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Building Technology Advancements Come with A Caution
The technology is great but hidden risks must be identified and resolved
Facilities management (FM), the profession of those charged with ensuring smooth and efficient operation of the built environment, is rapidly expanding its adoption of new technologies, leading to more efficient, sustainable, and cost-effective operations. To be safe and truly sustainable in the security dimension, however, implementations must look beyond the glowing lights to identify hidden risks.
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Technology is Changing the Entire FM Suite
IoT and Smart Sensors: The Internet of Things (IoT) has been a game-changer in facilities management. Smart sensors monitor and collect data on various aspects of a facility, such as temperature, humidity, lighting, occupancy, and presence. This real-time data allows facility managers and corporate leaders to make informed decisions, optimizing investment decisions, energy usage, and user experience.
Predictive Maintenance: The shortcomings and trials of reactive-focused maintenance have long been a struggle for FM's. Technology-enabled predictive maintenance is changing that through data analysis and AI algorithms that predict when equipment is likely to fail, allowing for timely repairs or replacements. This not only reduces downtime but also extends the lifespan of assets and helps level demands on labor.
Energy Management: Sustainability and energy efficiency programs are extended and enhanced by advanced building management systems which optimize energy usage, control HVAC systems remotely, and even harness renewable energy sources. This not only reduces costs but also minimizes a facility's environmental footprint.
Space Management: With the rise of remote work and flexible office arrangements, space management has become more complex. Where FM's used to think in terms of overall occupancy or productivity, presence is today's coin of the realm. Sensor data integrated with scheduling and Integrated Workplace Management Systems (IWMS) enable optimization of the workplace, resulting in reduced real estate and support costs.
Data Analytics and Reporting: FM's increasingly rely on data analytics to gain insights into their operations. They track key performance indicators, monitor trends, and make data-driven decisions. This enables them to optimize processes, allocate resources efficiently, and justify investments. One of the growing trends in the profession is the inclusion of data analysts as part of the FM team.
Security and Access Control: These aren't your father's security systems anymore. Biometric recognition, smart card readers, and even facial recognition systems are becoming common in today's workplace. These advancements enhance security, restrict unauthorized access, and improve overall safety in facilities, but must be balanced and nuanced in appreciation of staff and customer information privacy concerns.
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR): AR and VR technologies are now used for training and maintenance purposes. Staff engaged in these programs receive training through AR applications, which guide them through complex tasks step by step. To put it in different terms, staff can now learn to fly before they step into the cockpit, or in FM's case, into the boiler room or high voltage room. From the design perspective, using VR to provide immersive virtual tours and simulations aids in facility planning and design by allowing designers and clients to experience the space before construction dollars are committed.
Drones and Robotics: Facility inspections now include deployment of drones, enabling the assessment of hard-to-reach areas, such as rooftops, utility banks, and underground services without endangering personnel. Robotics, on the other hand, are deployed for cleaning, maintenance, and security tasks.
Blockchain for Maintenance Records: Blockchain technology is being used to securely record and verify maintenance and service records. This ensures transparency and traceability in FM and vendor operations, reducing the risk of fraud and errors.
Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI is revolutionizing FM by automating routine tasks, such as scheduling maintenance, analyzing data, and responding to service requests. Chatbots and virtual assistants can also improve communication between FM's and occupants.
3D Printing: Producing replacement parts and prototyping designs using 3D printing saves time and labor, facilitating improved customization where needed and improving response times.
What the Technology Salesman Won't Tell You
All that sounds great, and it is. Technology really is profoundly changing the landscape of facilities management, but it is not the answer to everything, and it comes with its own set of cautions. If a technology system ever tells you that the AE-35 system is about to fail, for example, it is time to call the tech doctor.
Here are a few tips on how to avoid that scenario.
Data system and data security rules the day. Most important in today's world is the security of these systems and their data. Organizations are sometimes overly aggressive in adopting new technologies because of their operational and economic benefits, without hardening their associated infrastructure and data systems. In highly integrated systems, every point is a potential single point of failure for all systems. System designs, installation, and management must be hardened against those who intend harm.
Technology changes should be treated as change management projects. You cannot overcommunicate what is coming, what is happening now, and what will happen in the future as these systems are deployed. Invest time in taking the pulse of staff and considering their concerns and inputs as part of system design, and be transparent in your responses.
The opportunities and risks are large. It's no time to go cheap on the knowledge side of design and implementation. If top-tier knowledge experts are not engaged in system design and implementation, then you are choosing to unnecessarily elevate your risk profile.
Integrated systems should be managed as a Program, not a Project. When disparate technology projects are conceived and managed by different people representing different perspectives and at different times, integration gets messy. As a result, costs and risk go up and performance and efficiency go down. Projects that must occur separately should still be considered a part of the whole and managed accordingly, including requirements gathering, justification, review, approval, specification, sourcing, and implementation management.
Today's technology systems are having real effect on the workplace but cannot be treated as one-offs and assure security and performance across the technology suite. When done correctly, however, they are game changers for the business.
Ken Burkhalter is a facilities and project management consultant, focused on strategic planning, capital projects, and organizational development. You can contact him at email@example.com.