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FM could learn from the way ants co-operate © iStock

29 June 2018 | Bradford Keen

What have insects and fungi got to do with facilities management? They make for useful analogies, explained ARM’s head of FM Martin L Frohock at the Honeywell Technology Day hosted at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday.


The algorithm that desert ants use to regulate their foraging is similar to TCP protocol, which regulates the internet. Frohock said ants use the “anternet” for “positive feedback for transmission acknowledgement”. Their “data package” is food that they gather from ants returning to the colony to store and distribute.


“The algorithm localises each ant’s experience and behaviour [and] at the same time a huge number of one-to-one encounters by touching their antennae allows them to collect the wisdom of the colony and share the information,” Frohock explained.


“These networks become resilient over the years, which is part of the core business case for smart buildings,” he added. Frohock said the drivers for ants and smart buildings run in parallel and that is getting more from less and using available resources and information. It could be thought of in terms of Opex, he added.  


From insects to funghi. Frohock said the latter are similar to the IoT. Mushrooms use their mycelia threads to link their roots to the fungal network to share nutrients to ensure sustainability responsiveness, health and security.


Mushrooms don’t have chlorophyll so they steal carbon from nearby trees “to help resist unwanted plants by sending toxins through the network, not dissimilar to a lot of the cloud-based security provisions”, Forhock said.


So what do these outdoor specimens teach us about accommodating humans’ needs inside buildings? Frohock said connected networks that become resilient over time, and that the sophisticated and secure use and exchange of data can improve the user experience.


For instance, with modern office workers spending so much time indoors, data helps FMs deliver high-quality indoor air. This is vital for improving cognitive functioning, activity, responsiveness, creative thinking and collaboration of, and between workplace occupants.


Creating and maintaining a positive user experience is key to “attracting and retaining talent and it is the most difficult thing to achieve”, said Frohock, who argues this is his main role as a head of FM.


To be able to make a building smart requires feedback in real time. Think about TripAdvisor, said Frohock. The company manages its data effectively and compresses and presents it in a way that allows the owners of the rated establishments to translate the data, act on it and bring about change.


FMs need that same type of actionable information, but that is currently lacking, he said. As building operators, FMs need “analytics, logic and behaviour change in our business” to allow them to be “disruptive in offices and workplaces”.


Part of bringing about disruption, Frohock said, is merging HR, IT and FM so that these entities shall never be silos again. He also committed to “kicking” the next person who mentions hard and soft FM services, because traditional FM terms are “outdated”. These remain important but are basics FMs should have covered.


Along with a shift from traditional FM conversations, Frohock predicts that the future will bring more strategic partnerships, an increase in specialist vendors and a change to the service model and commercial proposition for smart buildings applications.


At the top of it all is well-being, as this is at the heart of the user experience. It’s about “human factors” and improving people’ working lives, encouraging them to come to work and helping them be more productive because of their environment.