FM Meets GIS

17 Apr, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong

Industry events highlight the latest trends in using geospatial technologies to augment facilities management

Facilities managers are excellent jugglers. They juggle cubicle space allotments, regular maintenance works, renovation works, fire drills, building permits, safety codes and much more. Consequently, their discipline has seen a convergence of technologies: CAD, IT and ERP (enterprise resource management), to name but a few. Even GIS (geospatial information systems) is part of the facilities manager's toolbox today.

When facilities managers gather at trade shows, the topic of conversation is often the smooth integration of these disparate technologies with their primary software systems. The upcoming International ARCHIBUS/FM Users’ Conference and the recent Location Intelligence Conference both offer opportunities to examine the role of GIS in FM (facilities management).

ARCHIBUS/FM Users’ Conference

April 30 through May 3, amidst the neon signs and billboards of Times Square in New York City, facilities managers will converge to trade tips, share ideas and network during the 11th annual International ARCHIBUS/FM Users’ Conference.

Greg Alevras, ARCHIBUS national sales manager, says, “I’m always interested in seeing how things are done in other parts of the world. There are trends that can sometimes work their way back into products.”

During the conference, Alevras will moderate a discussion called “ Higher Education Panel: GIS Integration Eases Interactive Campus Mapping.” The discussion will explore GIS and how it relates to FM automation, particularly when planning large-scale campus space.

Considering the prevalence of GIS in state and local governments and FM’s close ties to regulatory bodies, attendees are likely to benefit from the panelists’ first-hand accounts. Panelists include Scott Shader, University of Missouri, Columbia; Kevin Ford, Carnegie-Mellon University; Shweta Chopra, University of Illinois, Chicago; and Kristen Kurland, Computer Technical Services.

“One of the trends we’re seeing,” observes Alevras, “is the use of Web technology over legacy Windows-based enterprise systems, mainly because it can distribute more information to more people. It also yields a richness of reporting capabilities. The second major trend is the convergence of real estate and facilities management.”

ARCHIBUS/FM is one of the earliest software systems to integrate Google Earth’s Web-based 3D terrain navigation capabilities. The company points out, “Sophisticated activities, such as real estate portfolio analysis and underground cableway maintenance, are easier when ARCHIBUS/FM infrastructure and facilities management data is integrated with [Google Earth]. ARCHIBUS/FM can store point locations of assets in the database and reference them against a Google Earth map, helping to locate equipment -- such as a buried cable or junction box -- that does not appear on satellite images.”

ARCHIBUS/FM, a facilities management application, was one of the earliest programs to take advantage of Google Earth’s architecture.

“We’ve been hearing about [RFID, radio frequency identification] for the past seven or eight years now,” observes Alevras. “It has tremendous potential in facility management, especially in identifying and locating assets. [RFID] is embedded into security badges nowadays, so that’s especially useful in emergency situations, where it allows you to identify who’s left in the building.” As promising as the technology is, Alevras points out the price tag is still relatively high, so deployment is confined to high-end facilities and high-value assets -- for instance, chemical research facilities.

Location Intelligence Conference

Most people don’t think of a floor plan as a map, but to a facilities manager, it is. It’s essentially a top-down diagram that shows spatial relationships among walls, rooms, corridors, emergency exists, elevator bays and other building elements. It may not be a regional map, but it’s certainly an indoor map. (Imagine a service technician trying to locate a printer in a multistory, multiwing office without the aid of a floor plan.)

So how about conducting spatial analysis using a floor plan as indoor cartography? But let’s not stop there. Let’s also layer it with other information, such as locations of mobile workers (IT staff, for example) and portable corporate assets (such as laptops). Using technologies such as RFID, GPS and WiFi, it’s not that difficult to track movements and update locations in real time. What will you call such a system? Some might call it Big Brother. Michel Berthiaume, professor of Information Systems at the Université de Sherbrooke, calls it microgeomatics.

At the recent Location Intelligence Conference in San Francisco, California (April 3-5), Berthiaume introduced the concept of microgeomatics, a technology mash-up involving GIS, GPS, CAD, RFID and WiFi. If it sounds unfamiliar, it’s because the discipline is still in its infancy. But its potentials are undeniable.

Take, for instance, its application in managing a busy supermarket. Microgeomatics might be used to monitor the movements of shopping carts or immediately locate employees who have specialized knowledge -- send the customer who needs a wine recommendation straight to the aisle where the wine expert is, for example. Deployed in conjunction with a database, companies could use the cumulative historic data on in-store shopping-cart traffic to identify hazardous spots -- aisles that are too narrow or congested and so on. Using such spatial analysis, a store manager might redesign shelf structure to accommodate the anticipated indoor traffic.

Berthiaume and Claude Caron, both from the Geo Business Group at the Universite de Sherbrooke, are currently conducting a test case of microgeomatics. We’ll keep a watchful eye on their progress and report on it from time to time.

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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