations the Facilities Manager is now responsible for equipment that used to come under the IT department, but there is also an increasing amount of networked equipment which by default could become the responsibility of the IT department.
The introduction of wireless networks within the workplace delivers major advantages of greater flexibility and mobility for users and in particular the ability to add new users or move staff around without any costly changes to the network infrastructure. Wireless also enables the FM to have greater and easier control over the workplace without constantly having to call upon IT for each and every move. Wireless has improved a great deal over the last few years and the latest 802.11n standard delivers a better performance, range and improved reliability, it is predicted that by 2013 at least 40% of desktops will be virtual.
In the current economic climate organisations are looking to cut costs, whilst at the same time IT departments are being asked to provide higher levels of availability and cope with steadily increasing data growth. Cloud computing is able to deliver savings along with improved continuity and resilience by locating software and hardware remotely with a third party, typically one of the big IT providers. Today’s office buildings tend to be quite complex with switches, servers and storage all needed to support the many desktop PC’s. In addition all of this equipment then requires cooling and UPS’s all of which not only means high power usage but also add to the complexity of the building design. An organisation using Cloud Computing could be viewed as effectively having an uncomplicated building, which is devoid of much of the IT equipment that needs to be installed, maintained and altered by the IT department. With Cloud Computing all of the IT systems and applications are held remotely. There is minimal data cabling and ideally all that is required is connection to wireless access points. With this system in place there are far fewer cables, no server equipment and patching is no longer required. With IT provided this way the FM can deal with a lot more than they currently do and IT then becomes effectively a utility with the user ‘plugging in’ or connecting remotely when they arrive in the building and using the service on an as needed basis. The IT department could in effect end up having something more like a procurement role.
Gradually all of the electrically powered devices that we use in the workplace are becoming networked. Audio Visual Equipment, CCTV, vending and digital signage are mostly on the network or soon will be. As such equipment is brought into the network it will tend to fall within the IT domain.
The Facilities network
An alternative however could be for the Facilities Manager to have their own network, which could have the networked devices mentioned above running through it and could also be linked in with the BMS and CAFM systems. Areas that are becoming increasingly important such as energy management could also be on this network with the FM able to collect data and monitor what is happening in the building in real time.
One Service Provider for both services?
Currently there are IT service providers and there are FM service providers with neither particularly encroaching on the others areas of expertise. One of the major FM companies has partially bridged the gap between IT and FM with a major PFI contract which covers both soft FM and part of the IT requirement including the AV as well as the structured cabling.
Recently one of the UK’s biggest service provider’s has through acquisition reached a point where it has divisions which could provide both IT and FM although as yet they are not offering a joint package of both IT and FM from a single source.
‘I have never understood why major service organisations do not offer a combined IT and FM service’ says Ulf Muller of myfm. ‘The current changes in the public sector and the need to make savings would suggest that merging these two functions would surely make sense?’ Ulf continues with an example, ‘Primary Care Trusts are being disbanded and Doctors are being allocated £60 billion to provide primary care. Suppose just one service provider could offer all of the IT and FM support, the Doctor is able to concentrate on providing primary care services and one service company ensures that everything from telephony, through to databases, sharps removal and AC servicing for example is in place and functioning correctly’.
Head of Infrastructure Management at BGM, Jonathan Low, believes that information integration is the key. Jonathan says that ‘IT and FM are increasingly overlapping, whether it is CCTV being networked or Move Management teams dealing with desktop PC’s , both worlds are definitely coming together’. Jonathan also feels that,’ each organisation has a complete picture of the people, workstations and IT assets. This forms the knowledge base that will help the organisation to make informed strategic decisions, but the IT and FM department’s need to both have ready access to this information’.