‘Smart’ Campuses Invest in the Internet of Things
At Sun Devil Stadium on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe, sensors connected to the WiFi and cellular network collect temperature, humidity and noise data for use by facilities staff. As part of a longstanding cheering contest, the noise data analysis identifies the section of the stadium that is making the most noise and puts the results on a big screen. Sensors can identify if a faucet anywhere in the stadium is left running after a football game is over, to help cut water usage. ASU also is exploring providing information through a mobile app on the availability of parking and wait time estimations for concession lines and restrooms.
The tech-infused stadium has been a test bed for a larger investigation of and investment in Internet of Things (IoT) technologies at ASU, according to Gordon Wishon, the university’s chief information officer. “We built the back-end infrastructure to support those proofs of concept,” he said
Wishon is convinced that research universities are the perfect place to test and deploy IoT. “The enterprise of a large research university has some component of every industry vertical in the larger world around us. We not only support academic and research operations, but also very large business enterprises with retail operations, transportation, healthcare, ticketing, supply chain,” he said. “We have been working with industry partners such as Intel and investing in the infrastructure we think we will need to support the broader deployment of IoT technologies. As CIO, it is my responsibility to be sure that the university is prepared for emerging technologies and the impact they will have on our campuses.”
Coordinating IT and Facilities
As campus executives start to develop their IoT strategies, it is not just CIOs who have to be involved. Sometimes, facilities groups have their own IT executives working on data pipelines from IoT devices. Chuck Benson, assistant director for IT in Facilities Services at the University of Washington, chairs a campuswide IoT risk mitigation task force.
Energy management is a great example of where IoT is having an impact, Benson said. With help from a federal grant, UW has made an effort to meter much of the campus. There are about 2,000 data points where power and building controls are sampled. “I work with our energy conservation managers making sure all the samples are coming through,” he said. Data flows into an aggregation point and from there to consumption for reports, dashboards or ongoing research. “We do a lot of work in building that data pipeline, and there are challenges all along the way that involve different groups on campus,” Benson explained. If a meter goes offline, initially you don’t know why — or who is responsible. Did the device or routing have a problem, or is there a problem with the configuration somewhere in the data pipeline? “We have a team made up of the energy conservation manager, electrical engineer for power, our mechanical engineer for HVAC, a vendor and a subcontractor who helps us support this,” he said.
Benson is interested in the organizational challenges to make sure responsibilities don’t fall through the gaps. For example, in a new facility being built at UW, there are IoT systems for environmental control monitoring, HVAC and lighting controls. Planning and budgeting, capital development and facilities management are involved. Central IT provides the backbone, local IT helps facilitate implementation and countless vendors are involved, so that creates gaps through which accountability and ownership can fall, he said. “That is one of the things that makes this different from traditional enterprise systems — [IoT spans] so many different organizations, it makes it a different animal, and these are groups that are not used to working together in this way. That is one of the biggest challenges higher education institutions face. If this is going to be successfully implemented, there has to be oversight and coordination — not that it is going to be easy. But to have all these groups operating independently is not going to work.”
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