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Making smart decisions when purchasing new technology

27 June 2019

We asked industry experts if the implementation of new technology should be expected to reduce cost, in addition to improving the operation of facilities, resulting in a number of well-informed responses.

We are all aware of how the march of technology is continuing to impact on all areas of our professional and private lives and the increasingly bold predictions of the impact that this will have in the future.

Whether we engage with this in sufficient numbers to make real differences remains to be seen, of course, but there is a growing body of people who are happy to state that what was only recently considered to be advanced and futuristic benefits can now be realistically achieved.

However, our most recent meeting of the PFM Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) provided a dose of realism for FMs to include and manage expectations. While it was agreed that the number and range of benefits can be seen to have increased with the advent of new technology, our EAB members also stated that considerable effort was needed to ensure that any new ‘smart’ technology would perform as expected.

This should also include consideration of which tasks should be automated and where it was essential to retain contact with staff members, as well as appreciation of the fact that many systems were only as good as those implementing and operating them.

Answering the question of what to expect when implementing new technology, Sony Professional Solutions corporate segment marketing manager Carl Standertskjold says that purchasing new solutions has cost implications for businesses, regardless of whether it is chosen for its other soft benefits such as enhancing productivity.

“The impact on the P&L is always going to be measured, so if a new solution is not going to directly reduce cost then it must generate some other form of tangible ROI that warrants the investment,” he says.

“However, investing in new technologies often causes a reduction in cost anyway, even when that is not the key priority of the investment.

“For instance, FMs who use workplace management systems to reduce energy consumption of devices by scheduling them to power off each night and on weekends, are also saving large sums on electricity bills,” he continues.

Another example is the recent popularity in room booking solutions to save employees time finding and managing meetings. These solutions not only improve the performance of employees, but they reduce the number of “ghost meetings” and generate data that can be analysed to optimise the usage of space across a workplace.

“Though new technologies shouldn’t always be expected to reduce cost, it’s wise to make decisions that balance the user benefits, cost requirements, and overall business needs,” says Mr Standertskjold.

Further thoughts are provided by Anabas helpdesk administrator Robyn Davies, who says that artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), building information modelling (BIM), CAFM and building management technology are hot topics within the FM sector.

“Technology has a huge role to play in the future of the FM industry as we strive to create workplaces that are increasingly focused on wellness, more eco-friendly, and buildings that are not only smarter, but that work harder for its occupants and visitors alike,” he continues.

“Technology should absolutely be implemented within FM to both improve operations and reduce costs.”

Mr Davies says there is no denying that buildings, and how they operate, will increasingly become automated, and there are a range of technologies which can introduce efficiencies into day-to-day operations. System integration will play a key role in FM in the future, such as building management systems (BMS) which integrate directly with computerised maintenance management systems (CMMS).

“This will allow for the ‘real-time’, automated logging of failures which will lead to faster solutions and the smoother running of buildings, saving time, and in the long run costs. Increased efficiency will also improve output and this is just as valuable as the bottom line,” he says.

The key drivers for businesses making building, energy and technology investments, is to not only improve the organisational reputation in terms of CSR, but to increase energy cost-savings, reduce greenhouse gas footprints and improve the end users experience.

“Better technology means better data, and when technology is implemented correctly, data results will allow FMs to actively improve the services they offer and aid them in decision making for managing assets in a more cost effective and smarter manner,” says Mr Davies.

Technical services manager and PFM Partnership Awards 2019 judge Daniel Perry shares his thoughts: “From building analytics to tenant portals, technology is becoming more entwined with the fabric of our buildings. As we take on new technologies, we have to decide what are the main drivers, and why we want to use these systems.“

The reasons vary but can be found in primary and secondary drivers. Primary drivers include reducing the running cost of the building, or improving energy efficiency, showing a direct cost reduction of financial saving, he continues. Secondary drivers are likely to be more latent, such as increase productivity of staff, or a simple Kaizen process for a more streamlined building/tenant demise.

These technologies are indirect in showing a cost saving. The industry or environment in which the technology is employed needs to be considered. In an office building a new technology should have a return on investment attached to it, however when considering patient care in a hospital ward the main driver may not be to reduce costs but to improve a service.

“Speaking from a managing agent point of view, it is important to keep in mind that reducing costs is important. Our stakeholders should have the opinion we are investing wisely.

"Secondary drivers should play a part in demonstrating reduction of costs. If a capital outlay is spent then a holistic approach should be used to gather the information for cost/savings impact.

“In summary, in the tenanted or letting market a reduction to costs is my preferred outcome, but should not always be seen as a direct saving. It could be due to planned but less obvious benefits, such as air quality improving productivity, or technology reducing the need for resource reliant data gathering," Mr Perry concludes.

Heatrae Sadia product manager Roy Marsden says: “Since the beginning of time, humans have invented and implemented new technologies to make life easier.

"In the context of commercial water heaters, new technology such as smart thermostatic controls make life easier for FMs to do their job, and therefore cost-saving is a consequence of this. I would suggest that any new technology helps drive down cost in some way.”

For example, he continues, smart thermostatic controls are capable of continuously monitoring water usage and within a few weeks can learn the typical patterns of a building.

Given that water demand is rarely uniform, the system adjusts output accordingly, by self-managing through peak and trough demand periods in order to maximise efficiency.

This kind of intelligent technology reduces energy costs without the need for constant user interaction. Ultimately, this frees up labour time for FMs to concentrate on tasks which may require a more hands-on approach.

“Some systems also offer vacation modes, which ensures water isn’t heated unnecessarily when a building’s occupants are away. This results in further energy savings, providing peace of mind that the system will continue to operate effectively, even in the absence of sustained interaction.

“With numerous tasks and considerations to juggle, FMs are challenged with delivering a reliable hot water supply, alongside many other crucial building services. It is important, therefore, to look for hot water solutions which prioritise energy optimisation on a continual basis, as this will significantly ease the day-to-day pressure on FMs,” says Mr Marsden.

The implementation of building automation technology reduces energy costs in many cases up to 30-40%, says EnOcean Alliance chairman and chief executive officer Graham Martin, and with a return on investment (ROI) of just a few years. Heating costs, which usually account for the majority of energy expense in a building, can be significantly optimised through “very simple automation”.

“For example, automatically reducing or eliminating heating in non-occupied areas such as conference rooms, cafeteria areas or individual offices or office areas can significantly improve energy efficiency, especially considering that a typical office today is no more than 60% occupied even during normal working hours,” he continues.

Such an automation system could be as basic as placing a few sensors (eg wireless and battery-less) around the area which report the status/data back to a central point or direct to the (wireless and battery-less) radiator valve which reacts automatically to the signals.

“It can also be a more complex system, connected via a building automation system or gateway to an IP network with a cloud solution, which will collect and analyse the data, feeding back how to adjust and optimise the building even further – the so-called ‘cognitive building’ or ‘IoT solutions’,” he says.

“In addition, it has been reported that if employees are in an ideal atmosphere (temperature, air quality, lighting and noise levels, etc) then they are up to 15% more effective and up to 15% less absent, resulting in effective cost savings of over $5,000 per employee per year, compared to an effective cost of between $10 to $40 per employee per year for the building automation system,” says Mr Martin.

TÜV SÜD’s UK Real Estate director and environmental engineer Angela Reid says proof of sustainable company policies is essential for service providers in securing new contracts, as it demonstrates they are consistent with best practice standards relating to health and wellbeing, and energy management.

“Industry environmental rating schemes, such as BREEAM and the WELL Standard, reward early engagement with FM stakeholders, with the aim of developing a collaborative approach to ensure that agreed polices mean that the upkeep of the space achieves the original health and wellbeing expectations.

"This can include a wide scale of measures, from plant replacement and maintenance to products used for cleaning on a regular basis.

“Early consultation and review of shared policies allows building operators to contribute to functional discussions and procedure setting in relation to critical items, including internal environmental conditions, control, operation and maintenance, access and layout, energy and water consumption. Policies in relation to metering strategies can be used to influence and optimise the building design, allowing detailed energy metering to monitor how the building is performing and take steps to improve deficiencies,” she says.

“The BREEAM UK 2018 New Construction environmental rating scheme states that ‘poor energy monitoring and management is the biggest single contributor to higher than expected energy use in operational buildings and can present major opportunities to reduce energy consumption’.

"Appropriate policy, practices and procedures can cut wastage and reduce operating costs, energy consumption and carbon emissions.

“Engaging with service providers that share these common goals for best practice performance standards is therefore critical in a sustainability led building design,” Ms Reid concludes.

Schneider Electric Digital Energy vice president Pradyumna Pandit says: “Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen an explosion in the adoption of smart-enabled devices in our day-to-day lives, but this has been slow to infiltrate many buildings. However, as the understanding of smart technology spreads, and costs lessen, we’ll see business leaders increasingly willing to invest and costs drop.”

Buildings will adapt to the needs of its occupants in real time. These occupants will also be able to control their environments at an increasingly granular level, with manual intervention or physical checks becoming obsolete.

"These changes will reduce maintenance needs and boost productivity, saving both the business owners and FM money.

“A smart building will become completely flexible and adaptive to multiple different uses within the same physical building,” Mr Pandit continues.

“However, behind the scenes of these buildings will be a series of artificial intelligence-enabled tools that will be able to predict emerging faults, dynamically optimise heating and choose between different sources of energy.”

Efficiency, sustainability and productivity are the foundations of smart building technology. However, efficiency and sustainability solutions are often down on the list of C-Suite priorities due to their intangible impact on the bottom line, he says.

“An unreactive building decreases productivity and undermines organisations. Ultimately, taking advantage of smart building technology will lead to significant financial gain for businesses and will have the benefit of increasing the productivity of those working within,” says Mr Pandit.

Planet Partitioning sales director Genghis Akay tells PFM readers that security is a concern for any business, but old fashioned and inconvenient security methods are a thing of the past in the 21st century office.

New and improved smart locks can be operated by card keys or are Wi-Fi enabled, dispensing with keys altogether. There are no additional costs for duplicate keys or the associated servicing costs for key-operated locks. Sliding doors have previously had poor acoustics but manufacturers have developed sliding doors which offer acoustic performance as good as pivoting doors.

Innovative top-hung sliding glass systems, for example, maximise space efficiency and allow for more desks, reducing costs in the long term.

“The advent of videoconferencing has seen rapid growth, but in the modern open office environment this has a knock-on effect with acoustical challenges for the designer. Glass, drywall, wood and concrete surfaces only exacerbate the issue,” he continues.

“There is a need for these spaces to be soundproof so that confidential discussions can be held. Therefore, it is a case of keeping noise out, as well as in. However, there is also the need for these spaces to feel open and airy rather than claustrophobic and closed in.

“This is why the acoustic performance of glazed partitions is so important. Furthermore, the invention of special films on glass results in total screen privacy from outside whilst being able to see through the film,” says Mr Akay.

The idea that workplace technology could both reduce costs and improve how facilities operate has previously been confined to the stuff of dreams and fantasies, says Vilicom chief executive officer Sean Keating:

“New technologies will inevitably come with an added premium, and their ROI is not always clear. “This isn’t just due to the CAPEX costs that decision-makers are so reticent to commit to in the first place. The true cost of new technology extends from simply paying for equipment, to the suspension of operations on-site during installation and ongoing management and maintenance costs,” he says.

The advent of IoT technologies and big data is changing this, providing access to unprecedented volumes of data on business processes.

Employers can gain more insight into the impact of new technologies on their operations, which enables ever more efficiencies to be realised in business processes – leading to a more efficient and cost-effective operation.

“However, this is all well and good if you can guarantee the constant high-speed connectivity that such technologies need to communicate with each other – but this isn’t as easy, or as common, as it sounds. Our own recent research suggests that one in four businesses are working around data ‘not-spots’, with less than one in five (17%) able to boast reliable full-bar connectivity.

“If organisations can implement the right wireless networks, then the future is exciting. Internet-based corporations have used data as an immensely powerful tool for their business operations for years, and now it’s accessible and affordable enough for individual businesses to claim their slice of the pie,” says Mr Keating.

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