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5 Benefits Remote Monitoring Can Bring to Your Organization

Andrew Erickson
Andrew Erickson
Applications Engineer

As you read this, preventable waste is silently (and sometimes loudly) devouring your profits, increasing your budget consumption, or even putting lives at risk.

You may have the smartest, most well-intentioned team on the planet, but they can't effectively manage your large service territory if you don't give them the right tools.

Poor situational awareness happens when your remote monitoring system isn't correctly designed, installed, and provisioned. Your people don't receive clear, up-to-the-minute intelligence about every remote site, so they're stuck trying their best to "do a good job."

They drive out to sites for routine maintenance on a fixed schedule, not knowing if it's too soon or too late. They're woken from their beds by sudden network emergencies and even service-affecting outages - incidents that could have been anticipated and prevented as part of routine operations.

Think of the wasted budget dollars:

When you don't have a good remote monitoring and control system for your network - no matter your industry - you're leaving money on the table. You're not doing your job.

Fortunately, you can follow a few straightforward steps to get big benefits from a quality remote monitoring system. I'll walk you through each one now:

1. Reduce After-Hours Call Outs by 75%

I've worked with one client who has been very active about improving his system. I talk to him on an almost weekly basis. He's been installing new sensors and improving gradually over the last six years.

He's reached a point where he can confidently say that the after-hours call outs are down over 75% from when he started. In some cases, a site visit is eliminated completely. In others, someone still has to go to the site, but it can safely wait until morning.

Think of the tremendous savings in play here. You're slashing a lot of overtime hours, either completely or by converting them into regular-time hours. Your people (or you!) don't have to be jolted from their beds, drive in the dark, and struggle to solve an unknown problem. In many climates, snow is a factor in the winter months. That creates additional inconveniences (and outright hazards) during site visits, especially in the middle of the night.

Some telecom huts get snowed in so badly they actually have a hatch in the ceiling. That's because it takes less effort to dig down to the ceiling than it does to reach the door in the wall. Does that sound like something you'd like to deal with at 3 AM?

Even if you aren't hampered by snow, you're probably still talking about hours of driving time. You can eliminate this expensive waste.

2. Eliminate Wasted Site Visits by Wrong Tool/Part/Person

Inefficient maintenance is about more than just timing. Even if you know exactly when to send someone to a site, you also need to have a complete understanding of the work to be accomplished.

If the only thing you know is "something is wrong," you might not dispatch a technician with the right training and experience to solve the problem. They might not have the right tools or spare parts when they arrive.

This happens when you have a monitoring system that doesn't give you enough detail. It might say "Major Alarm," but what does that actually mean?

If that's all you get from your system, you'll dispatch someone - anyone - to go see what's going on. You don't get a clear picture from your monitoring tools, so you have to burn staff time on a recon visit.

Imagine that your tech drives two hours to a "Major Alarm" site, only to realize upon arrival, "Oh, I need this part. Back to the office!" It's another two hours back to the office, then another four-hour round trip to go back to the site. That's an entire workday spent on this alarm, with at least four hours of wasted effort. This is where profits and budgets go to die.

You need a remote monitoring system that will send detailed alarm messages to give you total situational awareness. You'll know the difference between "High Microwave Noise," "Door Open," and "Commercial Power Fail."

Sending the right person with the right tool or part is easy when you know precisely what's wrong beforehand.

Furthermore, a smart system will be able to send different alerts to different people. Technicians will respond to equipment failures. Security teams will respond to break-ins.

The right person will arrive with the right equipment to solve the problem on the first visit.

3. Stop Expensive Equipment Damage

Why would you spend $100,000 or more on mission-critical equipment at a remote facility, then neglect to spend less than 1% of that amount on basic monitoring to protect it?

It may sound silly, but this happens. Frequently. Here are some common sources of big equipment damage:

Solving these problems isn't rocket science. You can detect all of them with just a remote monitoring device and simple sensors:

Temperature sensors

In one simple analog reading, a temperature sensor will detect HVAC failures, a rising heat load, seasonal shifts, and even fires.

Analog voltage monitors

Monitoring the voltage outputs from your rectifier, generator, and battery plants will tell you if anyone is outside the proper range. Some RTUs even have internally wired analogs, so you can automatically monitor the power that feeds into their input(s).

Basic security sensors

Putting magnetic contacts on your site door(s) and adding a few simple motion sensors goes a long way toward detecting thieves and vandals. If you want to go a bit further, you can even loop wire around valuable components like battery cells. If the wire is cut, you'll get an alert. This can also be done with fiber. Clever thieves will have a much harder time jumpering around a fiber cut to avoid detection.

Airflow sensors

Especially when combined with temperature, monitoring the air flowing from your HVAC vents will tell you about any failure or degraded performance (ex. clogged filter). When you combine these simple sensors with history logging in the RTU, you can count HVAC cycles and look for opportunities to reduce them. Some RTUs can even count HVAC on/off cycles and alert you if you have too many cycles too quickly.

4. Avoid Service-Affecting Outages

If you're in a competitive industry, it doesn't take much to upset your customers. This is magnified by the internet, where they can evaluate competing services and post negative online reviews about you.

Even in non-competitive industries, you're not immune. You may have to pay a contractual penalty if you have a service level agreement (SLA) with one of your business customers. If you can't keep up your side of the bargain (ex. 99.99% reliability), you may have to pay back part or all of the premium they paid for dependable service.

If you're a natural monopoly (like a power utility), fines await you when you don't serve the public interest with adequate uptime.

Finally, public-safety radio systems and (to a lesser extent) general telephone services play a life-saving role during an emergency. If you can't keep your service online, you really can put lives at risk.

You don't want your career to end prematurely during post-outage fallout. So, how can you ensure reliable uptime and protect yourself?

All causes of service-affecting outages share a common root: poor visibility. You stand a good chance of stopping them if you just have good remote monitoring of some pretty basic things. Some of the most important items to monitor include:

Equipment alarms

These are easy. If your various pieces of equipment have alarm outputs, capture that data. Contact closures can indicate "Low Oil Pressure," "Card 7 Failed," "Power Offline," etc.

Protocol messages can report similar data via Modbus, SNMP, DNP3, and other standards. Even if you only get a few summary contact closures ("major," "minor," "critical") from your device, that's tremendously better than monitoring nothing.

Temperature, humidity, floor water

Simple environmental sensors will track the environment around your equipment since the equipment itself probably doesn't monitor these values directly. This is especially important because environmental threats can affect everything at your site at once.

Doors and motion

It really doesn't take much to protect yourself from unauthorized intruders. Simple door and motion sensors tell you if someone is at a site when they shouldn't be (including "inside jobs" that occur after normal business hours).

Radio levels

Whether radio systems are the core of your service (police/fire) or used for your data backhaul, they're important to monitor. Most will output analog data for "forward power" and "reflected power," for example. Bringing that data into your monitoring system will give you 7x24 situational awareness of this critical communications gear.

5. Slash HVAC Power Waste

Most organizations devote tremendous budget to electricity for site cooling (and, in some climates, heating). With some remote-monitoring smarts, you can really cut down on this expense.

A good HVAC controller will collect very granular data about your cooling cycles. This enables you to generate a wide range of efficiencies.

You'll know to start cooling at the highest acceptable temperature.

Even your most sensitive equipment can probably function without issue at a warmer temperature, even if that temperature would make a human uncomfortable. It's important to remember that humans are rarely at your remote sites, so it's silly to let human comfort drive your default temperature settings.

The simplest possible data analysis on decent HVAC logs - and a review of your equipment specs - will show you opportunities to widen your temperature settings.

A smart HVAC controller will also be able to say, "Hey, someone's at the site. Let's cool it off a little bit until they leave." This makes site visits comfortable for your team while cutting power consumption the vast majority of the time.

You'll balance HVAC cycle counts and "Newton's Law of Cooling".

To optimally use your HVACs, you have to balance two competing factors.

First, you want to have longer cycles so you don't cycle on and off excessively.

Conversely, you want shorter cycles so you're not excessively fighting to maintain really low temperatures. This is a critical point because, the farther you push the temperatures down, the more rapidly they'll rise in a warm climate. Newton's Law of Cooling describes the exponential harm a poorly chosen cooling window does to your power consumption.

These two factors are why you need to strike a balance between long HVAC cycles and short ones. A good HVAC controller that keeps detailed logs, combined with data analysis tools, will help you strike the optimal balance.

You'll know when your filters are clogged and harming cooling output.

If your HVAC units have clogged filters or otherwise aren't cooling effectively, they're not doing their job. That's a big waste, because now you're running them longer to get the same job done.

Simply visiting the site to perform some required maintenance will quickly solve this problem, but you have to detect that you have a problem in the first place.

You Must Give Your People the Situational Awareness to Succeed

Your network, by design, covers a large geographic area. Your sites are unmanned. Some must survive for months without a visit.

Your resources will always be limited. No organization on the planet could justify 7x24 staffing of every building, hut, and cabinet. You need force multipliers to manage your widespread infrastructure with the staff you do have.

A good remote monitoring system will collect data from all of your remote locations, process it, and alert your staff in the correct way. Serious alarms will be clear and obvious.

Unimportant "nuisance alarms" will be suppressed to reduce distractions. Alerts will appear on a console screen, as an email, or as an SMS text message.

If you do this right, your remote monitoring system will do what any good technology does: fade into the background.

When the system is intuitive, your team won't waste time worrying about it. They'll get a clear mental picture of your network status and be able to respond appropriately.

What Do You Do Next?

Remote monitoring isn't exceedingly complex, but there is a fair amount to learn. I recommend that you:

  1. Learn the fundamentals of RTUs that you'll install at remote sites to monitor important values.
  2. Learn how alarm masters collect data from all across your network and present it to you.
  3. Contact an expert to discuss your network and how you can monitor it correctly.

Get a Custom Application Diagram of Your Perfect-Fit Monitoring System

There is no other network on the planet that is exactly like yours. For that reason, you need to build a monitoring system that's the right fit for you.

"Buying more than you need" and "buying less than you need" are real risks. You also have to think about training, tech support, and upgrade availability.

Send me a quick online message about what you're trying to accomplish. I'll work with you to build custom PDF application diagram that a perfect fit for your network.

Don't make a bad decision

Your network isn't off-the-shelf.

Your monitoring system shouldn't be, either.

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