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TECHNOLOGY: A SMARTER FUTURE BECKONS

28 October 2015

In five years, there will be smarter devices, increased self-service, and more assets talking to one another without human interaction to improve the way workplaces work. What should FMs do to ensure their businesses keep pace with this technological change?

With technology becoming evermore sophisticated, and having a bigger-than-ever impact on how FMs are working, PFM asked several experts for their opinions on what the next five years hold in terms of the FM sector.

“We’re already seeing a change in the relationship between people, technology and assets and as this becomes more pronounced in the future it will have a significant impact on FMs,” says Jaz Gaberria, technical director of Cofely. “This trend will manifest itself in several different ways but underlying all of them will be so-called ‘big data', where high volumes of data are combined with more intelligent and meaningful analysis.”

An example of this is the growing use of the Ethernet to control LED lighting networks, where the occupancy sensors that form part of the lighting installation can also be used to monitor and measure space usage, says Gaberria. This data then feeds back to the FM’s space utilisation studies to support optimum space usage programmes.

“Alongside this better understanding of space utilisation is a societal shift that will see a strong move away from traditional office working patterns to a more agile working environment, again enabled by technology.”

Another important change, Gabberia points out, will be a built environment that’s more responsive to its occupants’ behaviour. For example, data gathered through a range of different types of sensors can be used to create a profile of how a building is being and also to analyse the preferences of the people within it. Armed with this information, and intelligent building management system will adjust various parameters within each space to suit the occupants while optimising energy usage without direct human intervention.

“This ‘auto-optimisation’ might also include building-wide analysis of key aspects of the building’s performance, such as an electrical usage profile,” he says. “The latter would prove particularly beneficial alongside the increased use of local power generation through technologies such as CHP and photovoltaics, creating city-wide ‘smart grids’. Here, an intelligent building management system will ensure locally produced electricity is used when mains power tariffs are highest to maximise savings. Similarly, it will determine the best time to sell electricity to the grid to generate extra revenue.”

As noted earlier, where there’s a lot of data there is also a need for the software tools to manage that data, says Gabberia. Currently, it’s common practice to buy various software packages and possibly tweak them a little but in general leave them unchanged. As more software becomes open source and is located in the ‘cloud’, more extensive customisation will become more commonplace – in terms of the data that is collected and how it’s organised and accessed. To exploit these opportunities, IT literacy will come to play a more important role within the FM department.

“While these are just a few examples of the potential impact of technology on the FM role, the underlying message is that the world is changing and FMs need to change with it.”

Tod Harrison, MD of FM at Keysource, environment specialists, says the key challenges facing technology in the engineering element of the FM industry aren’t just about the technology itself – they’re about the people in the industry and whether we’re able to change the extremely traditional FM approach and actually embrace the opportunities that technology can bring.

“There is also a perception that more technology and automation will mean less jobs but the debate should actually be about how the delivery becomes more service focused and customer facing,” Harrison says. “The technology approach has to be a behavioural based approach where predictive technology is utilised in the correct manner, to allow the correct management information to be delivered allowing for sound engineering decisions to be made.”

One way to do this is through ongoing education, mentoring and the FM trade bodies to ensure all courses and professional qualifications reflect this need for the industry to develop and change, Harrison says.

“Customers will also need to change the way they procure – moving away from treating FM as a commodity and actually allowing FM providers to demonstrate their expertise and deliver these technological benefits. In the same way however FM companies should see the opportunities here and many need to change the way they think about service delivery. We should all be pushing for innovation in the industry and drive this change forward rather than just doing things the way they have always been done.”

Mauro Ortelli, MD of 14forty, says as a service provider it’s imperative the customer remains at the forefront of everything it does – ‘a philosophy we live by at 14forty’. “The marketplace is growing ever more challenging and competitive and to ensure we’re delivering best value and the best quality service, we’re constantly innovating. We’re at the forefront of creating bespoke, innovative solutions for customers and clients.”

In terms of technology, 14forty is investing in on the FM side of our business, and seeing it make a profound difference to the services we offer, Ortelli says. “For example, building management systems programmed to self-deliver emergency light testing and reporting faults. There’s also increasing technology being utilised around temperature control, like auto close windows and blinds to control energy consumption.”

Cleaning is also benefiting hugely from technology – taking the industry to the next level, providing a better and more efficient service, Ortelli adds. “Innovations range from barrier laundry, which ensures cross contamination doesn’t occur through the laundry process and microfibre mops, which means they’re reusable and last longer.”

In security, technology is playing a huge part in how services are delivered, Ortelli says. “We’re seeing an increased use of technology such as video analytics, for example CCTV is used in conjunction with software to identify people’s faces.

“The investment we’ve made in terms of technology for our B&I food service business focuses on the customer experience – enhancing it by creating a more efficient and informative service, that acknowledges the changing working environment.”

However, there’s no doubt the workplace itself is changing and delivery and technology must react, Ortelli says. “An important element of delivering technology and staying ahead of the curve is to listen to feedback from clients and customers.

“Once we have identified a potential area of improvement, we then go about creating a suitable, often bespoke solution. This will make it easier to identify successes, areas for improvement and potential further investments. Collecting this data and feedback and analysing it in the correct way, means those clients can see the tangible benefits of the service and technology.” 

Finally, Ortelli says, talent and training is vital to the successful delivery of innovations. “As an industry we’re constantly evolving. The technology our clients use is also changing the shape of our services, so it’s important we have the best people to deliver the best services, using the most up to date technology that suits clients’ needs.”

Andrew Wilkinson, strategy and marketing director, Sodexo Corporate Services, says he remembers reading the new reports of the first generation iPad ahead of its launch. “It’s just a giant iPod or a better looking Kindle, they said at the time.

“David Pogue wrote these words in the New York Times on 28 January 2010, the day Apple launched the iPad: ‘Like the iPhone, the iPad is really a vessel, a tool, a 1.5-pound sack of potential. It may become many things. It may change an industry or two, or it may not. It may introduce a new category – something between phone and laptop – or it may not. And anyone who claims to know what will happen will wind up looking like a fool’.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

“Technology has dramatically changed our lives in the last 50 years alone,” says Wilkinson. “In fact, one of the most important 'laws' that has affected all of us in the last 50 years is Moore’s law. This was a famous prediction by one of the founders of Intel in 1965 that computing power would double roughly every two years. It has, and it’s led to massive technological advances, making Apple one of the most successful corporations ever.

“However, Moore’s Law is about to come to an abrupt end as Intel now believe microchips are so powerful, they won’t be able to deliver the same speed of advancement and innovation we’ve seen over the past 50 years.”

So what does that mean for the worldwide economy as a whole, as well as the FM industry? Ironically, Wilkinson points out, it could be a good thing. Brian Krzanich, Intel’s current chief executive, says there will be four main impacts of this slowdown in processing speed. “We’ll see much less innovation and disruption of old industries. But we should also see more inflation and, paradoxically, higher productivity as well.”

Because technology has always rapidly changed, corporations have been reluctant to make investment in technology that could possibly be obsolete before the business case benefits have even been realised. “Technology has disrupted many of our large corporate business plans, just look at BT for example and how they have turned this way and that, quite successfully, to respond to the challenges of technology. My children wouldn't recognise BT as I do, as a telephone service provider. BT is now a technology-led media corporation.”

So what about FM? “Well, as FM service providers continue to consolidate, they start to have the balance sheet strength to make proper investment decisions in technology,” says Wilkinson. “Technology will impact our industry over the next 20 years like never before. CAFM systems will become a hygiene factor, no longer a point of difference. Assets will self-report faults. Buildings will become smart.” 

Technology will start to focus on the consumer of FM services. “FMs will need to think deeply about how technology can improve the end-user experience, whether that’s how they pay for their lunch or how they reserve a hot desk, because the FM customer of the future will have far higher expectations and demands from service providers, and technology will be front-and-centre of how they operate.”

The FM industry has a lot of catching up to do, but perhaps with the slowdown of Moore’s Law, we have a bit more time to get it right over the next 50 years, Wilkinson says.

Ruth O’Donoghue, head of marketing at PHS Data Solutions, says as the world advances and technology develops, organisations need to ensure they’re prepared for the impact the digital revolution will have on their businesses. With Gartner predicting 25bn connected ‘things’ will be in use by 2020, this raises several important considerations for FMs.

“FMs need to be prepared with an aligned strategy in place which acknowledges the forecasted changes and established plans for the way that the Internet of Things (IoT), machine-to-machine (M2M) and artificial intelligence (AI) are likely to influence daily operations.”

The strategy should lay out a mid-to-long term approach, says Donoghue, looking at the varying potential impacts on the business. It’s likely all business functions will experience change from HR right through to operations.

For example, Pew Research found that 48% of experts envision a future where robots and digital technology will have displaced significant numbers of blue- and white-collar workers. “We’re already seeing robotic front-of-house ‘staff’ welcoming guests at hotels in Japan and this is just one impact which organisations will need to consider.”

Despite the changes technology will bring to the industry, if fully prepared, FMs can in fact use this technology to increase efficiencies and standards across their businesses, O’Donoghue says. “Consumers may miss the human touch, yet it’s likely human interaction with customers will continue, taking advantage of uniquely human capabilities.

“With the abundance of robotics and automated systems entering the business landscape, focus is now turning to the security aspect of such a digitised world. Acknowledging the very real threat of data breaches and the increasing ability of hackers to steal confidential information, organisations must be ready to protect their data and assets.”

Companies should be considering using a trusted provider to ensure their data is in safe hands, O’Donoghue points out. “The security of confidential information is paramount and recent, high-profile breaches show just how vulnerable organisations are to hackers’ advanced techniques being used to access information.”

Relying on internal data protection measures and procedures will soon be insurmountable in the fight against cybercrime. Through securely scanning documents and storing information with a trusted provider, companies can have peace of mind that their data is safe.

“Now is the time to act,” says O’Donoghue. “Business leaders should be investigating and preparing for the changes their organisations will experience. With experts predicting that robots will be smarter than us by 2029, it’s vital businesses are one step ahead in the data protection race.”

Mike Witchell, MD of AIS BMS, says logical automation of the built environment is clearly on the rise. “We can all see that the smart phones, TVs, tablets and more powerful global internet services are driving the rise of data, information, access and control being served to individuals, millions of times a day,” he says.

“If only ten years ago it was futuristic to be able to call someone from the middle of a forest, that someone being in another country even, and furthermore being able to see them on a small computer that fits in your pocket, then I wonder what ten years hence will look like. We see indications of wearable technology, individual habits and behaviours driving the environment we live in, even the adverts we see. Our commercial space will follow suit, there is no other way. It is happening now.”

It would be ‘great’, says Witchell, if building users can walk through reception, be allocated the best available space to work automatically – the building populating itself in the most energy and space efficient way. Then when you arrive, your lights, temperature and workspace are all set to your preferences.

“More still, if you book a meeting room, isn’t it a great idea for the building to know five minutes before the meeting or at least by the start of the meeting, if the attendees are not heading to the meeting room or the conference call system hasn’t been activated then perhaps there’s no point lighting and conditioning the meeting space?

“When you use the space you already have the correct numbers catered for, and plugging in your laptop to the projection system automatically sets the room into optimal conditions for video projection. Following where you are in a building based on a smart device or wearable tech is totally feasible and is being done, making space technically logical to use and friendly, it also totally feasible.”

Using this information helps a building live and breathe much more efficiently, and helps the occupants really get value from their environment – everything just works, Witchell says. “For FM providers, this challenge is acute, as the investment may seem to be hard to justify. But consider a building system that can tell you where it isn’t running as well as it could be, and beyond that, trigger a text, email or alarm notification to the right technician and issue a task sheet to them to carry out remedial work before you need to call in a specialist.

“Perhaps before the occupants even realise there’s an issue, it is already fixed. How good is that? Thinking like this, getting more value from your existing site based resources by deploying the right technology, is a really sensible and financially viable thing to do. You will reduce your reliance on specialist resources, drive more organic value from your site teams and deliver greater service to your clients.
“The technology exists, many companies even have the vision to bring these together. As FM providers you need to find out how to become more aware about the potential and consider challenging conventional service delivery and pricing models to help adopt technology to drive efficiencies. Connecting with forward thinking system integrators and automation specialists will help, provide a challenge for them and see how they respond. You’ll be pleased to know many companies in this space want to be creative and work with an engaged and collaborative client to see just how far technology can help a modern and future building.”

Matthew Eastwood, UK MD at Honeywell Building Solutions says there are two key developments FMs need to be aware of over the next five years – the advent of cheaper, faster data and the expectations of building users.

“The former offers the opportunity to take building control to a level where FM isn't just about cost reduction, but is also about identifying and creating revenue generation opportunities,” he says. “The latter is based on our seamless and effortless use of technology in our personal lives and the growing expectation of a similar experience across all daily activity, including the workplace.”

In five years' time, bring your own device (BYOD) won't be an option, Eastwood says. “It'll be an imperative. Consumerisation of the workplace means anyone in any building will expect the same levels of accessibility, information and control they already enjoy elsewhere.”

“Control will still be in the hands of the FM, but will also be in the hands or on the wrist of the user. Smart apps will be used by building occupants or visitors to register at reception, navigate to their destination, access a designated room, set the room temperature and order and pay for whatever they require.”

However, recognition technologies make for seamless matching and help ensure organisational control isn't surrendered, even though the end-user enjoys a customised experience, Eastwood says.

“Data is cheaper and faster than ever, but that only benefits a FM when they can effectively access the mass of information generated by getting their systems to analyse, feedback and to uncover what wasn't known before.”

Integrating information from several systems allows users to turn data into intelligence, make more informed decisions, plan more effectively and to allocate resources more efficiently.

“Technology now means it's easier to present data in a user-friendly format,” says Eastwood. “Those responsible for a facility can access and act on that information wherever they are. The ability to present relevant data to a building's occupants via a range of personal and public communication channels also helps to promote energy efficiency and to enhance safety and security measures.”

These developments will make facilities safer and more secure, comfortable and productive than they’ve ever been. The key for today's FM is to ensure they’ve already established the platform on which they can build or adopt new solutions, as and when the technology develops and the demand starts to grow.

“That means having a scalable, flexible infrastructure in place that enables all the building's facilities and management systems to work together seamlessly and smartly and which can be adapted relatively easily and cost-effectively.”

The use of technology and process to create a smart building that is safer and more productive for its occupants and more operationally efficient for its owners is not just the logical choice for anyone looking at a new build, a retrofit or a refurbishment project, says Eastwood.

“It’s the only choice for FMs wanting to maximise the opportunities technology will create over the next few years.”

Lena von Eynern, FM business developer of Topdesk, says the question is interesting for several reasons. “First, there appears to be an underlying question of ‘What will happen when we need less human FMs?’ and although a frequent and reasonable question to ask: Is it logical? As has been the case with any technological advancement, nothing ever comes without further problems in need of fixing.

“Think: new device has a better display, but worse battery life. And even if devices know how to self-repair or repairing-robots can detect and fix problems, who is to fix them once they break? FMs, engineers, operators. This affirms the need of the FM – a more versatile one at that, but still a living, breathing FM.”

“This proposition is closely linked to the second part of the question: the increase of self-service. Here, FMs can do a lot to keep up with the developments in technology. As with the rise of Google, a self-helping and informing platform, FMs too will face an increasing demand for self-help forums and portals. To keep up, FMs need to provide their customers with DIY instructions and knowledge bases. This can be accomplished through self-service portals or Google-styled service portals. Either way, it’s clear reclusive and non-accessible FMs and FM information is a thing of the past.”

From Google’s Nest thermostat to Philips’ Hue lighting systems, the IOT is slowly but surely pushing its way into our homes, says Phillip Herring, MD of Vinci Parks UK. But, he argues, as devices get smarter, workplaces need to evolve too, making sure they’re using the best technology to get the job done.

“We have always embraced technology to help solve problems. A recent innovation is the introduction of the RFID tag system at the Lister Hospital MSCP. The tag readers have been installed at entry and exit barriers and the tags have also been fitted to the ambulance fleet based at the hospital. This system has proved to be a great success, allowing easy access and egress for the ambulance fleet and eliminating the need for fiddly pass cards and chip coins.”

But is this relevant to FMs going forward? “Ensuring payment is straight forward and simple to complete is a vital element of customer satisfaction,” says Herring. “At Derriford Hospital, Vinci Park commissioned Parkeon to install a state-of-the-art barrier controlled automatic number-plate recognition (ANPR) payment solution.

“This system guarantees the only physical interaction required for any user is at the payment machine. The flexible software allows management of these groups seamlessly, with different tariffs enabled for each group. The user’s vehicle is linked to their account on Vinci’s in-house permit production software, at a point of payment, the machine recognises which group the user belongs to, and charges them the correct tariff accordingly.”

Technology such as ANPR and IOT requires much data processing, but as computers become more powerful, software has to adapt with it, says Herring. Vinci Park’s VP-PRO staff parking permits software is a relatively new addition to its armoury. Staff apply online for a parking permit and are scored against several Trust-led, pre-defined criteria.

“If the score granted is above a certain threshold, an onsite permit is granted. Critically, Vinci Park also provides a link to a Trust’s records so applications can be verified against Trust held data to prevent any attempts to manipulate it. By managing and minimising the administration burden, it allows staff to concentrate on other things.”

Herring adds that over the next few years technology will undoubtedly become more powerful as smartphones and tablets become the conduit for controlling more and more aspects of our lives. As the lines blur between ‘home’ and ‘work’ technology, companies that don’t keep up will soon find themselves at a disadvantage.

“It’s easy for FMs to see the rapid improvements in smart technology as a threat to their current way of working,” notes Isabel Sensier, marketing officer of TM Electronics (UK). “However, these new technologies represent potentially huge improvements to FM practice, especially when it comes to food testing and recording.

“The demands of regular testing to ensure traceability in-line with HACCP requirements are well-documented – especially monitoring metrics such as temperature which require time-consuming spot checks at regular repeated intervals. In such activities human interaction is virtually irreplaceable. But this doesn’t mean new technology can’t improve performance.”

One of the most useful ways in which smart devices can make life easier for FMs is when improved technology is paired with human interaction, says Sensier. An example of this is the humble barcode.

“The use of barcode technology in measurement and monitoring solutions has become increasingly popular in recent years, and for good reason. Barcodes can be displayed on any appliance or test point, they can be generated easily using free software, they’re completely unique and can be 100% bespoke - and of course they capture data immediately.”

When measuring temperature, accuracy and reliability are of upmost importance, says Sensier. A thermometer with integrated barcode technology guarantees both of these.

“Using high accuracy temperature measurement combined with an integral barcode reader, this kind of truly innovative thermometer can record not only the temperature, time and date of each measurement but also scans user-set barcodes to identify every product or test point.

“Measurements can be stored on the instrument at any one time before downloading via USB or Bluetooth to smart phones and tablets – or even cloud-based systems.”

In this example, FM’s can create paperless temperature monitoring solutions that are streamlined and easy to operate, Sensier adds. “Barcodes allow different assets to ‘speak’ the same language, eliminating human error in situations where human interaction continues to be essential.

“If this kind of device is being considered, a heads-up is to check what kind of software is included – open-source is the most useful as it allows FMs to more easily integrate with their own existing data management systems, adding up to a more cost effective and practical solution.”

Mike Dowling, director of FMDirect & FMHelpdesk says one of the main areas smart devices will have impact on is fault reporting. “The current process for most assets relies on end users calling the helpdesk to report the fault, however as devices become more connected this process will become automated.

“For example there are already bins that can alert the FM if they’re full and require emptying. This allows the FM to be proactive in running their estate, effectively pre-empting issues before they occur and resolving them.”

If these smart devices further communicate directly with the helpdesk software, automating the process of assigning an engineer to attend, then the FM’s role can become less firefighting and more planning and prevention, says Dowling. “This type of innovation will alter the budget allocation within the FM department, with more being spent on prevention and less on reactive maintenance.

“In the coming years, smart devices will be everywhere, all staff will have self-service access to FM software, and assets will communicate without human interaction, optimising the way workplaces function.”

What should FMs do to ensure that they and their businesses keep pace with this technological change? “As devices become more connected, increased interaction between Facilities and IT departments is inevitable. This leads to a necessity for facilities managers to become familiar with the technology and opportunities associated with smart device communication. As a starting point, a review of current automation processes and connectivity within the organisation is conducted. This can shed light on how additional gains can be achieved by automating further communications and processes, in both FM and IT.”

QR Codes, Bluetooth, RFID, NFC and wireless are all being used to make assets more intelligent, Dowling says. “NFC or near-field communication is one of the protocols that is destined to become a standard for smart phones to communicate with assets that were previously deemed to be non-intelligent.

“Smartphones collect data via NFC, send it back to the main FM database application with a few taps, all while the engineer stands next to the asset. This type of technology is already becoming more prevalent in the workplace because of its low power consumption, cost and ease of deployment.”

Facilities and IT managers will work together in optimising these technologies and IT training for FMs will soon become natural and essential. FMDirect and Fast Track Automation are two companies that work together providing asset and maintenance management solutions which maximise the value of existing and new technologies, and are looking forward to the ever-increasing role that IT plays within FM.

Patrick Stewart-Blacker, EMEA enterprise development director at Crestron, says the modern workspace is a dynamic and complex model that now more than ever is required to meet the needs of an evermore flexible and diverse workforce. As a result the influence over the design and operation of the space is coming from areas and departments of a business that in the past would not have been consulted.

“But predictions that we will soon be witnessing the demise of the office building itself due to companies adopting more flexible working policies are wide off the mark. I believe that we are heading into a world of the ‘Lite Building’ enabling facility managers to deliver substantially more efficient use of space and technology will be a key enabler of this.”

The workspace is heading towards being a more open and versatile space - one where suppliers and clients can mix with employees and employees will gather as a collective group and sit together as and when required to accommodate a more mobile and increasingly millennial workforce. The advent of BYOD has shown that employees can initiate changes in company culture. It is therefore a natural progression that they would want to shape the environment in which they work. The days of one employee, one desk are definitely numbered.

“Business is essentially about people not machines – a point that is often forgotten,” says Stewart-Blacker. “Therefore the technology that will drive the ‘Lite Building’ must create a user acceptance and familiarity that enhances the uptake on the technology and ultimately delivers a faster ROI, across the globe. This type of standardisation is proven to deliver better returns. The Crestron Fusion Platform provides the glue that not only allows a proactive support model for your technology real estate but delivers a complete platform for the management and tracking of room usage, attendees content and a much more.

“The data that this provides gives facilities managers very powerful data to conduct analysis on how the estate is being used, by whom and what functions and facilities are in demand - providing invaluable statistics for planning and justifying budgets, building new or renovating existing facilities, and forecasting staffing needs.”

Ultimately, says Stewart-Blacker,  these solutions deliver a cohesive solution that matches the people, to the space, to the technology and content, which is where the ‘Lite Building’ of the future is going.


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