Sensor networks: Who's in charge?

* Wireless could drive organizational changes

It has been challenging, to say the least, to figure out how to converge corporate voice and data departments for the past 20 years.

It has been challenging, to say the least, to figure out how to converge corporate voice and data departments for the past 20 years. 

Now wireless has the potential to frustrate the IT organizational structure further. For example, healthcare environments have long supported wireless biomedical devices. Often, a biomedical engineer is in charge of managing and allocating the spectrum in such facilities to minimize interference. This individual, usually with RF expertise, is likely now working with network administrators or IT managers wishing to roll out traditional wireless LANs.

Now as wireless sensor networks emerge, another employee might soon need to join the cast of characters: the facilities manager.

When a sensor network, such as a ZigBee network, is deployed to monitor lighting systems, thermostats, security alarms, motion sensors and smoke detectors, will the facilities manager be responsible for purchasing, installing, and running that network? That would seem to be his or her purview.

But what about when the corporate accountant wishes to look at, say, the energy-related information gathered by sensors via the corporate network for trending purposes, in the hopes of conserving energy and lowering utility bills?

Also, sensor networks could collect other types of data and combine it with the IT infrastructure to unleash a wealth of information. For example, it could be discovered that in a restaurant, customers never sit at a particular table. How come? Perhaps the sensor network discovers that the heating or air conditioning is out of whack in that part of the room, driving customers away (and wasting that section of real estate).

Should there be a hybrid facilities manager/IT manager? Should they have separate jobs but co-exist, as voice and data folks have been doing? Who will the ZigBee people sell their networks to, IT people or facilities people? Are there turf wars ahead?

How sensor networks might fit into your overall IT scheme - if at all - is something you might want to consult with other factions of your company about before purchasing decisions are made, if you think there is IT data to be mined in them thar sensors.

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