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Luddites and the future of FM

The monthly blog from Martyn Freeman, managing director, facilities management at Mitie

This may surprise you, but I don’t have a PC – nor a laptop, nor a desktop. This doesn’t mean I’m a Luddite! In fact, I do have the latest iPhone and iPad, and 95 per cent of my technology use is through my phone.

Martyn Freeman, managing director, facilities management at Mitie

Martyn Freeman, managing director, facilities management at Mitie

From dealing with emails, text messages, social media, and travel to controlling the heating and energy at home, setting up Sky or even reminding me to get flowers for my wedding anniversary, my phone helps me manage a host of aspects of day-to-day living.

There are hundreds of thousands of apps for the iPhone. They do everything from monitoring your health to ordering lunch, and increasingly they rely less and less on user input but on information drawn from apps and the internet.

Before this turns into an ad for Apple, let me say ‘other smartphones are available!’ But it’s not that technology is getting smarter, it’s actually making much smarter use of information, which points to a very interesting future.

A few days ago I visited a client in York and, while discussing the unusually late summer weather, he showed me an app on his phone that monitors the temperature in their office. Based on parameters he has set up, the app will open, close, adjust and rotate the shutters on the outside of the building to defect the sun, and improve the comfort of those inside – without him actually needing to do anything.

Although he is in York, the building in question is in Sussex, but he has real-time information from an app that is taking decisions that affect the workplace environment. It’s all managed from the palm of his hand so, like me, he doesn’t actually need a PC to do his job.

This is a great example of the latest subject to grip the IT world – the Internet of Things, known in the industry as ‘IoT’. It is a huge leap forward from desk-bound computing, because it allows machines to talk to other machines and make decisions without the need for human intervention.

The really clever aspect of this isn’t just about capturing information, but the way that data from multiple sources is captured and interpreted to drive decisions to improve an outcome. The perfect example of this has just happened – my phone has just beeped to alert me that a traffic jam has closed the A34. It is suggesting a different route to get to my next meeting and that I should leave half an hour earlier to arrive in time.

People in the industry call this smart technology, but to put it simply, it is the interconnection of various bits of data for the benefit of the user. The “smart” bit is tying it all up and overlaying an analytic programme that presents different ‘what if?’ scenarios to the user.

When you think of the petabytes of data that we in the FM industry collect and manage, it makes a lot of sense that we should be looking at ways to turn that data into insight. Rather than just collect information and display it in a series of pivot tables and coloured graphs, we should be looking at how to add value, through identifying actions that will deliver better outcomes to our clients, whether they are internal or external.

The ability to interconnect disparate devices through the Internet of Things makes the heavy lifting of capturing the information possible, and goes way beyond changing from planned maintenance to predictive and more cost-effective approaches. It’s the opportunity to build in efficiency improvements, reduce costs and create a more flexible environment that can adapt itself in line with the changing needs of the organisation.

When we get the hang of IoT properly we’ll see that controlling the blinds remotely is just the first step on a long journey of change.


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