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18 January 2019
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EFMC: ‘Human sensors’ key to FM’s future
EFMC: 'Human sensors' key to FM's future © FH Kufstein/Horvath

6 June 2018 | Martin Read 

Christian Huber, director of studies & research at Austrian higher education Institute, Fachhochschule Kufstein Tirol, has spoken of the need for facilities managers to consider the human element of data management.

Speaking at the European Facility Management Conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, Huber warned delegates to tread warily when assessing the value of sensors deployed within buildings - and to maximise the human element of event reporting for best effect.

"The industry tells us that the IoT is the answer to all our problems. That sensors can tell us at every second what is happening in our building…The only skill that FMs will now need is the ability to check their charts - and robots will do the rest,” said Huber.

“But I’m really afraid of massive data overload; maintaining all these sensors will be more than a full-time job.”

Huber’s perspective is that more sensors equals more data - and that “we already struggle to handle the volume of data we get out of all our systems”.

He said: “We’re told by industry that algorithms are the brains of the future. But algorithms are trained with data from the past.”

Huber was also concerned that sensors and connected building services equipment in buildings is already ‘speaking’ in a variety of different languages. 

“Manufacturers tell us that if we upgrade to their components then everything will get better - but I believe these language barriers will only increase with an increase in sensors.”

He said how two in three fire alarms in Munich, Germany, are false alarms - “and we’re told that solving problems with more self-acting gadgets will make our jobs easier?”

Huber’s suggestion is a greater use of ‘human sensors’ through the use of buttons to report the need for an FM intervention by the FM team, for example to clear a kitchen or replenish paper. Huber believes these kind of interventions, with direct contact from actual building users to the FM team, will significantly complement the actionable data coming from sensors.

Asked whether there should be a balance behind the use of a more reactive ‘human sensor’ and predictive IoT algorithms, Huber replied that “we need both. We need the gadgets, but we need not to forget the human sensors. At the moment we focus too much on the algorithms”.

The EFMC conference continues today and tomorrow.