The Facility Technologist: We've Come A Long Way

In many areas, FM technologies today look very different from those of 20 years ago.
In many areas, FM technologies today look very different from those of 20 years ago.

The Facility Technologist: We’ve Come A Long Way

The Facility Technologist: We've Come A Long Way

By Tom Condon, RPA, FMA
Published in the September 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

It’s TFM’s 20th anniversary, and a lot has changed since that first issue. The facility management (FM) world of 1988 was very different from that of today. Back then, the vast majority of people had never heard the term “facility manager” (fm), and there were very few institutions offering FM degrees (the only one I am aware of is the Facility Planning and Management option launched in 1980 at Cornell University). The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) was formed in 1980 and had only 47 attendees at its first annual conference.

Today, there are FM degree programs in dozens of schools, IFMA and the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International have well respected training courses, and fms are enjoying hard-earned respect from upper management. The changes in FM technologies have been just as dramatic. Let’s take a walk back in time and look at the developments in some of these technologies over the last two decades.

Computers: The workhorse of facility technologies today is clearly the computer. Most fms couldn’t imagine doing their jobs without one. They are incredibly powerful, and a huge array of software can tackle just about any FM challenge. No other facility technology can match the astounding evolution of the personal computer.

In 1988, PCs had been around for eight years, and Microsoft Windows OS was only five years old. You could buy an IBM PS/2 desktop computer with a 10 MHZ processor, 4 MB of RAM, and a whopping 20 MB hard drive for the low, low price of $3,865…that would be about $7,148 in today’s dollars!

Today, I carry a BlackBerry phone that has far more power and memory than that-at a fraction of that price.

The Internet: While the Internet was around in 1988, it was almost exclusively used by universities, scientists, and the government. Few people had access, and most people didn’t even know it existed.

The first public Internet service providers popped up in late 1988, providing access through painfully slow dial-up modems that operated at about 0.3 KB per second-a small fraction of what is common today. And the world’s first Internet virus, which was actually a worm, wreaked havoc on the Web, infecting thousands of computers helpless to defend themselves against it. Of course, antivirus software was not yet invented.

Today, the Internet has become the de facto standard business platform for just about everything, and it continues to grow at an astonishing rate.

Energy Efficiency, Sustainability, and Environmentalism:
These are not products of 21st century thinking. These concepts and practices really got their start back in the 1970s when—you guessed it—energy costs suddenly skyrocketed because of the OPEC oil embargo. When energy prices went through the roof, facilities started to manage energy more efficiently with simple methods like nighttime thermostat set backs.

By 1988, energy efficiency made progress, with management systems anticipating loads and taking advantage of off peak utility rates, among other sophisticated techniques. With the advent of affordable PCs in the 1980s, energy management systems evolved into building automation systems (BAS). With PCs, BAS could provide an ease of use and ability to manage complexity never before available to fms.

The dip in energy prices in the 1980s slowed the quest for energy efficiency, but this subject is back in the spotlight with today’s sky high fuel costs.

CMMS and CAFM: In 1988, there were only a few of these products on the market; most people were not even familiar with the terms CMMS (computerized maintenance management software) and CAFM (computer aided facility management). Many fms were still building their own CMMS programs using database software. During 1987-88, I helped build one of these systems, and we considered it a major victory, because it could produce basic preventive maintenance tasks in a report and track expenses.

Today’s CMMS and CAFM systems are capable of such complex management that they almost think for themselves, performing predictive maintenance, trend analysis, and other advanced tasks.

Video Recording: Back then, video was expensive, of poor quality, and usually black and white; very few facilities could afford the luxury of color. Images were captured on banks of videotape machines (one machine per camera) that only recorded a frame of video once or twice per second to fit a whole day on a single tape. The tapes wore out, the quality was fuzzy, and they sometimes jammed up the entire machine. If you wanted to review them, you had to dig them out of a file cabinet and pop them into a tape player. Today, some systems use 10 megapixel cameras able to record data in a storage area network for months, with access being as easy as choosing the desired date and time.

Access Control: Access control used to consist of a key and a lock. While there were access control systems using magnetic stripes and keypads, these were extremely unusual and typically reserved for only the highest security spaces.

Today, biometric access controls that can read fingerprints, retinas, or facial structure are becoming commonplace, and some systems are even capable of recognizing a face from 25′ away.

Personal Communications: In 1988, personal communication usually meant a beeper. If you had some real cash, a cellular phone would set you back around $3,000…about $5,500 in today’s dollars. The phone was the size of a brick, weighed almost as much, and was commonly referred to as a “brick phone.”

Today’s cell phones have become so small that some fit in a wallet.

So the next time you grumble about your CMMS software or the fact that your cell phone doesn’t have Internet access, just think of your FM forebearers, trudging through every workday with little more than a typewriter, their wits, and determination.

We’ve come a long way already, and who knows where we’ll be in another 20 years…fms on Mars?!

Condon, a Facility Technologist and former facility manager, is a contributing author for BOMI Institute’s revised
Technologies in Facility Management textbook. He works for System Development Integration, a Chicago, IL-based firm committed to improving the performance, quality, and reliability of client business through technology.

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