November 18, 2004
Designers beware of technology convergence
By TOD MOORE
As I looked at the expression on her face, I knew what she was about to say: "Why does your IT room need to be so big?" It's the classic question a technology consultant hears on almost every health care project.
Although design team members are becoming more knowledgeable about technology's critical role in health care facility design, it is still common for the architect, MEP (mechancial, electrical, plumbing) consultant or facility engineer to question the need for a 150- to 200-square-foot information technology room.
The reason is convergence.
More and more, low-voltage systems are running on the same structured cabling systems with the same logical IP-based networks. Putting nurse call, patient entertainment, telemetry, building automated systems, lighting control, audiovisual, SCADA monitoring paging, security and wireless systems on a single cabling system is creating increased efficiencies in supporting the delivery of health care services.
In addition, new health care applications smart cards, infant security systems and automatic medication dispensers are all coming on line and will use convergence as a means of getting there.
IT rooms are holding more and more equipment and require more space, along with additional power, cooling and fire protection.
As health care technology advances, so does the need to support it. Often, the need to keep the facility's infrastructure on pace with advancing systems is overlooked, and the added load that comes with a renovation or addition forces hospital administrators to participate in an expensive game of catch-up.
Treating a facility's technology infrastructure as the "fourth utility" can help mitigate costly future upgrades and expenditures with early planning and diligent infrastructure upkeep.
Call it CLA
Like MEP, a new phrase is emerging in the A/E industry. It's called CLA communications, life safety and automation. All low-voltage systems, which previously resided in other specification sections, will reside in new sections under the new division format.
In design of extremely complex projects like health care facilities, the construction cost associated with CLA could exceed that of the electrical systems.
As these systems converge onto common platforms, we will see increased requirements for power, cooling, security, redundancy and growth in the technology spaces. That will make technology consulting even more paramount to the success of the project.
Plan for convergence
An indicator of the transition toward the need for "converged" or "integrated" systems within the A/E industry is the recent adoption of the new Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) MasterFormat 04.
This sweeping restructure of the standard specification format, originally pushed by organizations such as Building Industry Consulting Service International in the form of Division 17, is changing the way we approach design and construction of low-voltage systems. These changes include the movement of mechanical and electrical specs to Divisions 21, 22, 23 and 26, and removal of all traditional communication, life safety and automation control systems from Divisions 15 and 16 to Divisions of 25, 27 and 28.
In a report published in October, the Construction Specifications Institute estimates an average of 5 to 10 percent savings in construction costs when communications, life safety and automation systems are addressed fully in a building's specifications. When MasterFormat 04 is not referenced, the resulting changes and delays during construction can drive up the cost of building voice, data, and video systems as much as 50 percent.
Project changes and delays to accommodate technology systems late in the game may include the following:
How to get there
Unfortunately, technology systems design is often an afterthought during team selection and not part of the initial facility programming. This is a big mistake, particularly with design of larger, more complex projects. Because technology has potential impacts on construction budgets, space allocation, emergency power calculations, HVAC and lighting requirements, to name a few, it is important to flush out these issues sooner than later.
Using the CLA approach for construction documents permits those systems to stand apart and be addressed during the early stages of design.
The following are some basic ideas on how to ensure that technology is prioritized in the planning, design and construction efforts:
While hospital administrators may hesitate to take away valuable program space to house infrastructure systems, the decision to do so is a wise one.
Convergence creates the demand for more space, but lessens the number of locations where the investment in infrastructure needs to be made. Collocating data centers, network operation rooms and equipment rooms reduces management overhead and aids in trouble-shooting.
Further, common cable systems and network platforms reduce the quantity of proprietary systems in the facility. Locating them in a common space reduces their operation and maintenance costs.
As technology continues to expand in the health care industry, systems convergence is the vehicle that will take it there. To best serve the industry and health care clients, it will become more critical to add CLA to the A/E "dictionary" consider its infrastructure as the fourth utility by treating it with equal importance, and start the technology planning process early.
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