Why you should involve your IT team early in your new building plans.
Making the decision to relocate your business to a new space can be a very challenging (and rewarding) experience. Whether you’ve outgrown your current building, or business requirements demand a change of venue, the need for a new building often comes at a time when your organization is already undergoing wholesale transformation. As a result, it can be hard to track and execute all of the requirements that come with changing your place of business.
In such a scenario, the needs of your IT department can quickly take a back seat to immediate, pressing concerns. However, if you can identify some of the key aspects of your new building’s technology requirements up front, your team effort of preparedness, negotiation, and communication will reduce stress and enable a successful move.
One of the most common complaints we receive during a construction, remodel, or relocation project is that “IT is always the last to know.” Leadership rarely includes technology stakeholders in the operations meetings where they discuss the needs for a new space. If an organization is touring new buildings with architects, property managers, or commercial realtors, the IT team is rarely on the calendar invite.
As a result, IT professionals rarely have the opportunity to identify shortfalls in the building’s (or construction site’s) ability to meet the IT needs of the organization. These considerations vary based on what phase your construction project is in, or if you are renting a space rather than building one. To get an idea of when and how to include your IT team in your construction project, consider the following:
Availability of internet and phone services.
Even during early site planning and bidding, an empty lot can tell you a lot about the ease or difficulty you will experience when bringing internet and other services into the building. Here are some simple activities you can perform that will aid you in this process:
- Run an address check with internet providers. For a new construction project, the wait time between ordering new services, and having them live inside the building is roughly six months. Your organization will need to wait on initial site surveys, calculation of construction costs, cost justification from the providers for those construction costs, demark identification and conduit planning, conduit site surveys, permitting from local authorities, construction to the building, interior structured cabling, and finally, modem installation and turn up. This process can run even longer during peak construction seasons (long waits for permits) and during winter (frozen ground preventing new conduit installation).
- No postal address yet? No worries. For newly parceled lots: it can take months for your address to find its way into service providers’ databases. Instead, find an occupied building close to all four borders of your property line and run internet service checks on all of their addresses. Why all four borders? It can sometimes be difficult to tell which of your property lines will be the entry point for internet onto your property. Unless you are sure where your preferred internet provider’s junction box is located, you will want to know that their services are available in all directions from your location.
- While you are there, check cell coverage. One of the reasons your building may be available is that it was built in a newly-developed area, or one with lower population density. Knowing how good (or bad, or nonexistent) the cell coverage is can help you to plan your connection strategy inside your finished facility. Whip out your phone and see how many bars you have. Make a few calls. Run a speed test using a mobile speed test app. Go into a nearby building of similar construction, and see how well those same tests perform while Knowing how available cell coverage is will help your organization to plan around the need for expanded WiFi coverage (for calling over WiFi), and whether you will need a distributed antenna system (DAS) for proper building communications.
Pro Tip: Plan early for conference room wiring
Will your new space have one or more conference rooms? The fact is, almost no one considers the wiring requirements of their conference room until they are ordering new furniture. By then, the buildout is already past the proper window for concrete trenching (during foundation work and rough framing). It is vital for your conference room to have a floor trench (from the wall, to the center of your conference room table), in order to route and hide all of your network and A/V cables.
This extra step will ensure that your new conference room won’t be draped with patch cables, allowing it to become the corporate centerpiece you designed it to be.
Gauge the overall health of existing infrastructure.
If you happen to be looking at remodeling a space, it is important to understand how well the building’s existing technology infrastructure has been maintained, and how much work will be required to get things functioning in the new space. Here are some key considerations when walking through a potential location:
- Tour the telecom areas. When checking out a new space, it can be easy to overlook mundane aspects of the building, and instead focus on the more exciting things (like picking out your corner office). It’s important, however, to understand how much work it requires to properly wire and network the new space, and who will be responsible for paying for it. Identify the key room (or rooms) where your internet, phones, and network equipment will reside. Are they located in physically secure areas? Do they interfere with your grand plans for a remodeled space? Are they inconveniently located inside the CEO’s bathroom? It’s important to remember that relocating a telecom closet or room will most likely render the building’s network wiring useless. Those hidden costs can add up.
- Test, certify, and label network outlets. The only way you can rely on existing network outlets in offices, copier areas, reception desks, and work areas is to confirm that they can still pass data traffic without issue. We would strongly recommend having the current building owner or property manager agree to providing a full test report and wiring directory for the building’s network cabling. This testing and certification report will show you the line resistance, circuit health, and any packet loss on the network lines. It’s important to note that this kind of test is different than simply “toning out” lines with a simple testing tool. Those tests can’t fully prove the health of a network line, while full line testing and certification reports (like those from Fluke testers) will show you any breaks in the line, if the line supports gigabit speeds, and whether data packets are being dropped.
Bring it all together.
With all of your requirements listed, and discovery of the existing building finished, you can now revise and create the full IT specifications for your new space.
- Plan for new network wiring. Unless you plan to use all of a new building’s existing office spaces, cubicles, and layouts, you will probably need new network cabling in remodeled areas. While you may not be able to fully plan for these needs until architectural drawings and equipment schedules are finalized; even a ballpark guess will allow you to remain mindful of your network needs when it comes time to submit a bid request for low voltage wiring. At a minimum, you should plan for two data lines at each workstation. Does the space have old, yellowed thermostats? Chances are their replacements will need to be on-network. Where will you need WiFi? A network line (with a service loop for location adjustments) will be necessary for each wireless access point. Speaking of which…
- Get scientific with your WiFi placement. If you’ve already created a floorplan markup for where people will connect to the physical network, you can fine-tune the placement of your WiFi antennas for optimal coverage. Using WiFi mapping software (we prefer VisualRF), you can virtually build your wall structures, place access points onto the floorplan, and estimate how well signal will distribute throughout the building.
- Inform your architects and engineers of your IT requirements. Contractors build off plans and bid requests. Make sure that these key documents include the requirements you have unearthed as part of this process. Did your internet provider specify their ideal conduit placement during their site survey? Update it on your architect’s site plan. Does your low voltage markup contain many new lines? Make sure you get a copy to your electrical engineer; they may need new conduit installed during rough framing.
Introducing IT early to your planning process saves costs and cuts down on stress.
By being proactive, involving IT early in the planning process, unearthing hidden infrastructure costs, and introducing IT needs into design and costing activities, your entire new building project will be more informed and less frustrating. For new construction: you won’t find yourself with a finished structure, and unfinished network infrastructure. For remodels and rental arrangements: your organization will possess far more bargaining chips when discussing the true move-in costs of a structure, and may be able to get certain costs covered by the current building owner.