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Why should you be an IT partner?

Becoming an IT partner in networking

By Kevin Callahan, Product Evangelist at Alerton, and Pook-Ping Yao, CEO at Optigo Networks

Decades ago, BACnet changed the business model for our industry. It replaced the totally homogenous, closed, single-vendor buildings with fully open, mixed, multi-vendor systems.

While this fragmented the industry and introduced challenges in vendor management, it also gave us an array of new options.

Building owners and managers aren’t beholden to a single manufacturer now. They can integrate all the best devices for their buildings, without as much concern for how those devices will work together. They can design rich, layered networks with real-time data reporting and responsive, personalized systems.

There’s huge potential here for truly intelligent buildings. Except, all this forward-thinking innovation — where we’re integrating across parking, waste management, HVAC, CCTV, access control, lighting, and much more — relies on the network. So, who’s best-suited to manage all of that?

There’s a common misconception that IT will handle it all, because of their vast networking experience. If we leave the networking to IT though, it does a disservice to us, our partners, our customers, and our systems because IT doesn’t know what we need and we don’t know what to ask for.

As an example, we’ve all seen “network” and “device” issues that weren’t actually caused by an oversubscribed network or a problem device. So often, the issue is actually with how devices were added to the network. The wonders of VLANs and proper segmentation can’t be overstated, but if you don’t know anything about them, you can’t ask IT for them.

We also can’t expect our IT counterparts will know what we need, because IT technology isn’t the same as building systems. We have different systems, security needs, protocols, workflows, knowledge and maintenance windows.

Strengthening our knowledge and vocabulary will make us a better IT partner and enable us to solve problems, advocate for our customers and systems, and earn trust.

That doesn’t mean becoming an IT expert overnight! It means investing in your staff and tapping into the resources available to you. There are resources everywhere these days to learn about networking, and every company should mandate professional development. That might be a programming course, or a book like the Mike Meyers’ Network+ Certification guide, or just giving a tech a router and some cables and a laptop so they can play around and learn. 

At the very least, we have to show up and take a seat at the table. Even if you’re going in with questions, the person asking questions guides the conversation. Over time, with each question and conversation, you will become more knowledgeable.

If we don’t make that effort, we’ll be discounted and relegated to a simple subcontractor. If we don’t help to make the pie, we can’t expect more than a sliver of it.

Gone are the days of managing building controls in a silo. Our building systems have become increasingly networked: we’re connecting devices, collecting data, and securing systems. We can’t wait for the customers to tell us that the controls companies have to be IT-proficient. We have to take that on ourselves.

It’s time to build our networking knowledge and become a full-scale solutions provider. If we do, we have a unique opportunity to be part of the overall network conversation. If we rise to meet the new standards for buildings, we can help steer the future of the Building Internet of Things.

Originally published in Automated Buildings

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