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The art of managing facilities remotely

03 April 2020

Over the last few weeks the UK has seen restrictions on movement implemented throughout society in moves that are unprecedented in peacetime in an effort to reduce the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Effects of these actions vary from the closure and mothballing of businesses and their facilities, with others remaining open with restricted access keeping footfall to a bare minimum, while those involved in the provision of care and food manufacturing and distribution have seen activity levels increase dramatically in many cases.

With social distancing rules now in place and rising numbers of people required to self-isolate, the essential task of managing facilities is being carried out remotely in an increase number of cases.

This will be a new experience for many FMs and service providers and the following advice is designed to assist everyone to follow best practice to achieve the best results.

Bellrock business development director Adam Phillips says consideration has to be given to current operations, statutory and legislative compliance, asset preservation and reactivation costs.

“At times like these it is more important than ever for leadership and engineering teams, outsourced providers and specialist contractors to collaborate. To that end, I’m heartened that the BESA have made the SFG30 mothballing and reactivation maintenance guide free to its members for the foreseeable future,” he says.

“Mothballing and reactivating is all well and good, but what about how we manage our buildings whilst in a semi-mothballed condition?

"A lot of people are now having to run these buildings remotely and having an asset management platform that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to optimise and monitor asset performance and workplaces is proving invaluable,” he continues.

Mr Phillips says something also worth consideration for FMs and service providers is the strain on their ICT infrastructure, with more people working from home and utilising video conferencing technology, increasing demand on ICT assets and their associated power and cooling systems.

He provides the example of Netflix downgrading its streaming quality temporarily to reduce data consumption by 25%.

“Remote monitoring and optimisation of critical assets should be the norm in our industry, hopefully when this pandemic has passed more organisations will look to the digital future and remote monitoring, AI and IoT will become the new norm,” says Mr Phillips.

FSI territory sales manager Karl Broom agrees that having remote connectivity to a building and the data it holds is integral in order to maintain facilities in these challenging times.

“Utilising CAFM/IWMS systems, FMs and service providers are able to manage lighting, HVAC and many other internal systems without physically being located in the building,” he says.

“By plugging into the building’s IoT network remotely, you can monitor compliance, equipment and assets through a central dashboard and build a clear, complete picture of what’s going on in your absence,” he continues.

Users can identify urgent tasks to be delivered and queue them as priorities prior to anyone returning to the building in the future.

In the meantime, they can ensure they are keeping assets operational, optimising energy usage and waste management whilst the premises are vacant.

“In the future, we can look to expect more use of robotics within the FM industry, which would be of benefit for situations such as the one we’re currently in.

“For example, the technology already exists whereby robot security guards can roam a building on a path predefined by the FM employee, to detect and report any unexpected movement. This would be flagged through a centrally managed system and the situation would be assessed by a human through video and subsequently dealt with.

“Through sophisticated CAFM/IWMS systems, the FM industry harnessing this technology will be more than capable of delivering through the crisis without compromising on standards.

"Though certain task completion may be put on hold, the important thing is that FMs and service providers will know exactly what is happening and what to expect upon their return,” Mr Broom concludes.

Thoughts on when facilities users return to buildings are provided by Infogrid chief executive officer Will Cowell de Gruchy, so that they find them clean, safe and secure.

Today’s inexpensive and easily deployable sensor technology has finally made achieving this a reality, he states.

“Take legionella compliance for example. With a few sensors it is now possible to understand the temperature of water in a pipe, when each tap was flushed and for how long – which means you know which taps, if any, still need flushing for compliance and have a data trail to show when it was completed.

"Depending on your building’s activity, this could show that you don’t need to send someone at all – which is safer for everyone.”

Knowing how “occupied” a building is can help drive substantial efficiencies, he continues.

“For example, desk occupancy sensors highlighted to one of our customers that a floor was barely used, enabling them to substantially reduce their HVAC bills by powering down this floor.

"In parallel, they kept a close (remote) eye on temperature and humidity levels, to ensure that they were not opening themselves up to mould risk.

“Usage data can also help show you where to focus your cleaning efforts. Sensors that track washroom traffic and customer feedback can be used to optimise your washroom cleaning schedule.

"Likewise, if sensor data shows that no one has used the meeting rooms, they might not need their daily clean,” says Mr Cowell de Gruchy.

Platinum Facilities head of energy and technology Nick Spearman says remote building monitoring detects the source or route cause of system inefficiencies, allowing immediate and informed decisions to be made to maximise impact.

"With remote assistance from technical support helpdesks or bureaux, clients can be provided with alarm monitoring, system performance trends and energy management, allowing a proactive approach to any mechanical plant issues.

“Often, interventions can be made remotely, minimising disruption and downtime of critical systems and assets and avoiding the need for an engineer to visit site.

"Remote monitoring holds the key to exceeding KPIs, whether they are facilities management, energy or sustainability, and can benefit many organisational functions through improving safety, ensuring compliance and saving money,” he continues.

Being measurable and accountable is hugely important. Before bringing a building online with remote monitoring it is essential to set up a service level agreement for system performance and KPIs, making data actionable at site engineer level.

“The client should look to keep their own standard SLAs and KPIs that the remote team accept, or the team can work with you to establish a method of measurement and availability that suit your business.

"It is important to remember that no single building or business is exactly the same.

“Optimisation of the BMS enables your buildings to become smarter and maintain the correct environment at all times, whether the building is occupied or not.

"When teams return to work, this supports a highly productive environment where individuals can achieve their full potential, helping the business grow,” Mr Spearman concludes.

ZTP co-founder and director Joe Warren says with the enormous impact of COVID-19 being felt across all industries, there are some specific areas that facilities and energy managers have had to ensure they are prepared for, to mitigate any issues with their power and gas supplies.

“Firstly – receiving of invoices for payment. Generally, a process that requires minimal thought, however with the widespread closure of offices, those reliant on paper billing have had to adapt very quickly to the digital format.

“Perhaps a blessing in disguise, this may save time (and paper) in the future and luckily most end users should be able to retrieve invoices validated via their brokers’ portal or direct form the supplier if no external validation checks take place,” he continues.

A second major impact has been on those in flexible contracts. The need to be “on top” of consumption forecasting has never been more prevalent and the digitised world can help speed this process up and ensure any trends in the last few weeks can be replicated for the coming months to give the supplier a more accurate consumption forecast to trade against.

“This should avoid any issues with volumes traded and of course mitigate the dreaded “take or pay” clause coming in to effect.

“With the workforce largely based at home during this pandemic, it is a good time to embrace digitalisation if not done so already. It can save huge amounts of time but also allow business to carry on as ‘normal’, where possible,” Mr Warren concludes.

Additional features by PFM to assist with the impact of the Covid-19 virus include FM sector centre stage in reopening of facilities and Reducing the risk of infection in facilities.


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