Futureproofing Control Room Operations in the Face of a Changing Environment

CI chats with Datapath and Winsted on command-and-control-center trends, common pain points and futureproofing operations.

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Futureproofing Control Room Operations in the Face of a Changing Environment

CI chats with Datapath's Gregg Babbs (left) and Winsted's Shawn Brady (right) on command-and-control-center trends, common pain points and futureproofing operations. Photos courtesy of Winsted.

Amid advancements in technology, requirements for higher-quality visuals, and the need to monitor an everexpanding landscape of data and information, many command-and-control stakeholders are wondering how integrators can help clients design and maintain responsive, adaptable environments for operators today and tomorrow. In an exclusive webcast, Commercial Integrator asked Greg Babbs, strategic business development manager, Datapath, and Shawn Brady, VP of product development, Winsted, for their insights and collective wisdom in this category. 

CI: What are some of the most important ways command-and-control environments have changed over the last few years? 

Babbs: The number of available datapoints within a control room for an operator has grown massively. Think distributed control systems and process control systems that have been around a long time. Now, many end users have adopted a digitalization program to move fixed assets and other things into a remote asset monitoring situation or to digitalize their assets to get ahead of the curve and try to move into preventative maintenance planning. They’re also leveraging use of technology from elsewhere: IP cameras, drone footage, IPTV and telemetry applications. The operator has their primary function, but they’re calling upon all this extra data to help them make decisions or to spot certain things. We’ve noticed the applications themselves being the key thing, of course, and they’re improving with artificial intelligence and automated decision-making. 

Brady: Enhanced security requirements — not only physical security but especially cybersecurity — are prevalent, especially now. The latest trend includes the inspection of the chain of custody of suppliers and materials. Also, when it comes to design, there’s a lack of attention to the operator and not physically planning for the technology, which tends to introduce poor ergonomics. 

CI: What are the common pain points and challenges that frequently limit operator effectiveness? 

Brady: From a design perspective, there’s a common pain point of making the command-and-control environment look cool versus what’s actually functional for the operator and those working in the control room. Prioritizing form over function introduces poor ergonomics and bad sightlines. 

Another common pain point is information overload. Too many monitors, too many datapoints, too much data that’s not relevant to what the operator is needing to focus on [just] decreases that focus. In addition, it creates situational blindness. Anything that’s in the control room should have a function. If you’re adding something aesthetic, make sure it adds another benefit to the control room. 

For example, if you want to have a ceiling fixture, make sure it has acoustical properties. You might have a really nice LED ring lighting fixture in the ceiling that looks super cool but is that ring lighting the most effective thing for the operator? Introducing something functional, like a circadian lighting system might be a better choice in a 24/7 environment. When you start to take the operator out of the central focus, it introduces operator distractions and is not improving on response times, which is really the critical purpose of a control room. Integrators must look at the operator as the key chess piece — what applications do they need access to? What’s the most efficient way to present and consume data? How and when do they need to involve different colleagues and departments? Not every decision requires every department to be involved. How does that collaboration look? What’s the workflow behind it?  

Babbs: We’ve seen many industries suffer from what’s called decentralized operational models, meaning that parts of the business are separated together into independent control rooms. We see this a lot in airports, where they’re operating in silos like independent businesses. These decentralized models can have a detrimental effect on the outcome of the whole operations. Organizations that have shifted toward a centralized operational model — where they put operators in the same room — they’ve often found that the results from an outcome are higher because they encourage collaboration. Teams can start to interact and share data in a much better way, they can learn from the findings. By putting teams together, even though they operate different assets, they can all start to learn from what each other are doing and get ahead of the curve. 

CI: How can integrators ensure high standards in command-and-control room designs and futureproof their operations? 

Brady: My best advice is, when scoping a project, is to establish what the lifecycle is going to be of the control room. The initial deployment is going to be based on a five- or 10-year technology refresh. The other thing to think about is making sure upgrade paths are available. The command-and-control center might require a 1Gb network to operate today. But, in the future, in order to scale, it will require more bandwidth to operate. The first thing that you can look at is setting up that backend infrastructure. 

Babbs: Minimize downtime for the operator for subtle things like maintenance, service accessibility, driver updates, etc. Control rooms can’t just be switched off — the show must go on. A good control room design plans for that. 

View the complete webcast, “Futureproofing Control Room Operations in the Face of a Changing Environment,” archived at CommercialIntegrator.com/webcast/future-proofing-control-room-operations-in-the-face-of-a-changing-environment

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