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Workplaces getting smarter with digital tech

Digital technologies are rapidly and radically altering how, when and where people work. In turn, new technologies are becoming available that alter how companies manage their workforce and the facilities that support it. While a handful of companies have adopted an all-encompassing digital facility management (FM) approach to-date, a new JLL report, Reinventing Facilities Management for the Digital World, predicts more will soon look to automation to not only streamline real estate operations, but also – and equally as important – enhance the experience.

“Ultimately, a facility manager overseeing a fully digital facilities ecosystem will have the right team and skillset to be leading a workplace strategy – which starts with the strategy of the business,” said Maureen Ehrenberg, international director of JLL’s Global Integrated Facilities Management business.

“They will be implementing and overseeing a highly organised set of activities and enablement provided by technology and data that will support and align with the business and its challenges with an eye toward future business needs,” Ehrenberg added. “We will see facility managers assuming larger roles in providing a workplace experience that delivers a competitive advantage, whether it’s creating new levels of space personalisation and efficiency or offering a seamless technological environment for people to access, regardless of where they choose to work.”

According to Ehrenberg, many traditional, tactical FM functions can either be automated or managed more efficiently using digital technologies. Data gathered via these computerised processes can reveal employee preferences, facility usage and cost drivers. As a result, companies can use that information to make data-driven decisions related to stMaureen Ehrenberg picrategic business planning, productivity initiatives, capital planning, asset management, energy usage, workplace and talent strategy and facility services.

Digitisation is playing out across four primary dimensions:

1. End-to-end digital FM services. Some companies are already replacing paper processes with “end-to-end” automated processes to manage building maintenance and repair, improve energy management, provide employee-focused concierge services and more. For example, if a plumbing repair is needed, an office manager can log onto an online platform to report the incident. The platform alerts a facility manager and helps uncover an approved plumbing contractor available immediately. Using GPS data, the system automatically tracks when the plumber arrives and leaves, and creates a trail of data about the length of service, cost and repair history of the plumbing fixture.

2. Workplace productivity and retention. With digital FM, a company can create a seamless electronic work environment. Brand can be addressed through global experiences, yet local differences by region, country or site can be accommodated. Providing the same experience, whether workers are sitting at a desk in a corporate office or in a home office hundreds of miles away. From reserving conference rooms to adjusting lighting and temperature preferences, digital FM provides employees with new levels of space personalisation and efficiency—often through a mobile app. Data generated from automated systems can then be analysed to reveal how the workplace could be improved to increase employee productivity and satisfaction.

3. Energy and sustainability. For years, companies have used smart, computer-controlled building systems to reduce energy usage. With today’s advanced, Internet-connected systems, wireless sensors and “machine-to-machine” communications, buildings can be even “smarter.” Some buildings and FM teams now offer on-demand temperature and lighting mobile apps that give people greater control of their individual office or zone—to create the just-right “Goldilocks” workspace that boosts productivity.

4. Compliance. Digitisation is removing the headaches associated with costly, labor-intensive and error-prone paper-based regulatory and operational compliance. For example, when a vendor electronically submits an invoice, an automated system can verify whether the charges are within contractual limits and provide real-time tracking of expected costs versus actual expenses, among many other powerful functions.

“These technologies are here, but many hesitate to invest in automated systems now for fear of betting on the wrong horse,” notes Ehrenberg. “The digital shift is happening and FM leaders need to be prepared to take advantage of the enormous opportunities that will come with it. To make it a reality, FM leaders need to assess their current capabilities and identify what is needed to build on those. They also need to be knowledgeable about company strategy and be able to demonstrate how these approaches contribute to the top and bottom lines.”

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