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The march of AI within FM software technology

17 October 2019

PFM asked industry experts whether the FM sector has embraced the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) and how it should continue with this approach in the future.

Technological developments continue to be introduced at an ever-faster pace and the speed with which software technology is updated can arguably said to be the quickest of all.

Following the widely-embraced introduction of smart technology in recent years, the gathering of data has increased at a bewildering rate and has led to managers of estates and facilities questioning the best way to analyse the resulting flood of information in some cases.

One of the more negative comments heard increasingly around the FM sector is that there is little point in “just gathering data” and unless this is analysed in sufficient detail it is unlikely that the potential benefits will be delivered.

One of the solutions recommended by experts is the application of artificial intelligence (AI), with the aim of applying this to the swathes of data now being generated in almost every area of FM and delivering the results that FMs need to generate a far more accurate picture of how their facilities are performing and/or being utilised.

As AI and machine learning become increasingly sophisticated, the options of seeing further advantages are continuing to emerge, including automatic adjustments being made within set parameters with little or no human involvement. As with the majority of the topics within PFM, our Editorial Advisory Board has discussed the emergence of AI within FM and while accepting that this has the potential to deliver welcome results in many circumstances, there continues to be a need for understanding of where human contact or input is necessary.

The two main areas where this applies is within the reception desk and security, where interaction with a suitably skilled or capable individual can provide swift answers or reaction to questions and situations that avoid or defuse tense situations that could potentially lead to complaints or negative developments.

Featured below is the response from two industry experts to the question of whether AI has been embraced in sufficient depth by the FM sector, beginning with the thoughts of ZTP co-founder and managing director Alex Hill, who says:

“We’re getting there. Walking around any FM industry event these days you see the words ‘artificial intelligence’ and ‘machine learning’ becoming common place. Technologies are on offer to intelligently identify which floor a lift should stop at, based on where the occupant works in the building, they can identify defective machinery and schedule maintenance or replacement before outages, and even autonomously manage electric vehicle charging to sell energy back to the grid at optimum times to actually generate revenue.

“However, the uptake of AI does seem to be slow in some organisations. This is typically down to either a lack of understanding of what machine learning can do, and therefore a distrust, or to a desire to run before you can walk by trying to implement the newest cutting edge tech without having the fundamentals in place.”

This is often seen in energy management, Mr Hill continues, where an organisation could benefit from machine learning driven energy consumption projections that draw on a series of drivers to forecast consumption and model reduction plans or make financial savings through purchasing energy using AI-based risk modelling.

“A restriction that we’ve seen time and again is an interest in implementing these technologies, but when it comes time to provide a simple list of energy meters, the fundamental data required for setup is missing.

"In my opinion, in order to fuel take up of AI-based tech, the sector needs to continue to build its communal knowledge and experience, while simultaneously ensuring the fundamentals are in place,” says Mr Hill.

The rapidly expanding use of AI in all areas of society is referred to by Trimble Real Estate and Workplace Solutions, Strategic Partnerships Simon Blenkiron, who says:

“As futuristic as it sounds, AI is being used all around us. In the consumer world, music-streaming services use AI to track listening habits and suggest songs. While web chatbots seem so real, it is easy to forget they are not human.

“But has the FM sector embraced AI? More than you might think. In Amsterdam, The Edge is one of the world’s most advanced buildings where 28,000 sensors collect data about operations and occupant interactions. Toilets notify the staff when they need cleaning and employees control light and temperature settings through an app.”

Data centres use AI to manage cooling in real-time, without human involvement, he continues. AI can also be used with workplace sensors to close office areas and reduce resource consumption when occupancy is low.

While smart technology has already impacted FM, FMs may not realise the extent of its use. As buildings become increasingly intelligent, FMs need to ensure systems can harness the increasing volumes of historic and real-time data.

“Relying on point solutions will make it difficult to make sense of data in a format that can be analysed,” he says.

“IWMS software can continuously collect data from building management systems and IoT sensors for a single source of truth and consolidated view of the portfolio, creating alignment between teams that need to track performance metrics.

“Acceptance requires strategic changes across the sector. Instead of replacing jobs, AI requires a new skillset. FM will need to reposition itself in a more strategic role beyond simply maintaining the building,” Mr Blenkiron concludes.

With AI and its benefits continuing to grow in appreciation, the discussion on the best means to apply this and obtain the most effective results is continuing to encourage the development of best practice, while avoiding the mistake of trying to do too much too quickly and the negative results that this can incur if the necessary steps are not taken in advance.

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