Technology convergence is reducing the physical infrastructure required to maintain separate network or platforms, such as voice, data, AV, security and building management systems (BMS), while at the same time consolidating the efforts between departments.
“Typically in the past you’ve had separate networks for voice, data, security and building management systems. The trends we’re seeing is all these different networks are being combined onto the same network or platform,” says Jason Woods, RCDD, director of technology for Alfa Tech.
This convergence might have some bumps along the way as it requires departments unaccustomed to working together, such as facilities and IT, to partner. But Woods says stick with it.
“Be patient. Be prepared. There will be some growing pains with facilities and IT departments working collaboratively. And CEOs should be prepared to have those departments work together to make sure the different projects they have going on turn out successfully and save the company money in the long run,” he says.
Smart Business spoke with Woods about technology convergence and what it could mean as companies implement it.
What are some of the physical changes companies might see when converging technologies?
Prior to convergence, for example, the physical layer infrastructure of voice and data typically consisted of two cables for voice and two for data. This required a large quantity of copper cable to be installed and larger MDF/IDF rooms in order to accommodate more equipment and the cabling associated with this equipment. Now with VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) you really only need two cables to each user location, which decreases the quantity of copper cable to each location and throughout the building, reducing the overall physical infrastructure required. With many systems such as voice, data, security and BMS becoming IP enabled, the need for a separate or isolated network for these platforms is no longer required.
What might this mean for departments handling responsibilities that are now converged?
As an example, typically an IT department handles the network equipment and the facilities department is in charge of BMS, monitoring the cooling, heating and power in a facility. With IT equipment becoming smaller and denser, more equipment can be installed in the same footprint as older, bigger equipment leading to greater heat loads. IT and facilities departments need to work together more to ensure MDF/IDF rooms and data centers are cooled properly and adequate funding is in place to cool and monitor the facilities.
Also, if BMS is running on one of the networks, facilities will have to work closely with IT to ensure budgets are met and systems run properly. They might not necessarily be used to working together, so it’s a new challenge for companies since those departments typically work under different department heads.
Why should a company consider converging technologies?
With more and more companies thinking green and trying to get LEED credits for new buildings, convergence is an integral part of constructing a more functional facility that can reduce power and heating costs. IT and facilities working together plays a big part in that. Your payoff will be reductions in cost and energy use.
With the changes brought upon by converging technologies there will be opportunities for staffs to acquire new skill sets. For example, in the past, with voice and data there used to be two separate and distinct departments managing each of the two technologies. With VoIP, many of the engineers in the voice department are now given the opportunity to develop or learn new skill sets, such as routing and switching. Now, voice falls under the IT department, so there’s no separation. With security, this is a technology typically managed and maintained by the facilities department. Currently, many security systems are now IP enabling their system to ride on top of the data network. With security riding on the same network as data, bridging the gap between IT and facilities is more than critical than ever. Similar to what happened with voice and data, security and BMS technologies also could potentially fall under the IT department, which is why bridging the gap between IT and facilities is so important.
The time and money investment, as well as the savings realized through convergence, really depends on the size of the company and the situation.
What could trigger the decision to converge?
As an example with VoIP, currently there are still a lot of companies with legacy telephone systems that are either without warranty and not supported or so antiquated that parts are not readily available so they become cost-prohibitive to replace.
Companies could decide they’d like to clean up their existing physical infrastructure. After reviewing its department budgets, a company also could find that it’s financially prudent. Another time to consider convergence is when you’re ready to buy new equipment. Typically the lifespan of a server or switch is three to five years, so you wouldn’t want to migrate to a VoIP platform, for example, until you were ready to refresh your gear. In addition, you’ll have to determine if your existing infrastructure is capable of handling a network convergence. If it’s not, that has to be taken into consideration as well as how to upgrade with minimal disruption to your staff.
Who can help with a convergence project?
Engineering firms can assist companies when they’re building a facility or remodeling. They will assess your needs and give you the best design based on your requirements. They can help ensure the new structure serves everybody’s purpose — IT and facilities are getting what they want and the CIO is getting what he or she wants, which is reduced costs.
Jason Woods, RCDD, is director of technology for Alfa Tech. Reach him at (408) 487-1267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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