News

Up and Running
June 01, 2003

By Staff
Appeared in Buildings.com

With its campy humor and exotic sets, the television show “Star Trek” gave a cool view of future technology. On the Starship Enterprise, doors opened and shut automatically, favorite beverages materialized in an instant, and when disaster struck, the entire crew banded together against the aliens of the week. On the frontier of facilities management, some high-tech environments are responsive and adaptive, and closely working teams are surmounting challenges. By exploring new concepts of teamwork – instead of separate fiefdoms – facilities management, security, human resources, and IT departments can collaborate to maintain and ensure business uptime.

If there is a power outage or a pipe breaks or a hacker crashes your network, how much downtime can your business afford? Syska Hennessy Group, headquartered in New York City, is helping companies answer this difficult question. With 75 years of experience in consulting, engineering, and construction, the firm collaborates with predominately high-tech facilities. “We have 12 offices around the country, where we are setting a new pace for how fairly sophisticated buildings are done and how we can look at the present data in the industry and start applying what we know faster than the industry is able to catch up,” says Ann Banning-Wright, chief strategy officer, Syska Hennessy Group, Los Angeles. The company serves a wide expanse of facilities, specializing in data centers, hospitals, laboratories, and airports.

“One of the interesting things about an outage that people have a misconception about is that the actual outage can be very brief, but it can still have your company down for hours and hours because of what it does to the computers,” says Banning-Wright. She recalls an incident where a less-than-one-minute power outage at a company led to its website crashing for four hours.

Recently, in an another example, a live broadcast facility installed new “foolproof” systems, yet paid little attention to their overall building or training needs. During a power failure, the equipment would have automatically restarted; however, the staff panicked, fought the equipment, and the facility was down for six hours. “One of the mistakes is that people think of backup as a piece of equipment,” says Banning-Wright. She urges facilities professionals to evaluate their equipment’s requirements and capabilities, to stress staff training, and to audit that training.

At a major port, a simple mistake of selecting the wrong cables for a generator lead to downtime for 12 hours. “It is not whether or not you have a UPS. It is whether it has been maintained, whether people know how to use it, how long will it last, and what critical things are on it,” says Banning-Wright. Instead of testing equipment individually, Banning-Wright encourages companies to perform full integrated testing of equipment (vs. piecemeal testing) to make sure components are compatible.

At St. Joseph’s Hospital, Marshfield, WI, state-of-the-art equipment, such as digital video surveillance systems from Heartland, WI-based Vision Control, is paired with ongoing monthly training for security personnel. “Nowadays, you have to partner with IS (Information Systems) or you will be going off in 10 different directions,” says Richard Lange, manager/biomedical, St. Joseph’s Hospital. The hospital administration formed a security committee that encompasses IS, pharmacy, surgery, and facilities management. With a longstanding focus on security and uptime, the healthcare organization has intensified its focus within the last 18 months.

Lange stresses that to maintain business continuity each department has to learn each other’s language. “Today, the IS has to be a part of the security system. You have digital cameras and biometric systems that are going in that have to all tie in with IS,” says Lange. The growing collaboration across different departments is allowing buildings to be more responsive.

“[Integration] is absolutely one of the most wonderful things that has happened in recent years,” says Terry Gillick, vice president, Syska Hennessy, New York City. Gillick sees more companies bringing security, IT, and facilities management together because security systems are placed on the IT backbone. Other trends include the widespread use of advanced, integrated electronic security – closed circuit television, card readers, and biometrics – to harden facilities and protect businesses.

In response to tenants’ and occupants’ concerns, building owners and facilities managers can make buildings more secure and more intelligent. “It is possible to come into work on a Saturday and the system will recognize and activate the elevator to your floor, turn on the lights to light your path, activate the HVAC system, and unlock doors as you reach your destination,” says Gillick.

Currently, according to Gillick, building professionals are upgrading lobby security and more advanced visitor badges. To take the first step in preserving business continuity, Gillick encourages building teams to get an inventory of their current assets. “Understand your building automation system, know what it is capable of – usually companies are more aware of what is in their IT departments and do not take a holistic approach,” says Gillick.

“There has been a disconnect. I don’t think the consequences have been high enough for anyone to look at it together until the last few years,” adds Banning-Wright. To get ahead of current best industry practices, companies need to start a meaningful dialogue among facilities management, security, human resources, and IT departments and come to an agreement on how much downtime your company can afford. Then, balance that with the costs of achieving uptime.

Whose job is it to ensure uptime? The answer is: everyone’s.

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