Eight simple rules for lighting specifiers when they sit down with the folks in IT

By Scott Ziegenfus

Working with ITInsert the term “intelligent building” into a Google search and you’ll receive more than 746,000 results. There’s no shortage of opinions, reports and forecasts on the promise of using a single infrastructure between building systems to save on resources and promote data exchange. Lighting’s contribution to this promise is the “networked lighting control system.”

Loosely defined, the networked lighting control system will have some level of distributed intelligence to control lights and provide feedback of various pieces of information for a multitude of business applications. This includes building applications such as energy management, asset management, space management, health and wellness, and more.

To this end, the prevailing and logical thought is to place all the building’s environmental and business systems on the same network infrastructure. Logic says that same network infrastructure already exists within the architecture of the corporate Intranet, which is under the administration and management of the corporate IT department.

I’ve worked with hundreds of corporate and institutional IT departments in my career, and I’ve identified a common thread among them all: their primary responsibility is to keep the network up and running, and anything that can possibly jeopardize the network cannot be allowed.

What does this mean for the lighting professional? To ignore the IT department could leave you not only off the network, but also off the project.

It is critical to understand the mentality of the IT department. It’s a thankless job. The department doesn’t receive any praise for keeping the network running, but all hell breaks loose if it’s not. Anything that can possibly jeopardize a functional network is highly scrutinized. Hardware, bandwidth, protocols, security, ports, services and applications are just some of the categories that an IT department worries can affect the corporate network.

For the lighting professional this is uncharted territory. Since we can’t ignore the IT department, I figured it would be helpful to share what I’ve learned through the years about establishing a positive working relationship with them to help specifiers successfully install connected lighting solutions:

1. The earlier you talk to the IT department the better.
I’d suggest you contact the IT department before the equipment arrives on-site to be installed. You need to establish a baseline understanding of what IT requires to live on their network. Be ready to discuss items like penetration testing, protocol reviews and security reviews. Establishing a baseline understanding of these items takes time.

2. Don’t assume that since you talked to one IT admin, you’re covered.
Someone once told me, “IT departments are like snowflakes; no two are the same.” Some have one or two people while others may have a specialist for every aspect. Just because you are in agreement with the VP of IT doesn’t mean you’re covered. Hypothetically, you could end up working with applications for your server topology, security for any vulnerability, technical services for your VLAN or IP addressing, or information management for your application access. Understand the IT department’s organizational structure and ask who should be included in these discussions to avoid any corporate policy issues down the road.

3. Don’t dictate, collaborate.
Don’t assume you are going to tell an IT department how your system goes on their network. Rather, you need to simply explain what your system IT properties are and let the corporate IT department figure it out. The best way to get off to a bad start is to tell them how you want their network to adhere to your system needs. It is important here to have good documentation that explains the IT properties for all aspects of your system: security, ports, physical requirements, addressing, etc. Additionally, a good network diagram is always appreciated.

4. The IT department does not care about items not on their network.
Don’t waste their time talking about daylight sensors that are open loop and use a 0-10-V signal. This not only clouds the issue, but it also tells IT you don’t understand what is important to them. If they ask for a network diagram, don’t send a one-line, reflective ceiling plan or architectural diagram you would share with an electrical contractor. If they ask for your system properties, don’t send them your project submittal. They have zero interest in the common documents important in our industry.

5. Don’t assume your system is not under the direction of IT.
The IT administration will tell you if you are under their policy and procedures. Don’t think you are immune because you are only using the fiber between buildings, or only need remote access, or only need Wi-Fi for applications. Even if your networked lighting control system is isolated from the building’s Intranet, you still want to engage and explain your network architecture.

6. If they understand your architecture they can fill the security gaps.
IT departments understand nothing is perfectly secure, and the more they know about how your system works (ports and protocols) and any security measures you employ, the better they can plan to fill any gaps with digital separations and isolations like VLANs or firewalls.

7. Keep the IT department informed along the way.
Starting with preconstruction and all through the installation phase, keep the updates constant and make sure they understand when you expect you will need access, hardware, cabling, etc.

8. Talk to IT in their language.
I cannot overstate how often a basic networking knowledge comes in handy. I am not talking about getting an IT degree, but just some basic knowledge of the OSI model will go a long way. The IT department will talk to you very differently when you say you have a “layer 2 managed network switch” then if you simply say “network switch.” That is a good rule for anyone working on the customer side of networked lighting controls. Find out who can support you when the conversation becomes very in-depth, like a manufacturer, manufacturer’s representative, or someone in the engineering or design firm.

Working with IT

It is critical to understand the mentality of the IT department. It’s a thankless job. The department doesn’t receive any praise for.


FEAR IS A MOTIVATOR

Every major corporation and institution relies on its network, and this allots the IT department a tremendous amount of authority as to what system does and doesn’t get installed. All IT has to say to upper management is, “If xyz system goes on the network I can’t guarantee reliability.” One day of the network being “down” can easily cost a company way more than the total cost of any networked lighting control system. Once an IT department gets comfortable with a system and manufacturer, however, they don’t want to change, and they can hold your spec better than any design team. It does not matter who is cheaper if the IT department says, “Well, we know xyz system has no issues on our network, but if you substitute abc system we just can’t guarantee the network.” That is better than any feature used for a spec lock.

Here’s the bottom line: When IT is brought into the discussion early, they feel you understand their concerns, you have some idea of their industry through proper documentation and knowledgeable communications, and they become easy to work with and will help you in connecting your networked lighting control system. It might be intimidating at first, but if you follow the steps above you will be successful.

Contributor(s)

Scott Ziegenfus

Scott Ziegenfus

Scott Ziegenfus, Member IES (2016), is the manager of government and industry relations at Hubbell... Continue Reading »