Advances in technology have made the remote monitoring of commercial building systems both possible and economical. It wasn’t long ago that system control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems were only used by utilities and heavy industry because they were custom systems and very expensive to implement and maintain.

Today, similar systems for commercial buildings are available “off the shelf,” which makes remote monitoring of the building next door or one on the other side of the world practical. Your firm’s ability to install remote monitoring systems for customers and then monitor their building and production systems can be a very valuable service. Remote monitoring can expand your service business and cement customer relationships.

Providing your expertise

If you think that remotely monitoring your customer’s building and production systems is about data gathering, you are wrong. In most cases, your customers have more data about their building and production operations than they need or use. In fact, many of your customers already have a building management system (BMS) that monitors and controls the building locally. Your customers need your help in determining what data should be gathered to meet their operational objectives, establishing monitoring systems to gather that data, and then using that data to improve system availability and reduce operating expenses. Your expertise is what makes remote monitoring a valuable service for your customer.

Systems monitoring

Remote monitoring does not need to be restricted to the customer’s power, communications, and control systems just because your firm happens to be an electrical contracting firm. Any system that is important to the customer can be monitored, including heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC); refrigeration; plumbing; production; and other systems. Single-point responsibility for system monitoring is what is important to your customer. You can establish service relationships with other specialty contracting firms to correct problems that are outside your firm’s technical expertise.

Remote monitoring provides advantages beyond detecting an imminent system failure and then taking prompt corrective action. It can also provide information that can be used to detect long-term trends in system operation that may lead to future problems. For example, an increasing load on a critical unit substation may indicate the need to begin a plan to increase the substation capacity or move part of the load to another substation. Monitoring data networks and communications systems can also provide a means for troubleshooting and correcting network and software problems remotely before the customer even knows there is a problem and without dispatching a technician to the customer’s premises.

Target customers

Not every customer will be interested in remote monitoring. If you decide to enter this emerging market niche, you need to look at your current customer base and market area to determine who would benefit most from this service. The best place to start marketing your remote monitoring capabilities is to your existing service customers.

Customers for your remote monitoring services can be large or small. Large firms that own and operate their own buildings and have downsized their operation and maintenance staffs are prime candidates for outsourcing service work to your firm, including remote monitoring. Also, don’t discount small firms that may not have needed technical expertise to maintain their electrical and mechanical systems and could benefit greatly from your remote monitoring.

Remote monitoring can also expand your service area. As noted above, with today’s communications infrastructure, you can monitor your customer’s facilities just about anywhere in the world. Whether your customer has multiple facilities around the state, region or country, you can provide the same monitoring services that you provide locally. By partnering with electrical contractors and other specialty contractors that serve the area where the customer’s remote facilities are located, you can provide the same service for all of your customer’s facilities.

Positioning your firm as a service

Your customer’s building and production systems are becoming increasingly complex and interdependent. When these systems fail, the customer will often find itself either partially or totally shut down until the problem is corrected. Customers need help keeping systems up and operating efficiently on a day-to-day basis. Monitoring your customers’ facilities and systems remotely will help build lasting customer relationships and establish your firm as their preferred supplier of power, communications, and control services.

GLAVINICH is an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at The University of Kansas and is a frequent instructor for NECA’s Management Education Institute. He can be reached at 785.864.3435 or tglavinich@ku.edu.