With last month's annual Workplace Week falling on the first anniversary of BIFM's transition to IWFM, the institute staged an event with its focus firmly on the future.
02 December 2019 | Martin Read
The event, first fruit of IWFM's recently announced partnership with Microsoft, formed the first part of a project to follow-up on 2018's Embracing Technology to Move FM Forward report. That document identified concerns over FMs' ability to focus on the enablement of better work rather than easier building management; the next will explore how the profession can "navigate the digitisation of workplace and facilities management and the opportunities and challenges it presents".
First, then, a live SWOT analysis. Matthew O'Halloran, director, Smart Spaces, was tasked with focusing on the sector's strengths; Dan Clark, head of central services and assurance - facilities management at the National Air Traffic Service (NATS) identified its weaknesses; Microsoft's innovation architect David Williams took on the opportunities; ans IWFM director of insight Chris Moriarty contemplated the threats.
"It's not the future - it's what's happening today"
O'Halloran's view was that the sector's strength is in smart building tech's availability. There's been a marked change in affordability and capability.
By way of example he showcased the Great Portland Estates' development at 160 Old Street in London, where occupiers have smart-enabled use of apps across lighting, temperature and more - a seamless ability to connect to the building's services. The capability of beacons (fixed sensors) to allow for proximity-based triggering of service has come on apace, and while the use of QR codes for access control is now a mature technology, near-field communication (NFC) is likely to soon supersede and further cut the cost of such solutions.
The ability for users to swipe a screen on a smartphone to dim the office lighting - the command sent to the cloud and back in milliseconds - is now a reality. It's also an increasingly frictionless future, in which payment gateways working across different points of sale will directly route cash payments from on-site vendors.
All of which is possible through a more readily achievable 'single source of the truth' about workplace performance - something that is potentially transformational.
"I can't see that there's anything new that humans can't already do"
A project to "turn data into knowledge" was what alerted Dan Clark to various weaknesses in arguments favouring smart building tech.
"I started taking data from our BMS and asset management systems, collating it in order to create a dashboard which I hoped would allow us to see things we couldn't see before.
"But the dashboard just duplicated what we already knew from other sources; things we'd already acted on or talked about. It became apparent that the whole offer around the collecting building data centred around just that - the collection of data, in the hope someone will find something to do with it.
"All of this [smart building tech] needs investment and a business case. And I can't see where these things stand out from what people already do today, and certainly not for retrofit into existing buildings.
"Our FM performs adequately as a reactive service. Our KPIs are at 95 per cent on an 80 per cent benchmark. Our Leesman score is 60." So where, asked Clark, is the need for some hi-tech data hub sitting around waiting to be interrogated?
Instead,firms should focus on tech's potential to bring about pre-emptive solutions.
"Without people there's no FM, so if you can interrogate something like an Outlook diary and forecast where people will be you've got data that you can act on. People's preferences on moods, lights, environment, working patterns, team location; if you can forecast the movement of people you have something worth having.
"Also building assets that notify users of their condition and book their own replacement parts or assign planned maintenance engineers? That's something worth having."
"We can see on a single pane of glass everything that's happening across our estate"
David Williams explained that his job involves "looking for the next billion-dollar business - and smart buildings is going to be our next billion-dollar business".
Microsoft has many of its own reasons for coming to this conclusion: the company's main campus in Redmond, Seattle, comprises 130 buildings with 60,000 people a day arriving for work - 47,000 cars to park, and 58,000 meals a day.
"We've connected more than 125 buildings from a BMS perspective and we can see on a single pane of glass everything that's happening across our estate. We poll half a million data points every five minutes. At any one time we're carrying 20,000 faults across the estate.
"How do we prioritise them? For every single fault we have a cost-to-the-business of that fault enduring over a period of time. Next, we have all of the information about our repair staff and tradesmen and we have algorithms that automatically spit out work orders to tell them where to go next, what they need to do and how to do it.
"Consider the Redmond car park," said Williams. "Through machine learning it knows when you're coming and what your needs are. It directs you to the right parking place and knows whether you may need extra space because you're less abled or have children.
"All of this is possible now. To implement it just takes money and an ROI case."
Williams suggested that there are three key reasons why an owner or tenant would want to make buildings smart: a target to save money; a strategic imperative, for example, the building of a new HQ or the need to attract and retain staff; or something to boost the corporate brand ("think the Edge in Amsterdam, or Accenture in Dublin").
The scope for workplace and FM, said Williams, will come from being open-minded about this 'art of possible'.
"FM will be disrupted beyond recognition"
Chris Moriarty reminded delegates that in IWFM's 2018 report, Embracing technology to Move FM Forward, most of those surveyed had been positive about smart building tech - but believed the most likely future was one of 'slight digital upgrade'. Big data, robotics, AI, machine learning and virtual reality? All were considered less likely to exert influence over the profession than established tech such as CAFM, BMS, etc.
But, said Moriarty, "we're in danger if we think we're just going to have a 'digital upgrade. We're deluded."
A glimpse of the future was the Shanghai reception robot which recognises a visitor as they arrive, alerts their host, takes them to a café - all while cleaning the floor as it goes.
Moriarty quoted 'digital optimist' Alistair Frost: "FM will be disrupted beyond recognition. Maintenance will be fully automated and the people the facility exists to serve will have an immediate, frictionless ability to instantly redefine it for their unique needs. Anyone who believes FM will be the same but just with a few more screens is dangerously out of touch."