Facility management is no stranger to digital transformation. In the past several decades, the profession has been revolutionized by the widespread adoption of emerging digital tools, making technological aptitude a necessity for facility managers (FMs).
Take computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software as an example—a tool that is indispensable to many FMs today. Although the earliest versions of CMMS date back to the 1960s, as physical punch cards that fed into computerized records, the emergence of intranets and web-based connectivity in the 2000s ushered in a new era of CMMS as a digital tool available on devices as small as a smartphone.
Facility management is now a fundamentally technological trade—but there’s still work to be done when it comes to digital adoption. And although there are challenges associated with onboarding new digital tools, the solutions outweigh them in the long term.
Key Challenges In Going Digital
Digital transformation is not without its challenges. A primary challenge is training and onboarding. It takes time and effort to get employees up to speed with new digital tools and can cause an initial dip in productivity. A second challenge is a resistance to change in the workplace. It can be difficult to pitch a new tool that will break employees’ normal workflow, and most digital tools need to see widespread or complete adoption before they can deliver their full value. What organizations hope to gain in efficiency they might lose at first as people overcome that resistance to change and training gap.
To combat these challenges, organizations need a clear plan of how new digital tools will meet the needs of both the business and the employees using them each day. The value proposition needs to be clear to be welcomed (think: CMMS and how it centralizes maintenance information and facilitates the processes of maintenance operations). The technology should ideally have a user-friendly interface to streamline training as much as possible. Once FMs have conquered these challenges, they can focus on gaining some of the below benefits and opportunities of digital tools.
Upskilling Young Employees And Democratizing Veteran Expertise
On the front end of onboarding and implementing new technologies, training can be a challenge. Once organizations have gotten over the initial hump, however, digital tools can provide a tremendous long-term return when it comes to training and upskilling less experienced FMs.
Given the multi-faceted nature of facility management, training is key. FM skills have evolved significantly over the years; today’s FMs need advanced business knowledge coupled with strong skills in strategic planning, emergency management, compliance and standards, leadership, communication, and tech-savviness.
Technology can help educate newer FMs seeking to advance their careers by providing interactive and accessible online training resources. When learning about fire and life safety codes and standards, for example, FMs can leverage platforms’ built-in videos, interactive modules, industry-specific content, situational navigation, and more anywhere at any time. Digital tools put the source of knowledge in employees’ hands, allowing them to be more independent in their decision making and ambitious in their career trajectory.
By creating a future-proofed digital trail, technology can also aid in creating a repository of institutional knowledge to be passed onto the next generation of qualified FMs. In the facilities world, this is especially valuable, as 23% of facility managers have worked in the field for more than 20 years.
Without technology, rookies might gather tidbits of wisdom from veteran FMs through in-person interactions, disparate sets of notes, or company training sessions. With collaborative digital hubs, experienced FMs can easily leave notes directly within the platform, bookmark those notes, and create curated collections of knowledge that are easily shared and readily accessible across teams. This helps democratize years of expertise so the organization can reap the long-term benefits of more informed FMs.
Streamlining Cross-Functional Collaboration And Overall Efficiency
The FM profession is innately collaborative. FMs are constantly working cross-functionally with contractors, AHJs, architects, engineers, designers, and others—so it’s vital they’re able to streamline communication and stay up to date in real time.
There are several ways digital tools can provide value in this sense. For example, digital tools can ensure FMs are involved early in the design and construction process to drive greater long-term benefits for the facility. FMs add significant value to their organizations and stakeholders by providing a keen perspective on long-term maintainability, safety, and cost of operations. New technology can enable teams to collaborate on building plans and progress in one centralized location—whether they’re on-site or not. With increased visibility into the activities of designers, architects, and engineers, FMs can provide strategic input on things like equipment selection and mechanical systems before it’s too late.
Additionally, within a digital hub of codes and standards, for example, FMs can document specific happenings in their facility as communicated to them by their contractors, noting details or variances alongside the relevant section of code for easy reference later. If an FM leaves or retires, this information can be smoothly handed down to their predecessor, and so on.
Another example: Digital tools can aid in quickly resolving disputes. Often, the AHJ or a contractor might have a question about the compliance of a building asset or the interpretation of a specific standard. In these instances, the ability to quickly access all digital codes and standards publications on any device, search by section or keyword across those publications, and find the relevant section of code to share with all parties for discussion is a major asset. Digitizing this process helps reduce miscommunication, resolve disputes faster, and complete projects quicker while ensuring building and life safety aspects are accurate and up to code.
The Path Forward
In any instance where an organization is introducing new, unfamiliar tools and breaking workflows, there are bound to be hiccups and bumps in the road. The key is finding the right tools that are worth those possible initial setbacks. To foster buy-in across the organization, leaders need to ensure new digital tools have a clear and relevant value proposition and are easy to use. Ultimately, digital resources should be intuitive and helpful, not a burden. For FMs, collaboration, efficiency, accuracy, and safety are paramount—so it’s important to only invest in tools that serve those ends.
Jon Hart is the Technical Lead for fire protection engineering and a principal engineer for the NFPA. In this role he is responsible for technical direction and content development for all NFPA product offerings involving fire protection engineering, including sprinklers, fire pumps, and fire alarms.