BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

Technology for facilities management efficiency

How can technology help facilities managers improve efficiency and client workplaces?

Author: Claudia Conway and Andrew Schafer

16 May 2020

More than 75 per cent of the total cost of a building is incurred during maintenance and operations management meaning that facilities managers have significant responsibility for managing costs during its lifetime. In the traditional model, they and their staff would be responding to problems and breakdowns, searching for components and travelling from one site to another.

But technology is rapidly changing the way the profession works, allowing for a much more proactive approach, speeding up maintenance and requiring fewer people on the ground. As facilities management is always facing the challenge of cutting costs, even while striving to become a strategic activity rather than just a cost centre, how can facilities managers make the case for investing in this technology?

"Technology allows for far more granular control of buildings to avoid the waste often seen today"

Leading the charge in improving building management are sensors. Sensors and controls have both fallen rapidly in price in recent years, allowing for widespread remote monitoring without massive investment. Annual maintenance savings of between eight and 20 per cent can be made by implementing computer-aided facilities management (CAFM) systems, which bring together processes and data in one place. Savings can be increased further when sensors are added into the equation. Sensors are simple to install, at least in mechanical terms, and the challenging part is learning to work with remote monitoring and to track and respond for maximum efficiency.

Sensors can also provide data to improve energy efficiency — a Green Alliance report published in January, A smarter way to save energy  claims that 'cheap, smart sensors combined with optimising algorithms can cut the energy use of buildings by up to 17 per cent'. One way sensors enable these savings is by occupancy monitoring, revealing whether some spaces are underused. If the data shows that empty rooms are being lit, heated or ventilated for long periods, it's a sign that energy is being wasted and settings need to be changed; or, conversely, that the spaces may need reorganising, repurposing, or even removing entirely from the tenancy, if this is a possibility as, for instance in a space-as-service arrangemeny, so they arent being wasted.

"Every facilities manager wants a happy client, and asset manager want happy occupiers"

Technology allows far more granular control of buildings to avoid the waste often seen today; it also enables facilities managers to respond to office occupancy changes from day to day when staff work at home, part-time or off site. Already, the smartest tech can adjust for occupancy, occupiers' activities, solar gains and external conditions to optimise energy use, according to the Green Alliance.

The end result of this management should also be a better environment for occupants — less downtime for equipment, meaning less disruption and more comfortable surroundings that are used more effectively. A well-run building helps keep employees satisfied and creates a great shopfront for an occupier's activities. Every facilities manager wants a happy client, and asset managers want happy occupiers.

Getting information is no longer a problem, and it is more a matter of what to do with all the data. As Eric Crabb of Cushman & Wakefield says, 'facilities management data alone does not add value, it merely provides a means of tracking an event of consequence. Yet data is an asset. Like the crude oil of the past, it must be refined through software-enabled intelligence for maintenance and management of multiple sites'.

Getting to grips with this data means moving from reactive, time-based monitoring to condition-based and preventative maintenance. Workflows can then be rationalised so that the right technicians are in the right place at the right time — with the right parts and equipment for everything that needs attention — rather than having to spend time searching for the faulty component and the correct resources to fix it.

While most facilities management technology is intuitive to use, what may take more time and practice is optimising the set-up for each context. So, before choosing a CAFM system, facilities managers should take time to establish which works best for their organisation, and consider using services that help them optimise settings and provide the greatest value.

Technologies that learn from previous breakdowns allow facilities managers to focus on condition, building up a picture of what readings might point to failure and setting up a more nuanced approach to maintenance, in which components don't fail in the first place. Maintenance can then be consolidated on sites to avoid shutdowns in usual working hours and the resulting disruption to occupier operations.

Remote monitoring may also have bonuses for an ageing workforce — professionals late in their career who may not be able to be on their feet as much as they used to could work remotely and use their expertise to advise field workers as they do their job. Perhaps one of the most powerful advantages technology brings to the profession is simply reducing the number of manual tasks through maintenance workflow automation, providing a significant amount of data to enable informed decisions, and integrating workflows across departmental silos. Thanks to technology, we can do more with less.

Data technology provides the greatest benefit when used and integrated throughout the whole life cycle of a building, starting with the design and build —  ideally with involvement by facilities management right from these early stages. This avoids the dreaded information gap, where all the valuable data from the design and build stage is lost when the facilities management team takes the asset into management. If a site is surveyed and recorded electronically from day one, everyone can have a clear idea of what is on that site —  and as assets move and change, this can be recorded too, so long as facilities are alive to the opportunity that digital models can present and are active in making sure that these are kept up to date.

The right software can also manage legal data, for example responsibilities for maintenance as outlined in the lease — the software could highlight whether a landlord is liable for maintenance for an asset, such as the HVAC system maintenance outlined in the lease. Having legal data in facilities management software will help avoid unnecessary spend. Understanding these details and being able to find them easily can save a lot of pain if there are legal queries or challenges in this area. Most facilities management systems also offer contractor and invoice management to track technician attendance, performance and integration with contractor systems to streamline services further.

Importantly, all this data can inform the capital plan for an asset, allowing for transparency of costs and a realistic, timetabled approach to what needs to be done. Technology offers significant opportunities to collect actionable information and ensure better decision-making, going beyond facilities management to support occupiers and asset owners.

Claudia Conway is editor of the RICS Property Journal claudiaconway@rics.org

Andrew Schafer is senior vice-president and managing director of software supplier Accruent aschafer@accruent.com

Related competencies include: Asset management Maintenance management

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