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Digital developments

A major new software survey conducted by FMJ and SWG has revealed that data goes to the very foundation of FM but uptake of the newest technologies such as AI and sensors remains slow

The FM market is buoyant but many of the new technological advances are still theoretical, the results of a new survey has revealed. The FM Software Survey, conducted by Service Works Global (SWG) in partnership with FMJ, asked FM professionals from all areas of FM, including maintenance, compliance, property and space from across the UK to give their views on the present and future of facilities management.

FM has weathered turbulent times of late, stoically battling through events such as Brexit, the teeter and fall of service provider giants, and the continued drive for recognition. The results of the FM software survey present a picture of the industry in recovery; revealing an overall positive, but reserved, outlook.

THE WAR BETWEEN COST AND VALUE
Despite a challenging economy, 41 per cent of respondents reported an increased budget for the year, although of this figure, only 23 per cent were from the public sector. Reasons stated for the increase included for an expansion of services or for the purchase and installation of new assets; all positive signs of long term organisational growth. However, those with a decreased budget laid the blame, in part, at the door of their clients who – as one service provider respondent stated – “demand the impossible or don’t know what represents the right price.” This discrepancy between cost and value is a standing complaint, but the gradual fall of Carillion and its impact across every sector has piled uncertainty upon mistrust and has contributed to the somewhat reserved actions of the FM industry today.

Computer-aided facilities management (CAFM) software is providing a means to increase transparency and improve client relations, and 77 per cent of respondents are now using software either from a key industry provider or developed in-house – an increase of one third compared to the findings of SWG’s 2016 survey. Reporting (80 per cent) and FM performance (76 per cent) were stated as key reasons for implementing a system, as well as increased auditability (54 per cent). These tools are increasingly becoming relied upon to help manage and provide insight into operational performance and provide a high degree of accuracy, otherwise unachievable using Excel or paper-based alternatives.

Planned preventative and reactive maintenance scheduling are the most common tasks managed by FM software, as reported by 79 per cent of those using CAFM. This is followed closely by using the software on smart devices to manage work and operatives (70 per cent) and then asset management at 67 per cent. Despite a slight drop in focus on asset management (down five per cent since 2016), whole life asset costing is the third most significant trend compared to it sitting in sixth place in the previous survey. These factors combine to show a more strategic outlook by FMs, with an eye to efficiency and workplace longevity. This not only aids cross-organisational productivity by ensuring asset availability and creating a stable, pleasant environment, but also displays consideration to the boardroom by demonstrating a focus to generating strong return on investment and a high degree of professionalism.

FM TECH – ALL OR NOTHING?
The increased budget has not led to an increased interest, in the short term at least, in implementing some of the newest technologies such as AI and sensors. Only five per cent feel robots or artificial intelligence will be of relevance to their own organisation within the next 12 months, and just four per cent voted drones for surveillance or security. Furthermore, 50 per cent stated that they felt technology, including its adoption and training for staff, was a key challenge for 2018 behind only budgetary pressure (59 per cent).

These technologies, while certainly beneficial for the industry, are being touted as ‘the future of FM’. But for those companies constantly fire-fighting and struggling to keep costs low to stay afloat in a fiercely competitive market place, the future is less important than the present. While the initial outlay may demand a difficult board sign-off process, cost gains can be made by automating processes such as cleaning or using chatbots on the helpdesk. Such technology has already found a home in the consumer market in the form of Alexa or robotic vacuum cleaners. And, as we have seen recently, uptake in one sector feeds into another. For example, the use of smart devices has not long been prolific on the industry. The figure has stood at around 70 per cent for managing work and operatives in Service Works Global’s 2018 and 2016 FM Software Survey, whereas in the 2015 study, only 45 per cent of respondents stated they used this technology.

However, while the majority of FMs don’t feel this technology is personally relevant to them, there are organisations already using it to great advantage – and this is where a lack of awareness in the short term becomes a problem. The dissolution of Carillion has opened opportunities for smaller service providers to take on new contracts, and while this has prompted industry-wide conversations on the subject of squeezed bottom lines, the nature of business is to get something for (almost) nothing. Despite the limited number of case studies to help dispel the cloak of mystery, those who are using these technologies are reporting lower operational costs and even increased employee wellbeing (see the oft-quoted Edge building in Amsterdam). These may be inaccessible for the many, but it’s not an all or nothing game. Converting an older building into a smart building doesn’t demand a rebuild – sensors can be placed in limited number and their data analysed for usefulness before further steps are taken, or one drone could be trialed at a remote site to help with security measures without the need to replace the whole team.

About Sarah OBeirne

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