By Ron Gregory
With tech-enabled classrooms and connected living and gathering spaces, campuses are evolving to provide today’s students with the wired experience they expect. Technological advances can benefit universities behind the scenes, too. Smart building technologies and digitalized facility management (FM) are coming to the forefront as institutions aim to reduce costs and improve the campus experience.
Many institutions face the duelling challenges of delivering a high-quality, high-tech campus experience while addressing growing financial pressures. Declining revenues from tuition and public support are coupled with aging and university campuses. With facilities second only to personnel in campus expenditures, it is no wonder some institutions are seeking new ways of bringing efficiency to their real estate and facilities.
Using data and insight tools and automated systems created specifically for facilities, FM teams in higher education institutions can identify new ways to save while adding value to their organizations. Tech-enabled FM means new opportunities to reduce energy waste, expedite work orders, extend equipment life or even gain the advantage in lease negotiations.
Driving Waste Out Of Facility Operations
One way to uncover potential savings in campus facilities is to analyze how efficiently building equipment is operating. When building systems are running smoothly, an institution can reduce energy usage and save on maintenance costs through better capital planning.
A first step is to upgrade energy-hogging equipment, such as HVAC systems, with computer-controlled equipment that generates millions of data points. With smart building data and analytics software, you can use wireless sensors to gather building data for analysis at a central command center.
The flood of data that can be harvested from sensors gives FM the ability to diagnose performance problems and correct issues that might otherwise go undetected.
Today’s smart building software uses algorithms to analyze the incoming data and detect when, say, a fan is using more energy than it should be. An advanced platform can even diagnose the root problem and, in some instances, automatically adjust the fan settings to ideal levels to save energy without compromising airflow. Continuous commissioning not only makes the building perform highly efficiently, but also keeps heating, cooling and ventilation at levels that occupants prefer. Automated alerts notify your FM team when manual repair is required, and you can also set up system alerts to schedule in-house maintenance teams or engage third-party services.
It’s possible to build a strong, viable business case for building system upgrades because the ongoing savings generate a fast payback. And, an advanced smart building software platform allows you to use predictive analytics to anticipate when major repairs or replacements will be needed, so capital planning becomes more accurate.
Smarter Space Utilization
Today’s FM tools also can be used to reveal how buildings are actually being used every day. Armed with space utilization insights, you’re better equipped to optimize the use of the space you have and to assess whether you really need additional space. You can use building usage and performance data to optimize operations and advise users on workplace and space strategy. This includes insights from how much energy is consumed across the campus to how often paper towels run out in washrooms.
A look at real-life usage is especially important today, because modes of teaching are quickly evolving. As teaching delivery models have adapted, so have the spaces needed for learning. A traditional lecture hall, for example, may sit empty while professors hold court in smaller classrooms that facilitate collaborative and interactive learning. No wonder many public and private universities are implementing space utilization studies. Why build new facilities when you could use existing space more effectively?
Brand-new facilities can help ‘sell’ a campus to students, and appeal to donors who like the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy on campus. However, stretched resources and the drive for cost-efficiency are good reasons to repurpose under-utilized spaces. With data and insight tools, you can gather data and pinpoint which spaces are—or are not—being used to their full potential.
Digitizing The FM Function
Technology can help your FM team operate more efficiently and improve the campus experience for faculty, staff, students and visitors. Your college or university may already use a CAFM or IWMS platform, but other options are available. You can automate nearly every aspect of FM service delivery, from move-ins and service requests to maintenance and repairs. You can collect and analyze data on FM activities to improve decision-making, capital planning and the campus experience.
For example, if a plumbing repair is needed, an office manager can log onto an online FM platform to report the incident. The platform alerts a facility manager and suggests an approved plumbing contractor available immediately. Using GPS data, the system automatically tracks when the plumber arrives and leaves, and creates a trail of data about the length of service, cost and repair history of the plumbing fixture.
Leading organizations are using computers, sensors, networks and data to streamline FM functions and extend the bounds of FM into higher value-added activities. Armed with data, FM teams are no longer simply processing move-add-change orders or responding to complaints about burned-out lights.
They are replacing paper processes and introducing entirely new ones—such as using sensors to detect malfunctioning HVAC—that eliminate the need for human intervention in reporting. Data gathered via these computerized processes can reveal employee preferences, facility usage and drivers of cost so facilities can be managed more efficiently and institutions can make better-informed decisions about capital planning, asset management and facility services.
The automated process also captures data that was never tracked in paper-based systems. You can automatically track when a technician arrives and leaves the site, whether the invoice price conforms to the contract price and, using benchmarking data, whether the cost of the repair is in line with area averages.
FM For The Campus Of The Future
Despite the clear advantages and advances, only some colleges and universities are fully leveraging technology in their FM practices. One reason is the skills gap, as FM teams get up to speed on the new possibilities of today’s tech tools. Your institution may be willing to invest in training, whether through in-house learning or tapping the education offerings of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) and APPA. And, some institutions are looking to their real estate service providers to bring the tools and expertise to augment in-house staff.
The end goal? FM operations that bring to life the tech-enabled campus of the future.
Gregory is executive vice president, higher education IFM at JLL and has more than 30 years of experience in the facility and operations management industry. He has held leadership positions overseeing facility operations including all aspects of facility management for higher education, retail management, and K-12. As an integral member of JLL Public Institution’s leadership team, Gregory provides program guidance for all of JLL’s Higher Education efforts. Prior to joining JLL, he served as region vice president of operations for higher education with Sodexo in Chicago. Prior to Sodexo, Gregory was with the Sears Holding Corporation holding various senior management positions in operations and facilities management.