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Dean Gurden considers how best to prioritise employee-generated data from multiple data points.


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Read: Data compliance here

Read: Wearables and well-being here

03 June 2019 Dean Gurden

The data challenge

Amid the data deluge, a sensible question that should always be on your lips is this: what is the value of this information if it isn’t being analysed and used for a purpose?

Indeed, this is what Jeff Dewing, co-founder and chief executive at Cloudfm, believes. “Everyone is buying technology and collecting data, but few are interpreting and reacting to it, or even know what they want to do with it.”

Part of the problem is the industry’s legacy. Paul Bullard, business strategy director at CAFM software producers FSI, says: “Facilities management has not changed in the way it has been delivered for the past 30 years yet we are still seeing a lot of resistance to all this new tracking technology, especially within the contractor market.”

Nevertheless, Bullard has identified a slow but certain change in this outlook as workplace managers respond to wider organisational pressures to focus on enhancing the quality of service to employees.

“Traditional planned maintenance schedules and reactive contracts are simply not enough anymore,” he says. “You must be seen to be doing things smarter, utilising all the different ways you are now able to use data from the workplace.”

And there really are myriad possibilities of doing so. FMs can make informed decisions on how to optimise spaces and limit costs by analysing staff movements to determine room and equipment use patterns.

With the right integration, access control systems can manage energy use by activating utilities such as heating, air conditioning and lighting only when an area is occupied. Increased footfall can also be managed better with targeted cleaning and maintenance scheduling.

“I find the main thing FMs want is practical answers to specific questions about how their premises are actually being used,” says Nicholas Smith, regional sales manager at video surveillance firm Genetec. “For example, do we have the right proportion of desks to meeting rooms? Which of the meeting rooms are being over or underutilised? How many desks do we need, or do our flexible and remote working policies mean that we could downsize and lease some out?”

Flexible needs in a workforce focused on agility is driving FMs’ interest in better data analytics so they can improve workspace performance. John Hilderbrands, global pre-sales director at Condeco, gives the example of his organisation’s work with service firm Sodexo on that company’s own office workforce. 

“Sodexo made £2.5 million in savings,” explains Hilderbrands, “and they reduced the number of desks they had from 170 to 115 after using our digital screens and sensors to analyse how they used their space in their London office.”

The data skills needed 

A genuinely collaborative technical approach is needed to manage projects relying on diverse data sources. “Networks and enterprise IT security, business analysts, technical and non-technical user communities, and building control architects supported by traditional project manager and FM roles; all have been integral to successful deployments,” says Martin Frohock, head of facilities UK and EMEA, and global smart buildings lead at Arm.

“A building controls architect is essential; someone who can translate the infrastructure requirements of building management, energy management and lighting control systems, and combine that with IT middleware and software knowledge.” This type of role is becoming increasingly critical, Frohock adds.

FMs would require much greater technical knowledge than before, but they would still need to bring in experts who can create algorithms to analyse trends in datasets to complement their own knowledge of how assets work and function. Bullard explains: “You need both skill sets. I actually think it is the role of the FM in this that has been massively underappreciated; after all, they understand the workplace and the assets.”

Just as Frohock speaks of a joined-up approach, Hazel Bedson, strategy director at Service Works Global, argues that HR needs to be involved. “The FM team may want to introduce flexible working and wellness programmes to improve staff productivity, for example, but ultimately organisational policy for this lies with HR,” she says.

Similarly, FM and IT need to agree on which devices are purchased, what security considerations apply, and what support can be given to the users. “A policy of collecting data from wearables affects multiple stakeholders and there must be cohesion between them for the project to succeed,” adds Bedson. “The data protection officer also has a key role in ensuring data-sharing policies are appropriate and comply with all applicable regulations.”

But making the most of workplace data may also require taking it outside of the business.

“Cloud-hosting companies are typically able to better manage security and resilience than in-house IT teams,” says Bedson. “However, it’s true to say that there is a correlation between data collected on individuals and risk, so it is important that IT and security policies improve in line with the amount of data collected, making sure that data is encrypted and devices secured with passwords.”

The data tools of the trade

The business intelligence tools bundled typically by CAFM software increasingly allow for integration with Apple and Android’s smartphone platforms, as well as other third-party data streams. The result, says Bullard, is data that can be used anywhere.

Smith warns against rushing out to acquire the latest piece of kit before understanding what system and technology you already have in place. While wearable tech is indeed growing in popularity, it may be simpler and more cost-effective to upgrade existing control systems to get the same results, rather than spending valuable time seeking to adapt to a continually evolving wearables scenario.

Smith also suggests making the most of other “passive technologies”, such as existing IP surveillance cameras that can provide FMs with intelligence. 

“Analytics gained in this way can still give an understanding of how frequently certain rooms and areas are being used, and specialised sensors can even provide people-counting functionality,” Smith adds. “Occupancy limits can thereby be set to monitor if an area or room is close to, or reaches its maximum occupancy, in which case the system can alert 

the relevant FM through a dashboard.”

Getting data is key but it requires an overarching caveat that Bullard offers. “Don’t just do something for technology’s sake. Don’t buy your entire workforce a Fitbit if there is no value in the data that you’re recording from them. People collect too much data, and that data is often not valuable; you simply end up wading through tranches of information that are of no benefit to anyone.”

Ultimately, fast-flowing user data and analysis can assist in wellness initiatives to create healthier and happier workforces, says Bedson. “With workplace well-being moving higher up the agenda, any insight FMs can gain to implement more effective measures to support this is really valuable. Wearables can provide an element of health and safety to the more vulnerable, such as those working at height or lone workers, by tracking vital signs such as heart rate or detecting a fall using an accelerometer and gyroscope data to identify if they are vertical or not.” 

Bedson also points to a spike in the number of wellness programmes based on offering rewards in exchange for movement, such as setting targets for steps taken – another issue with considerable potential.  

The ethical implications of employee-generated data

The message to companies trying to deploy wearable technology is clear: be sure to take staff with you on the journey.

“We advise companies to communicate their objectives from the outset, emphasising that any data captured is not to be used to check on or punish people,” says John Hilderbrands, global pre-sales director at Condeco.

Employees should not feel like they are being controlled; if they do, it will only cause them to reject the technology. Jeff Dewing, communications director at Cloudfm, contends that this is where many employers get it wrong. “Staff immediately push back, so FMs must use technology to influence, not force behaviours.”

Essentially, you want to be using data to enable people to influence themselves. 

“Explain what is it that you want to do collectively with them, [tell them] that here’s the information and data to enable you both to make some great decisions – and let the people make the decisions themselves,” says Dewing.

Be aware that wearables that track metrics such as heart rate, steps walked and location offer a lot of insight into the personal life of employees that they may not wish to share outside of the workplace. Location data, for example, could identify their home and weekend activities – sensitive data that could cause distress if hacked.

“The requirements of last year’s General Data Protection Regulation [see page 29] may mean people have to opt in to a smart workplace,” warns Hazel Bedson, strategy director at Service Works Global. “But staff are becoming increasingly comfortable with sharing their lives with technology – especially millennials, who have grown up with it and enjoy the fact that it can make their life easier. Losing some privacy may be a small price to pay for convenience.”