24 March 2014
There are days, I'll admit, when I walk into the office in the morning and stare.
I stare at my colleagues, who in turn are all staring at their screens. On my way home I'll have my path impeded by someone staring at their phone, or else barged out of the way by someone annoyed by me staring at mine.
And as I stare at all of us staring, I often wonder - where exactly are we headed?
It's been, what, 25 years since the advent of the networked office PC? Once upon a time we all interacted with office machinery by physically engaging with it, getting up to use photocopiers, fax machines et al. In our lunchtimes we used to queue for concert tickets or go to agents to book travel. But over the past 10 years or so, the PC behind the screen has become perfectly capable of giving us everything we need to carry out pretty much all of our work as well as providing our entertainment as well. Often the only reason to step away from our screens is to fulfil our bodily needs - and maintain our sanity.
So at our desks we're video conferencing, instant messaging, emailing and, for today at least, leader comment writing. But all of that is just so yesterday, some of you will be saying - and you're right. Because the speed at which we're now moving on to doing all of the above through our mobile screens, even using our phones as the main tool for interaction with clients and colleagues, is dizzying.
Last week I found myself watching highlights of Wealdstone's far from critical Middlesex Senior Cup tie on YouTube while on the London Overground. We all have this amazing ability to access such remarkably trivial material - and if I can so casually access video of Gordon Barlett's Isthmian League heroes "on the go", we really are through the looking glass. What else can we do with smartphones?
The phrase "there's an app for that" has itself fallen out of favour, so quickly have developments in this field altered the landscape. But from an FM perspective we're only at the start of this journey, and sure enough the age of FM services being managed from mobile devices through apps is upon us. There's been so much chatter about apps and their application in FM over the past 12 months that we must surely be on the verge of an app deluge. The greater granular detail, speed of analysis, contextualisation of priority and attention to customer detail that these apps promise (depending on who you talk to) must surely have an impact on FM's ability to adapt to fit client need. How their deployment ultimately affects team structures is something we can only guess at.
Because the simple processing of existing facilities data requirements by adding photographs directly to condition reports (as one random example) is only the first step. Much of what I'm hearing about forthcoming apps involves mapping buildings or facilities data flowing into building information models - potentially reigniting the whole discussion about FM's position in the BIM firmament.
Could this mobile data revolution solve all of FM's credibility issues? Doubtless not, but the promise of FM playing a more visible role as a result of minute-by-minute analysis of facilities performance has got to be a good thing.
As for where we're all headed with this stuff? Hands up: I honestly don't know.
Martin Read is managing editor at FM World