The New Expectations In Facility Management: Smart. Connected. Tailored

In just a few decades, facility management has morphed from a mere provider of services to a key cog in the business growth engine.

By Anu Pillai S

Imagine stepping into your office after a weekend to find the entire floor flooded because of a plumbing leak that ran unchecked when the office was closed. What if the HVAC system malfunctions on an especially hot day? Or what if the AV systems crash on the day of an important meeting? These inconveniences could toss an entire workday into chaos.

The cost of a badly run facility can run from loss of productivity in regular workplaces to outright disasters in mission critical facilities. For instance, a West Coast hospital lost access to vital patient records for more than a week due to a data center shut down caused by an HVAC system burnout. In another incident, a weekend water leak destroyed servers in a data center resulting in a loss of clients.

Today, it’s not only potential disasters that make facility management important in an organization. In just a few decades, facility management has morphed from a mere provider of services to a key cog in the business growth engine.

Modern Workplaces, New Expectations

The modern workplace has moved beyond a one-size-fits-all space to a fluid concept that recognizes the different work styles and needs of all employees. It’s become a hub that maximizes collaboration and productivity, helping companies stay competitive and attract and retain top talent.

In the era of digital natives, co-working and always-on workplaces the facility has become an integral driver of user productivity and experience. Keeping employees comfortable, safe, and satisfied at all levels and at all times has become a key driver of facility management.

Most modern companies function collaboratively, with each employee’s work dependent on other employees’ efforts. Thus, even seemingly small disruptions in the workflow have a significant cumulative effect on the total outcome. Predictably, beyond the traditional metrics, such as cost per square meter and square meter per employee, companies have begun to use employee productivity, engagement and retention to measure the effectiveness of a facility.

To keep up with these changing expectations, facility management has been forced to shift its focus drastically – from buildings to the occupier and from processes to experience. As this function evolves from an asset or building centered activity to one that focuses on end-users and outcomes, the existing facility management practices lapse into obsolescence.

The Dawn of a New Era

The way things stand now, busted plumbing over a weekend or non-working hours, will continue to flood the floor until someone notices and reports it. In the aftermath, as the facility manager looks for alternative workstations for the affected employees, the workflow will come to a halt. This delay will upset all the subsequent tasks planned for the day, inevitably affecting the business’ overall outcome. This reactive approach of damage control is no longer acceptable.

The new facility manager needs an insight-driven, occupier-centric model, one that is fully automated, connected and intelligent. In fact, a CBRE study states that by 2025 data analytics will be critical for addressing costs and performance with 75% of occupiers citing data as key to achieving strategic real estate goals.

However, many companies do not have the technology and processes in place to make this shift and are stuck working in the old paradigm. The occupiers take time out of their workday and communicate their needs to the facility management team as and when they arise. Based on this input, facility management teams are spurred into action.

It is time to fix this and imbue a more integrated, proactive, and predictive approach in facilities management. Studies prove that there is a strong business case in favor of a more tech-savvy approach. By moving toward a more integrated model, facility managers can save up to $1 per square foot of facility annually, 13% annually on the operations budget, and 5% on the total cost of occupancy – all this while increasing employee productivity by up to 12.5%, according to a City College of San Francisco report!

A Glimpse Of The Future Facility

The future facility would run on integrated workplace management solutions (IWMS). Resembling an elaborate neural network, with intelligent sensors fitted on the assets acting as the synapses, and the Cloud as the central nervous system, the future facility will be able to receive and transmit data from the entire facility. And the IWMS will act as the functional brain.

The New Charter of Facilities Management

We are at an inflection point in facilities management where the way forward is to combine the best of traditional facility management expertise with the most advanced technologies available. Integrated facility management powered with IoT, Cloud, Mobile, BIM, AR, VR, and Edge Analytics will help facility managers:

  • Tailor workspace to individual employee needs
  • Predict and pre-empt future disruptions to the workplace
  • Know and respond to ongoing disruptions in real-time
  • Proactively communicate with employees
  • Understand priority of tickets
  • Identify assets up for replacement or under guarantee/warranty
  • Take a bird’s eye view of the entire facility

So how will it work?

facility management
Click to enlarge.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the water leakage scenario.

As soon as the pipe ruptures, sensors will detect the leak and send the data to the Cloud. The IWMS system will notify the facility manager, who can see all the relevant details about the incident on their mobile device: nature, priority, status, warranty/guarantee claims and such. The 3D Building Information Modeling (BIM) view will show where the rupture is and the extent of the impact. In parallel, based on the availability, the IWSM system will auto-assign the ticket to a technician who also gets a similar view of the incident.

Thus, in one automated step, three time-consuming, manual steps are covered.

Once the job begins, the facility manager can identify the affected occupiers, locate available workspaces, and reassign them alternative seats from their mobile phone. The occupiers will be notified of the change, so they are not caught by surprise when they walk-in the next day. Using their mobile phone, they can navigate the building and get to their new work location.

Meanwhile, the technician-in this case the plumber- is using his AR/VR helmet to identify the exact location and nature of the rupture. These helmets will allow him to identify the pathways of the plumbing virtually, and thereby analyze potential reasons for the break and future risk it poses. For instance, the rupture could indicate a weakened valve elsewhere in the pathway, which could have increased the pressure of the flow. The technician can also access the integrated risk registry to check for previous incidents, repairs and replacements.

Considering everything, he can also replace the weakened valve while fixing the rupture. The technician and facility manager can both engage with each other through the mobile app, making it easy to coordinate, ask questions, and update. Once the job is finished, the technician will make an update on his phone that will trigger a new notification to the facility manager. The facility manager can then notify the occupiers that they can retake their original seats.

This is just one example of how facility managers can leverage new technologies to improve operational efficiency and minimize impact on occupants but the possibilities are endless. Much of the technology needed to make this scenario happen already exists.

For facility managers, the question of embracing these technologies is not ‘if’ but ‘when’. Given the promise of providing a more productive, safe, comfortable and efficient workplace, they cannot afford to ignore these technology breakthroughs.

facility managementAnu Pillai S, Digital Transformation Leader, COE, Engineering, Construction and Operations at Wipro Limited, leads the Digital Center of Excellence at Wipro’s Engineering, Construction and Operations vertical, that caters to engineering and construction, transportation infrastructure (airports, metros, ports) and smart cities. He has over 11 years of consulting experience to do with the evangelization and development of new-age digital solutions. He has worked with leading EC&O organizations across the globe on businesses transformation engagements.