black friday malls

Keeping Black Friday Light

At this point, everyone knows that Black Friday is the most important shopping day of the year for United States retailers and consumers. We’ve heard about the sales, and we’ve set our alarms, but what we may not have considered is what it takes for the actual mall itself to get ready for such an influx in people and dramatic changes in scheduling.

For malls, preparation for this day begins way in advance, with building managers checking and re-checking systems from top to bottom. While most systems are automated, the specific circumstances of this day (for example, stores opening at midnight and staying open through the frigid winter night) require tweaks to the scheduling that can cause burdensome problems.

For the past five years now, we’ve called in extra technical support staff to cover this time of the year, and this season is no different. One of our main customers owns and operates tons of malls in a wide geographical region. Just the other day, this customer’s lighting panels were experiencing scheduling issues. Not wanting to leave anything up to chance before the Super Bowl of shopping, our lead engineer on the project went out to site of the problem to get things fixed immediately.

“They couldn’t control their lighting through the UI interface and the touch-screens that are attached to each panel that have some override capabilities,” says Jonathan Hughes, the Controlco engineer deployed to the scene, “they weren’t able to control them consistently.”

When problems happen, they’re never completely new. There’s always a starting point for the expert engineers who have diagnosed issues in all sorts of systems for years. So our engineers got to work, sifting through their experience and walking through the panels, turning systems on, watching what happens, turning systems off, watching what happens. After spending a few hours walking through the lighting panels, Hughes realized it may be a firmware issue (a piece of software that interacts with the main software and the physical device).

“It actually ended up requiring that we update firmware in all the lighting panels, taking them off the network, updating them and then re-uploading them back onto the network,” Hughes says.

The engineers were on site for two days, working during the day to reduce impact on the mall while the panels were being tested.

“Now that we have all the updates installed and running smoothly,” Hughes continues, “the building managers have the ability to go in and start modifying and tweaking which circuits and lights should go on, instead of going out and physically turning them on and off.”

So this Friday, if you have a moment after running for the last flat screen TV and waiting in an hour-long line, take a look around the building and give thanks to the building managers and engineers who keep everything lit.

Have a safe, relaxing and delicious holiday.

*Image from CNN

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