Smart Connected Assets and Managing Them Effectively

We now live in a world of connected assets, intelligent infrastructures and self-healing services.  Managing, maintaining and servicing this burgeoning standard lacking array of assets is the headache of the modern service company.

I remember 2008 when Cisco systems began their encroachment into the intelligent buildings; Cisco Connected Real Estate (CCRE).  I was excited about the technology and could see the future of the connected and somewhat intelligent buildings, with lower cost ownership and greener buildings.  However, this was going to be a long and rough ride for the early adopters.  Many areas had to be considered, from standardisation of components, to efficient and effective communication protocols.  Obviously, TCP/IP was going to be a big player, but there were still many systems including elevators, alarms and machinery being installed with modems as their communication preference.  RS232 was still a big player, and this came with a plethora of communication protocols.  The Internet was still considered a safe place by vast numbers of manufacturers too, which I suppose it was lucky for us that they still used modems!

Cisco’s attempt meant the purchase of a number of companies, from CCTV through to building control systems, and they managed a few rollouts too!  However, I considered the technology a little immature, which became a pain point for the sector.

Wind forward ten years (where on earth did that go!), and we are entering a new, slightly more mature phase of intelligent assets.  Elevators which allow remote access for diagnostics and configurable alarm systems.  Okay, we are still a way from them all communicating efficiently together, not to mention a standardised protocol for communication, but it is a start.  Whatever happens though, it is only a matter of time until buildings are fully intelligent and even able to self-diagnose and self-heal to an extent.  We are seeing the evolution though and will be part of it, whether we like it or not.  Obviously with the connection of the internet, there are going to be many security hurdles and reboots of architectures, and there will be hacking of building control systems, sending elevators and climate control systems into a frenzy.  It is time though, that our service industry makes steps toward embracing the future and understanding smart connected assets.  Done right, we will be able to manage them efficiently and effectively; done wrong and we are in big trouble!

So, how are we going to embrace you ask?  As when we started integrating smart switches, routers, and peripherals into computer networks, we needed to ensure we could manage the assets and view them from their interconnected aspect, rather than individuals.  Utilising this approach, we were able to see the entire network (or even network of networks) as a singular body with many key assets joined to form an infrastructure.  We had to develop points of failure and failover, secure gateways and risk management.  This is analogous to that of the smart network of connected assets which are appearing into sectors from intelligent buildings, to freight and logistics services.  It is now a case of looking at the asset classes / objects as being part of a network, understanding their role and building methods to manage them from a top-level approach.  The key is to understand the three dimensions of asset framework, which will lead to a successful approach to management.

I will cover more on this subject in part 2 of this series, so keep a look out.

Changing the Face of the Service Industry

The service industry is under rapidly growing pressure, regulations and rules; all whilst under constraint to complete on costs and ultimately reduce overheads.  Technology sometimes a saviour and other times a burden, but ever increasingly in its presence within our sector.

I have witnessed the changes in the IT service sector, from being an engineer, through to running my own MSP business from 2004 until 2012.  From a reactive break / fix scenario, through to fully managed and somewhat tedious solutions with a huge mix of technologies, patches, Sellotape and prayers.  Add to this, the huge pressure from Telco’s and Printer leasing companies to drive sales through loss leading, and it was a perfect storm.

Other service industries now face the exact same problem, just in different guises.  With large facilities management companies contracting to varying service providers, a price against provisioning war is amongst them.  Also, an aging field engineer population, draws in debate of the skill management of people within the service sector, and the ability to sustain the rapidly evolving equipment, technology and infrastructure.

There is now a vast array of technologies and “old school” solutions, which are battling against each other.  Effective reporting and risk management being driven down from the client to the supplier and increasing pressure from the health and safety side to ensure safe operations.

It is now a time of change for us all within the service sector, and we either embrace, or we be pushed into a void of those who will not / cannot compete and comply.  However, our thought process must change and adapt to see what we are dealing with.  No longer just an elevator, a PC, or a fire alarm system – they are no longer disparate from each other.  We are part of a connected world, even the Internet of Things (IOT).  We now must consider the operation from the Asset outward, the connected systems, processes, people and locations.  We must be prepared to align with other suppliers and share information, not hide away and pretend the others are not there.

Effective management from the top-level personnel and training programmes, skill refreshing and human realisation is now key in the changing workplace.  In order to compete and provide a service, which is cost effective, but also profitable must now be the major driver of the acceptance of the new world of service and ultimately the changing face of the service industry.