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FM and digitisation of the workplace

There are many advantages to the FM sector in employing the latest technologies, from SMART lighting via the Internet of Things to the latest mobile apps attached to a CAFM or Building Management System. But the digitisation of the workplace is also posing a challenge, as a recent Deloitte survey has found that very few organisations are ready to manage a workforce where the latest technologies and people work side by side. How ready is the FM sector to respond to digital disruption and help create the workplace of the future?


Facilities Managers inherit a building that has been created using a template for working in silos. The result is happily constructed to the required standards of quality and health and safety, but it is realised in a sequential way that does not reflect the life cycle of the building. Things are changing however as models such as BIM Level 3 encompasses not just the design, but the operation of the building.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is driving joined-up thinking so the limit of what can be achieved working in silos has been reached. This demands a paradigm shift for construction projects to link the needs of operation and building use as part of the construction phase. Think about technologies such as access control or heating and cooling and resource scheduling for room or desk reservations. The power of linking these together would enhance the user experience as well as managing the building more effectively in terms of energy and cleaning efficiencies.

The emphasis is no doubt shifting to integration. At the recent Quora Smart Working Summit a group of workplace management specialists debated who should be taking responsibility for the technology infrastructure across the building. FM is the natural stakeholder for this new world, but only if the integrator platform is created in such a way as to enable the FM to monitor and adjust the solution accordingly from maintenance and a people experience perspective.

Of course there are some words of caution when it comes to integration and transparency from a security perspective. As more and more devices move from direct connections to IP (internet protocol) connections such as smart meters, lighting, occupancy sensors, fire detection, 24/7 monitoring, electric vehicle charging, HVAC, lifts, room booking panels, time and attendance clocks, access and security systems, so the risk of a data security breach is increased. The number of these connected devices (IoT) is currently estimated at 22.9 billion and is forecasted to be at 50.1 billion devices by 2020. If building automation is connected to the corporate enterprise network it can provide a backdoor for hackers.

However the opportunities for data interrogation and a more joined-up approach to managing a building are clear to see. Retailers can monitor lift and escalator usage to determine more efficient and pro-active maintenance regime based on utilisation. One of Asure’s clients used sensors to determine workspace requirements reducing workstations by approximately half, increasing the use of those workstations by almost double digits and more than tripled the number of collaborative spaces. Real estate costs were more transparent, while employee performance and productivity increased.

Of course the world of joined-up IT is only made possible by open APIs (application programming interface). In general terms, it is a set of clearly defined methods of communication between various software components: a bit like an adapter plug so that you can use a UK plug in a US socket. Without an open API a piece of discreet technology such as time and attendance software or access control for example, can’t be connected to any other system.

Technology is teaching us that working in silos reduces the opportunities to create a more holistic view, be that of the user experience of the building or to analyse the performance against corporate objectives. This connectivity analogy should be applied to how FM and IT and even HR can work better together to manage workspaces that enhance the user experience. 


The digital revolution has only just begun. Over the coming years, we’ll continue to see technology’s influence in changing the nature of FM service delivery as we know it. Whether you consider it to be a disrupter or an enabler, the ever-advancing technological landscape is set to continue to be a key game changer. Organisations have a choice; to either adapt and move with the times, or to resist and get left behind.

I don’t think there’s a problem with awareness. It’s fair to say that the majority, if not all, of FMs know that the industry is heading in this direction. The ‘Internet of Things’, for example, is a term you hear in abundance. Everyone’s talking about it… but, without sounding pessimistic, I’m not entirely convinced that people fully understand the meaning of the phrases they’re bouncing around. Often, people regurgitate what they’re hearing elsewhere to convince themselves – and others – that they’re up to speed and ‘in the know’. The industry, as a whole, is speaking the same language. But talk is cheap, as they say. Turning talk into action is not as easy.

Based on the conversations I’ve had with those in the industry, it seems many hard FM service providers are still using the traditional methods of maintenance. Tech-led CBM service providers appear to be in the minority. I think the reason for that is twofold. Firstly, clients associate an element of comfort with traditional methods. Breaking habits is tricky at the best of times. And moving away from what you’ve always done is somewhat challenging if you’re not a fan of waving goodbye to your comfort zone. Secondly, adjusting to the technological times requires a level of investment, in terms of capital expenditure and training. However, in this ever-competitive market of ours, clients are actively looking for cost-saving alternatives. Part of this requires making the investment from the outset in order to save money in the long run… oh and to improve service delivery, of course.

I think there’s still a comfort factor attached to the traditional methods but for those that are prepared to dig their toes in the water, technology can make an immensely positive impact. At Platinum, we’ve been using technology to enhance the engineers’ experience, whilst providing real time management information to our clients. Our CAFM platform allows us to link our preferred PDA to our cutting-edge BMS system, which means we can manage those critical systems far more smoothly than the traditional management systems.

A well-maintained facility is vital to ensuring optimum productivity. However, if ineffectively maintained, the cost of plant breakdown can far outweigh the initial investment and negatively impact business operations and profitability. CBM is a more proactive approach to asset management. If we never invested in it, we wouldn’t now be able to allow our clients to take a more informed, focused and risk-based approach to asset management. For us, the ‘digital disrupter’ is a good thing – it will challenge the status quo, shake up attitudes, and drastically alter the approach to facilities management and maintenance by brewing up all sorts of possibilities. It might also make the industry a more desirable career option for the next generation. Ultimately, the wide range of career paths available in the industry and the need for hard and soft skill sets may help to bridge the gap between the millennials and the ageing FM workforce. 

About Sarah OBeirne


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