The scope of the facilities manager role is growing. The need to keep building occupants safe and happy remains central, but now the job requires FMs to drive sustainability, improve occupants’ wellbeing, reduce running costs and more. Shorter lease terms and the diversification of occupiers’ needs mean that services are also increasingly important. For these reasons, the traditional ‘one size fits all’ facilities management model is nearing redundancy.
The rise in smart building technology offers innovative ways to meet these demands.
The key to lean decision-making is reliable, structured data. Smart building technology offers exactly that. It provides the opportunity to introduce more touch points to improve our understanding of the sites we manage. We can monitor everything from car park lighting and room temperatures to HVAC operation, filter pressures and footfall. With these insights we can improve resource allocation, introduce predictive maintenance, optimise central systems so they become more energy efficient, and improve the overall environment.
While in theory this enables a move away from a reactive approach to facilities management, the influx of data means app fatigue is a real barrier to progress. Stakeholders cannot afford the time to log in to numerous platforms and analyse the information. The testing, change management and rollout of numerous systems across a portfolio is a costly and resource-intensive process.
A much better approach is to put in place solutions that allow us to integrate data and turn it from information into structured knowledge. In this way, we can move from a closed to open protocol model, then onwards to become truly smart and connected. We can fine-tune our management model and automate processes to fulfil the needs of different occupants across multiple buildings, easily.
Smart building technology removes many of the barriers faced by FMs, clearing the way for positive change. Energy management is one such area where access to data presents unprecedented opportunities.
A historical lack of visibility into the operation of the central plant has prevented FMs from making quick, informed decisions about issues that could have a significant impact on energy consumption. Complex and legacy building management systems (BMS) coupled with a non-technical understanding of HVAC functions are largely to blame.
Smart building technology solves this problem. Cloud-based building monitoring solutions, such as our 4D Monitoring system, integrate with sensor technology to gather and analyse asset performance data to provide FMs with real-time, non-technical exception reports.
These retrofit solutions identify inefficiencies on our behalf and equip us with the knowledge we need to reduce energy consumption. For example, in commercial properties, human intervention coupled with changing occupier requirements commonly result in the slow creep of discrepancies between the original BMS strategy and building occupancy hours. This has a direct impact on utility spend. With smart building technology, these inconsistencies are highlighted, enabling us to ensure critical assets operate within the required timeframes.
Where secondary air-conditioning systems are used for heating and cooling inside a building, this same method can be utilised to track localised controls. Site management teams can engage with stakeholders – including users – to ensure these secondary systems are shut down when not required in order to further improve building efficiencies, saving energy and reducing running costs.
Smart building technology also enables us to move away from traditional models of M&E maintenance delivery. Rather than rely on planned maintenance regimes or user complaints to highlight operational issues, we can use data to identify maintenance requirements early, before they become critical.
This data-led approach means we can improve asset lifecycles as well as reduce unnecessary checks on equipment that is performing to the required standard. In fact, we can move away from SFG20 to a more informed process. For example, by tracking differential pressures on air-handling units, we can predict when filters need changing, so they are replaced only when they need to be.
Temperature, air quality and lighting have a significant impact on occupant wellbeing. For example, there is a negative correlation between the levels of CO2 in the air and the productivity levels and cognitive capabilities of employees (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 2015). Room temperature is also a recurring point of contention, and FMs are often forced to deal with complaints.
The advancement of the internet of things helps us to solve these problems and hone our service delivery. As sensors become smaller and more powerful, we have more opportunities to monitor our buildings in a discreet and non-intrusive way. We can leverage temperature, touch, lighting level, proximity, footfall and air quality data to improve wellbeing, alleviate room temperature disputes, inform cleaning resource allocation, make security patrols more effective, and so much more.
To summarise, automation is already enabling us to integrate processes, so we can manage more facilities at a macro and micro level, reduce human error, and improve efficiencies. Soon, smart assets will flag system errors or operational inconsistencies and log reactive tasks autonomously, before occupants or tenants report the issue.
Process interconnectivity and artificial intelligence will speed up service delivery workflows and create a seamless service provider-facilities management experience, giving FMs an opportunity to refocus on the core elements of the job.
With the opportunities sensor technology provides, we will be able to create digital twins of the buildings we manage. We will know what is happening when and why, allowing our systems to inform stakeholders, engage with maintenance providers, ensure work is completed, reduce risk and improve compliance.