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Simplifying Complexity

Facilities Management

25/10/21 | Rebecca Drewett

Is there a sufficient understanding of how applying smart technology can improve the running of facilities? Tomorrow’s FM talks to FSI Sales Manager, Jon Clark, to find out.

Technology is evolving at lightning speed. Ongoing development of areas such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is making today’s buildings smarter than ever, capable of generating and collecting a vast amount of powerful data each and every day.

There is no question that convergence between the digital and physical worlds has never been greater. But the question remains – with this abundance of technology available, are we harnessing it to improve how our facilities operate? And if not, why not?

We believe there are still gaps here; ones that, when bridged, will unlock incredible opportunities for FM teams, building managers and other professionals to make their estates as efficient, comfortable and productive as possible.

Making the complex simple

First, the idea of adopting and implementing IoT sensors, AI programs or CAFM/IWMS solutions can feel complicated to someone encountering this technology for the first time.

AI and smart technology have expanded to many areas of modern life, from organising our social media feeds to the adverts we come across online. But, bombarding users with acronyms and jargon is unlikely to inspire the use of this technology in how their facilities are run.

As an industry, we need to emphasise the capabilities of smart technology in a way that is digestible for everyone, and that is relevant to issues they face on a daily basis. Having more accessible conversations about this technology and what it can accomplish is vital to removing any barriers that form due to a lack of understanding or education.

When more building managers recognise exactly how IoT or AI can enhance their approach, there is no doubt they will want to take advantage of these opportunities.

Bringing user cases to life

In a similar vein, strong user cases are vital to improve understanding of the benefits of smart technology and the data they generate. These allow FM teams and building managers to visualise tangible examples of how this technology streamlines current manual processes and cut down costs.

For example, imagine a theatre or shopping mall that has a two-hour rota for cleaning the toilets. In times of high footfall, this might not be frequent enough to keep the area sanitary. During quieter hours, it represents a waste of resources.

By installing a headcount sensor in these facilities, this time-based schedule can be replaced by one where a task is automatically created and sent to the appropriate cleaner after 100 people have entered. This ensures toilets are cleaned in accordance with usage as opposed to arbitrary timeslots, meaning this task is conducted more appropriately.

Alternatively, consider walking into a meeting room in your building and lighting, heating and equipment are instantly switched on. IoT sensors that track when someone enters a room can make this possible.

Smart technology also enables FM teams to identify problems faster and more efficiently than ever before. One of our clients received constant complaints that a meeting area was often too cold, despite the heating system being set up correctly.

Well-placed heat sensors positioned across the room determined that the main doorway was allowing a curtain of cold air inside. Rather than a costly, time-consuming investigation, smart technology ensured that the problem was resolved seamlessly.

Bringing more of these examples to the forefront will improve people’s understanding of how smart technology applies to their facilities, and the far-reaching benefits it unlocks.

Misconceptions of cost and performance

Previously, the cost and performance were major hurdles in the acquisition and application of smart technology.

Like any emerging technology, everything from individual sensors through to the systems gathering and interpreting the data carried a significant cost. They could also be huge drains on energy, and their size made them impractical to place in particular environments.

Now, everything has changed. The market has grown exponentially, with an ever-increasing number of suppliers. This competition has naturally brought costs down, while sensors have evolved to become more efficient, smaller and smarter.

Never before has such readily available technology been so accessible in buildings and organisations worldwide. Now is the time to dispel any misconceptions regarding the cost and performance of this technology, so that more teams can embrace the advantages it offers.

How do we harness the data generated by this technology?

There is no end to the benefits that the application of smart technology can bring to both those running facilities and those using these every day:

  • Automating previously manual processes, streamlining workloads and creating more time for strategic thinking
  • Empowering FM teams to work more proactively, rather than reactively
  • Creating better, more comfortable environments for employees, residents and visitors
  • Removing the potential for human error to compromise on compliance and smooth operations

However, we must emphasise the importance of a system that collates, orchestrates and interprets the data generated by this technology. Without this, the valuable data buildings generate every day cannot be applied and provide meaningful outputs.

This makes solutions such as IoT vital in processing the information gathered from BMS systems, sensors and applications. Systems such as this interpret the data collected to create automatic alerts for FM tasks, adjust temperature and humidity controls and much more – all with no manual involvement.

Looking to the future

The evolution of IoT, AI and smart technology in general shows no signs of slowing.

It is only a matter of time before this technology is capable of reading individual RFID tags and using this to create completely personalised room setups for different users, so they have the ideal conditions for maximum productivity.

Virtual Reality (VR) and other visual elements are also becoming more robust and feasible avenues for this technology to expand into.

With these on the horizon and the immense possibilities offered by today’s smart technology, enabling teams to run facilities smarter and more efficiently, there has never been a more opportune time to bring these solutions on board.

We hope that by addressing and overcoming any lack of understanding that exists towards this technology, as highlighted within this article, we can empower more people to harness it to make purposeful improvements to the quality and performance of their buildings.