Imagine a service that keeps you connected to your customers 24/7. Imagine further if this service gave you direct visibility into your customers’ enterprises and allowed you to understand exactly how their systems were being used so that you could ensure your designs met their exact needs.

For the longest time, this was an idealistic dream. The ability to connect into customers’ enterprises and monitor systems has often been thought of as difficult to scale and improbable to implement; however, with the introduction of low-cost cellular connections and suites of software that allow for the monitoring of disparate systems, the ability to remotely monitor systems is quite doable.


Enter Remote Operations Centers

If you’ve talked to facility managers recently, you understand how the skilled labor gap is affecting their ability to run their buildings. Now, before I go any further, I want to talk to you. You may be thinking, Phil, I design and specify systems. You may have been following me when I discussed continuous commissioning in last month’s column, but this topic seems a bridge too far.

I want you to know, I understand.

The number of skills you would need to learn in order to assist your customers in remotely monitoring their facilities seems insurmountable. But, the good news is, we can look to examples within our industry to learn how it can be done.

Without naming names, there are several large service provider firms that run remote operations centers. Typically, they will focus on environmental (HVAC, lighting) and access control systems. Then, they’ll pull these systems into a centralized or near-centralized visualization platform and employ a team that will monitor these systems and escalate issues to customers’ preferred contractors. But, why would you be interested in doing this?


The Benefits of Remote Operations Centers

I wasn’t just trying to build hype when I had you imagine a world where your customers were closely connected to you. Many companies are beginning to take a life cycle approach to design and are beginning to add support services to their portfolios.

By adding support services in the form of remote operations centers, you are often connecting yourself with large enterprise customers who will have a need for your full range of services in the near future. Often, it is these enterprise customers who can contribute to a large portion of your revenue.

This enables you to lessen your dependency on cyclical plans and specification work that has higher levels of competition and lower profitability.

So then, the question becomes, how do you implement a remote operations center?


Implementing a Remote Operations Center

Implementing a remote operations center can seem overwhelming, but when broken down, there are only three things you need to achieve.

1) Find a way to consume and visualize the data;

2) Get a team that can make sense of the data; and

3) Develop processes to support the operations and maintenance of your customers.

The good news is that if you’ve been following along with my two previous columns, then you already know how to collect building data and hire and develop a team of people who can make sense of that data.

That’s why I’ve presented these topics in the order I have. Developing these services builds upon one another. Now, we need to develop the appropriate processes. There’s two ways you can do this.

1) Go through the effort of developing your own expertise and processes as you service customers; and

2) Hire an experienced person and have them bring their processes with them.

Both of these approaches have pros and cons. The benefit of developing your own processes is that they will be aligned with and accepted by your company culture. On the flip side, hiring an experienced person may allow you to develop the processes much faster and will often not have the costs of learning through experience.


Closing Thoughts

Now, I realize I am greatly simplifying this topic. After all, I’m limited to 750 words in these columns. But, please do realize, this isn’t rocket science. At the end of the day, all you need to do is decide what systems you would like to assist your customers in managing and then collect and manage the data from those systems.

The temptation will be for perfection — after all, you’re an engineer. The path to success is being willing to accept that this will be an iterative process that you’ll most likely not get right the first time. If you can embrace that uncertainty, there is a lot of money to be made.