Figure 1. Convergence requirements. Every closet needs to be hardened.

When the facilities manager for a U.S.-based global financial services company, was tasked with developing a plan for the company’s expansion into a new building, including a new data center, network, securities trading floor, and a VoIP phone system for the more than 700 company employees, he faced an organizational challenge. Although the project would require a complete overhaul of the new building’s infrastructure, a virtual wall was blocking communication between the company’s facilities and information technology departments.

The facilities manager succeeded by convincing his company’s senior leaders to combine the two departments into one and put him in charge. He then moved the personnel of both departments into the same workspace within the company’s offices. The result was a unique level of cooperation and communication between these traditionally separate yet symbiotic functions that enabled the facilities manager to meet the aggressive build-out and move-in schedule set by senior management and to produce a technology infrastructure that will serve the company’s needs for years to come.

Other companies take a less drastic approach to the challenge, but many find that technology convergence strains the communications between the two departments.

Today, many organizations struggle with the evolving roles of facilities and IT departments, brought on by rapidly changing technologies that enable new capabilities and services and result in the transfer of some traditional functions from one department to the other. As the line between facilities and IT blurs, the historical communication gap seems to be widening. Some companies are choosing to bridge that divide by merging the two departments and their functions.

Figure 2. Traditional PBX telephone system

New Roles

Historically, the two groups had clearly defined functions. Facilities was responsible for coordinating all the work related to planning, designing, and managing a building and its systems, equipment, and furniture. They also owned some electronic systems such as security surveillance and physical access control, building automation, and voice communications. The IT group, on the other hand, managed the network and the equipment in the data center. The two teams communicated only when one needed something from the other.

Technology convergence changed those traditional roles along with the relationship between the two departments?

Until recently, the typical company had data cabling going either to a mainframe and its terminals or to a LAN that connected PCs and printers. Different but often parallel cables for the PBX phone system connected all the floors within a building and all buildings on the company campus. A third type of wire, usually proprietary, ran alongside the other two cables to handle security - which consisted of controlling physical access to the building and company property, as well as protecting employees. These systems each required a separate group of people to purchase, install, and maintain.

Thanks to technology convergence, in addition to computers, other devices and systems such as phones, security cameras, access control, and wireless can operate on the network via Internet protocol (IP). Coupled with Power over Ethernet (PoE), another new technology, it is possible for these devices to receive power over the same cable that carries the data-all without employing an electrician. Data, voice, video, and power travel over one cable, repurposing existing infrastructure assets to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

Figure 3. VoIP telephone system

New Systems

IT now shares ownership of several systems that previously were the sole purview of the facilities department. And as the new technology advances, the interests of facilities and IT groups will continue to converge.
The shift in responsibilities between facilities and IT is not without its problems. Douglas Alger, the Information Technology Architect for Physical Infrastructure at Cisco Systems and the author of Build the Best Data Center Facility for Your Business (Cisco Press), said, “I would say, more than anything else, it’s communication. At some companies, the only time facilities and IT talk is when one group is yelling at the other.”

Teladata project managers report that communication problems are usually the result of two primary issues: 1) Lack of understanding of the planning needs and operating procedures of the other department, and 2) use of different languages.

Figure 4. VoIP architecture includes numerous points of failure.

Facilities and IT departments typically have little exposure to one another, except when there is a problem in one area of responsibility that affects the other’s group. This limited exposure often results in few opportunities to learn about each other’s methodology and concerns. In addition, these teams are often on different reporting lines in the corporate organization chart, so they operate within separate budgets.

Before convergence, this unfamiliarity usually only resulted in nuisance problems that normally were quickly overcome once they were elevated to the appropriate management level. As a result of the convergence of power, voice, data, video (and who-knows-what-next), failure to communicate requirements and expansion plans will create more than a nuisance for the groups involved - it can become a threat to the security and safety of employees and property, as well a serious disruption to company activities.

Network Closets

Nowhere are the potential problems more apparent than in the spaces where this new technology actually comes together - telephone network closets. In these closets, the domino effect is in full force. Most of these rooms have the same facilities-mandated infrastructure that existed prior to the addition of the new equipment required to enables VoIP and PoE. However, with PoE requiring higher electrical loads, more heat is generated. With more heat comes the need for more cooling. This means that closets must be updated to handle increased electrical and cooling loads. If these capacity challenges are not recognized and met by the two groups that now share responsibility for these systems, there is real potential for these rooms to crash.

In 2007, the Aperture Research Institute found that almost half of 100 data center organizations they researched are not even able to track changes in their data center infrastructure (space, power, and cooling). Alger, asked more than 100 IT professionals during an interactive Cisco webcast to respond if they knew the cooling capacity of their data centers. None did.

It’s no surprise then that most of the companies that have adopted new technology have yet to address the increased risks that may result from this new exposure. And very few have done what Teladata calls “hardening the closet.” This process involves assessing telephone network closets and related infrastructure, using the same risk analysis techniques used to assess the performance requirements of a data center. For example, if a data center’s core is designed to meet Uptime Institute’s Tier III standard, shouldn’t the same standard apply to edge devices whose failure would affect employee safety and productivity, as well as severely impact daily business operations?

Figure 5. Hardened network rooom

The second factor in the communication gap between facilities and IT representatives concerns the vocabulary that each group uses when discussing projects with each other. Each has its own dictionary of acronyms and jargon. Even worse, they may have acronyms that sound the same but mean something completely different. They think they know what the other is saying - but don’t. Teladata project managers report that eliminating acronyms and jargon in meetings and documents improves communications. They also develop and provide visual documentation, such as color AutoCAD drawings, photographs, video, and other graphics, resulting in easy-to-understand technical information that ensures comprehension by all the stakeholders in a project.

Some forward-looking companies go a step further by merging the two functions into one department or are joining them in an umbrella organization with a single reporting line to a COO, CIO, or other top-level manager.

Many other companies find it convenient and cost-effective to outsource the communications role to a third party. Outsourcing allows IT and facilities staff to stay attentive to their every-day duties. An objective consultant team can present an unbiased assessment of what changes are truly needed and can ensure that the project incorporates up-to-date technology and current best practices, ensuring that the client is not forced to spend additional money retrofitting a facility soon after it’s completed. And many clients have found it useful to have an unbiased third party to act as an arbitrator in disputes.

It’s only a matter of time before technology convergence tests intradepartmental communications in many organizations. For them, it is best to start thinking now about ways to improve the communication between facilities and IT.