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The lowdown on FM software

09 November 2023

Ravi Bhatnagar

Technology is not only essential for workplace collaboration – it can streamline the facilities managers’ job. And it’s evolving all the time…

It’s well-documented (including on these pages) that the pandemic accelerated the rise of remote working, and the years of 2020-22 were the ‘Zoom’ years as communications platforms including Teams, Slack and indeed Zoom came into their own, enabling colleagues to interact, collaborate and go about their business even as offices closed their doors during lockdown.

Since then, hybrid working has become embedded in many, if not most, organisations – and collaborative technology remains as important as ever. A recent study by Cisco found that technology is rated as the most important element for working from home successfully, with 76.8% of employees rating it among their top three success drivers.

“Many software developments, particularly in FM, over recent years have materialised due to health concerns spurred on by the pandemic,” explains Ravi Bhatnagar, Account Director at FM company Anabas (pictured). “As workplaces continue to encourage their employees back to the office, investments have been made to ensure it is a safe and comfortable place to be, which is the ideal environment for collaborative working.”

For facilities managers, whose job it is to ensure that workspaces are optimised for both employers and employees, one major challenge post-pandemic has been managing unpredictable trends in office usage, which dovetail with increased real estate costs. While this is seeing a ‘flight to quality’ as major organisations look to downsize their office space in favour of smaller, greener workspaces, FMs are the ones tasked with making existing workspaces as efficient – and as geared for collaboration, both for in-office workers and remote workers - as possible. And, naturally, they are turning to technology to do so.

Occupancy patterns

“Employing technology like workplace reservations software, colleagues can understand when their key people are planning to come into the office and plan their lives accordingly,” says Joe Harris, Workplace Technology Specialist at Matrix Booking. “Organisations also gain insight into occupancy patterns that allows them to right-size the workplace to power productivity.” 

Hot-desking has become popular post-pandemic – and this has seen a surge of interest in deskbooking platforms. Similarly, the meeting room booking system software market size was valued at USD 90.65 million (£74.64 million) in 2022 and is projected to reach USD 185.33 Million (£152.58 million) by 2030, according to US company Verified Market Research. From an FM point of view, effective desk- and room-booking systems are a must, particularly for corporate clients, who may be travelling to the office specifically for collaborative purposes.

“With an effective workplace reservations system, businesses can provide users with greater functionality for office attendance with real-time occupancy updates or mobile check-ins for a smooth booking experience,” Joe Harris explains. “It empowers employees to search for and reserve desk space before heading to the office, guaranteeing them workspaces alongside their colleagues with the right resources, precisely when and where they need it, on any day of the week.”

The demand for desk and room-booking software has allowed other enterprise software vendors, including those offering facility management software, into the market – meaning there’s a lot of competition. AskCody, Envoy Desks, SpaceIQ, Roomzilla, Flowscape and of course Matrix Booking are just a few of the options available. Most of the systems offer integration with other enterprise software such as Slack and Teams, and many of the larger systems are modular, meaning they also provide tools such as visitor management, facility management, IT management and so on. All offer something slightly different, so careful research is necessary to decide which system best meets the needs of your organisation. 

IoT technology

Indeed, many integrate with, or use, IoT technology to help provide full building oversight. “IoT devices are the main area of technology that has seen large uptake,” Ravi Bhatnagar says. “Air quality sensors, for example, are great for gaining a greater understanding of the conditions of an office. For many London-based offices, having a good air quality rating holds a lot of weight in the modern climate. High CO2 levels in the air correlate to tiredness and difficulty concentrating. Airborne viruses also pass through the air more easily in these conditions, creating less than optimum conditions for collaborative working.

“Sensors monitor occupancy in an office which influences the conditions of the space,” he continues. “When considering cleaning schedules, sensors advise how often a space or desk needs to be cleaned in line with its footfall. High-traffic areas are always a priority, such as walkways or bathrooms. Sensors also identify when a typically low-traffic area sees a boost in occupancy, giving live updates to cleaners to check those areas and clean on demand. 

“By using sensors this way, building managers can keep on top of the demand for spaces and gain a deeper understanding of how they are used, to create the best possible space for collaborative working and communication in the workplace.”

Artificial intelligence
Another form of collaborative technology that has the potential to enhance the job of facilities management is, of course, AI.  Using AI to understand space usage, streamline communication, improve collaboration, and make better use of data can turn traditionally isolated facilities management departments and their partners into one powerhouse team. Moreover, AI can help facilities managers monitor and measure the performance of their partners and contractors, as well as provide feedback and recommendations for improvement..

It can enable facilities managers to create more personalised and engaging experiences for their clients, by using data and analytics to understand their preferences, needs, and expectations, and finally, it can help facilities managers anticipate and respond to the changing needs and demands of their clients by using predictive analytics and machine learning to forecast trends, risks, and opportunities. While AI might be in its relatively early stages, and comes with dire dystopian warnings about the importance of regulation, in actuality, it has the potential to make the job of facilities managers run a lot more smoothly.

For facilities managers, this wave of new technology is broadly positive and offers great scope for efficiencies- but it can also mean robust conversations with partners and clients who need to be brought on board. As ever, collaboration is key to success here – only through communication and collaboration can this technology be used to its full advantage and truly come into its own.

Cobotics

Looking at other key technology trends for facilities managers, cobotics merits a mention; although strictly hardware rather than software, it is a perfect collaborative tool, enabling robots to work side-by-side with humans on routine tasks such as cleaning large spaces. For companies struggling with skills shortages – something that is particularly pertinent to the cleaning sector – this offers some respite, enabling them to take on jobs without having to increase already onerous workloads for existing staff. 

Cobotics is another market that’s expected to see huge global growth. As an illustration of this, in June, Robert Scott partnered with leading expert in advanced cobotic design, Metabots, to become the UK’s primary distributor of its cleaning robots. The flagship product for the new division is the Meta-Scrub 60; an autonomous floor cleaning robot, which features a range of next generation technologies.










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