Martin Leitch explores how buildings and the people who run them are being transformed by the digital revolution.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, who would have thought that the humble telephone would become central to many aspects of our everyday lives – from taking photos to playing games with opponents around the world and, of course, making phone calls to anywhere you can imagine.
Comparing this level of progress to that of Facilities Management (FM) is like comparing a Formula One Ferrari to a snail. Although the technologies that are now embedded in new buildings have become more sophisticated, FM has been very slow to respond, with traditional management, operational and service delivery processes evolving very slowly and reactively.
For the first time in the brief history of FM, new technologies are about to force it to make a paradigm shift in the way it does business.
- Building Information Modelling
- The Internet of Things
- New building materials
These technologies are with us now and have been applied in many different areas, but it is time for FM to embrace them and fully consider how to maximise their value.
Building Information Modelling (BIM)
BIM has been around for a good number of years, but, so far, primarily applied to building design. A natural extension of 3D Computer-Aided Design, BIM integrates component data into building models as the design develops. The benefits to the design process of this are many, including the early identification and rectification of conflicts in three-dimensional space and greater collaboration between design team disciplines, resulting in significantly improved buildings.
The key to the ongoing value of BIM into the construction and operational phases of the building life cycle is data. This data has direct relevance to operating the building but to be able to capitalise on it fully, facilities managers need to be able to access and manage it.
Once the model has been set up for construction purposes, handing it over for building operation is a seamless process. Gone are the days of the facilities manager being handed a stack of drawings and numerous lever-arch files containing operational manuals that inevitably feature inaccurate, incomplete and conflicting information. Because of the rigour that BIM applies during design and construction, it provides the facilities manager with a very accurate set of drawings and manuals at building handover stage.
However, to be able to access, manage and make use of this information, the facilities manager requires the software to drive the system. This means that the system needs to reside with the facilities manager and the facilities manager must either have the skills to operate it or turn to an outsourced solution.
Traditionally, outsourced service providers have influenced their customers to adopt their systems. This works well for the service providers, but leaves the facilities manager exposed when it comes to transitioning between service providers. With BIM, there is no option – the service provider will have to access and use their clients’ systems. But the skills required to manage a highly technical software platform, such as BIM, differ significantly from those required for service delivery. It is not unreasonable to foresee the emergence of specialist outsourced BIM and other data management service providers being appointed for long-term contracts, which will operate alongside the traditional short-term service delivery contracts.
To be effective at accessing and managing information during the operational phase, the facilities manager needs to fully be exposed to the progressive development of the design through their total involvement in the design and construction phases. Although FM integration into the design team is gradually happening, the advent of BIM makes this an imperative.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
The emerging ‘Internet of Things’, or machine-to-machine technology, provides equipment and assets with the ability to self-monitor and predict potential failure and/or reduction in performance. In addition to the associated reduction in costs of reactive and planned maintenance, the IoT will also bring significant reductions in unplanned business disruption.
This will have a massive impact on the structure of maintenance strategies by reducing reactive maintenance and on maintenance budgets by providing significantly improving certainty and accuracy of planning.
In conjunction with this, IoT brings a new set of skills requirements in terms of interpreting and analysing data and managing asset performance. To fully capitalise on the benefits of this new technological world, facilities managers will have to learn and embrace these new skills. The result of this smart technology is a distinct move towards automating the operational aspects of current FM responsibilities.
Rather than diminishing the function of FM, this presents the opportunity to raise the role to a more strategic level. Increased automation of operational activities will relieve the time pressures on facilities managers to allow them to develop the range of higher-level management skills in areas such as accounting, marketing and law that are necessary for strategic management.
Using system-generated information to predict asset and building performance trends, to support more robust business cases and to demonstrate the critical value of FM to the competitive advantage of the organisation will only help FM achieve the ‘holy grail’ of a seat in the ‘C’ suite.
New building materials
The science of nanotechnology presents a currently untapped set of opportunities for FM. Although the IoT establishes an environment in which reports are automatically generated from assets which need to be maintained and/or replaced, new materials for building finishes do not require maintenance.
As the design of building façades become more and more adventurous, the challenges, and hence the cost, of cleaning them increase also. Selecting finishes using nanotechnology treatments that repel dirt, water and bird droppings reduces, if not eliminates, the need for regular cleaning.
The by-product of the above is that buildings will retain a much more presentable condition and therefore better represent the organisations that occupy them.
Less-visible applications for nanotechnology-based materials include:
- Additives to concrete that fill the voids in conventional concrete, thus eliminating water penetration and extending the life of the material
- Additives to paints that inhibit the growth of mildew and bacteria in areas of high humidity
- Improved energy efficiency through coatings and additives to, for example, air gaps in double glazing.
Apart from the construction industry being resistant to this level of unproven innovation, this technology comes with a cost premium. The facilities manager can play a key role in changing attitudes and justifying the extra cost through considering the full life-cycle cost impact of this technology. This is yet another new skill that the future facilities manager will have to learn and apply when considering new builds and refurbishments.
The technology game changer
From this brief insight into the types of technologies that are currently available, it is easy to see that the shape and role of the FM function is likely to change significantly in the near future. To fully capitalise on the benefits of adopting these technologies, new skills will have to be learned and applied.
However, the biggest impact will be the release of time previously spent on operational activity to enable a greater focus on strategy to be made. In this way, organisations will benefit greatly from reduced life-cycle costs and the strategic value that FM has to offer.