12 February 2014
The hysterical among us fear the rise of the machine. They are taking our jobs. They are standing on mechanical legs and taking over the world. (OK, perhaps that's an exaggeration.)
But as software becomes more intelligent, the ability, compatibility and practicality for machines to talk to each other and adjust settings and switches and highlight problems based on that conversation becomes more seamless - and indeed more useful for facilities managers.
Last month, Google acquired hardware technology outfit Nest for $3.2 billion (£2 billion).
The company's 'learning' thermostat gathers data on your home routine and programmes itself, claiming to save up to 20 per cent on domestic heating bills. It can also be controlled from a smartphone.
Technology such as Nest's and smart meter systems, of which installations are increasing, aim to make a building greener and more sustainable.
Although this is currently for residential use, adapting commercial ideas for domestic use is a two-way street and software's perpetual push for innovation can lead to the development of 'intelligent' buildings.
The idea of intelligent buildings is not new. Back in 2011, Andrew Cooper reported in FM World that intelligent buildings 'have sought to increase the usability of a building and the health and wellbeing - and therefore the productivity - of those people working inside them', rather than purely saving on energy bills.
The computer-aided facilities management (CAFM) market is continually looking for opportunities to manipulate data.
Jack Fraser, product director at FM and workplace software provider Service Works Group, believes that manipulating external data feeds can boost efficiency within the FM team.
"Traffic data allows you to assign operatives to the most convenient jobs based on the current traffic situation," says Fraser. "For example, if there was a 10-mile tailback on a particular road, the system would inform the operative and suggest alternative routes. At the same time, it would allocate additional jobs at a different client site to a different operative, recognising that the first operative would take longer to complete the original task."
Taking on real-time meteorological feeds can also impact reactive and planned maintenance performance.
Fraser continues: "Integrating weather forecasts and patterns into an FM software system can help to inform and improve planned preventative maintenance schedules. For example, non-urgent work that needs to be completed outside can be scheduled for fine days. It can also help to plan for floods, allowing a facilities manager to take preventative measures where needed."
"One of our most interesting projects to be implemented stretches the logic to varying the number of towels required for the gym based on weather feeds," says Jacqueline Walpole, a business analyst at FSI FM Solutions.
"The only limitation is imagination," she says. "We at FSI currently have intelligent building installations where we have integrations between our room bookings and touchscreen hot-desk bookings with access control systems and intelligent power supply and phone controls.
"Users check in to a desk, the power is activated to the desk and phone logged in there. If they swipe out of the location, their desk can be de-activated and re-activated when they swipe back in," she adds.
"Similarly, we have other integrations with room bookings and BMS that powers up the AV equipment and AC in a meeting room 15 minutes before being required and keeps them running when the touchscreen is used to extend the meeting if there's not another booking immediately afterwards."
FMs have the ability to feed both external and internally-captured data into a BMS or CAFM system. The difficult part is realising what data is useful, and how best to weave the different networks together.
Says Walpole: "As more previously disparate systems become networkable, [CAFM systems] can combine the intelligence they are provided."
At a workshop event held at the University of Greenwich last month, delegates emphasised the importance of integrating CAFM systems with building information modelling (BIM), but felt that integration between the two can often be tricky.
The app-le of your eye
The demand for more efficient CAFM systems and flexibility in reporting has led to an increase in the creation of mobile apps.
"A facilities manager can log or report on a job anywhere and can be alerted to issues while on the move. Since software maintenance and upgrades happen centrally, the latest functionality is available immediately to the end-user," says Fraser. "The field service industry, and FM profession in particular, is benefiting from cloud-based solutions combined with mobile solutions. Whether the priority is avoiding service level agreement penalties or securing first-time fixes, the software can identify the best-qualified technician to send and ensure the relevant parts are available - all in real-time."
Jamie Harris, FM World reporter