How facilities are managed is on the edge of disruption with the introduction of advanced technologies associated with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), robotics and drones. Technologies that hold the potential for facility managers to advance their function from a task-oriented cost center to a strategic business operation.
While the automation of facilities management started several years ago with building automation systems (BAS), it was only a hint of how the function would evolve. Facility managers that already use building automation systems are informed about how technology can streamline and optimize basic functions through remote monitoring and control of a building’s mechanical and electrical equipment.
Imagine the added value facilities managers can contribute to facilities management operations by gaining access to data insights about how their buildings and equipment are functioning and by implementing additional forms of automation. That’s where AI, ML, robotics and drones fit into the equation for transforming facilities management as we know it today.
A significant boost in productivity is also predicted to be a part of the equation. Estimates by McKinsey indicate that with widespread adoption of AI, machine learning, and robotics, global productivity growth could rise by between 0.8 and 1.4 percent annually. By comparison, the introduction of the steam engine increased productivity by 0.3 percent annually between 1850 and 1910.
These technologies have diverse capabilities that range from providing a deeper level of building intelligence to performing tedious or simple tasks. Forward-thinking facilities managers who embrace some or all of these technologies will be equipped to streamline operations, improve processes and workflows, and realize additional cost savings.
Let’s take a closer look at how facilities managers can benefit from integrating these technologies into their facilities management operations.
Building Automation Systems (BAS)
While these systems have been around for a number of years, current systems are more sophisticated and have evolved to provide an even higher level of service. These systems can:
- control and monitor mechanical and electrical equipment including climate control and lighting plus power, fire and security systems
- measure system performance
- manage alarms and evaluate staff responsiveness
- produce remote troubleshooting notifications with exact location, what action needs to be taken, and the materials required to resolve the issue
The cost savings alone are significant. The Minneapolis/St. Paul area’s Metropolitan Energy Policy Commission estimates that average utility cost savings from a BAS system range from $.20 – $.40 per square foot. For a 75,000 square foot facility that equates to $15K to $30K annually. Add in productivity and the value of BAS is increased further. For a facility manager, that can be a significant contribution to the organization’s bottom line and something to be proud of reporting as a measurable contribution to corporate profitability.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Until now, machines have operated according to a comprehensive set of specific commands. AI takes operations to a higher level with an increased ability to solve problems by finding connections and patterns when tracking multiple variables.
Artificial Intelligence in facilities management can also be used to make changes to the system through voice recognition or automated systems.
Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence that programs computers to learn from their own processes. While humans must supply the algorithms, machine learning prepares insights identified from various types of data inputs. A chain effect occurs as computers remember and apply insights from previous outcomes to produce new data insights. These insights equip facility managers for improving business processes and making better decisions.
For example, through data analysis, AI can provide guidance for predictive maintenance which will be a more accurate metric than simply relying on recommended schedules for preventive maintenance.
By one company’s calculations, a predictive maintenance program can:
- extend the lives of machine components
- save $1 per square foot annually
- save 13 percent annually on facilities management operational budgets
Assigning robots to complete tedious cleaning and simple repair tasks will free up time for FM team members to focus on the more strategic aspects of FM such as workplace and space management, emergency preparedness planning, ensuring compliance, and preparing for audits – or eliminate the cost of outsourcing these tasks. Robots can be linked to facilities management software solutions which would assign the next tasks to be completed. While the cost of robots may be prohibitively expensive now, with increased adoption and usage, they will become more affordable for use in facilities management.
An advantage of using drones in facilities management is their ability to operate in nearly every type of condition, whether weather-related or in the presence of dangerous substances. Drones can also be used to monitor hard-to-reach areas or places where it might be dangerous to send people, efficiently collect data, complete safety inspections, or capture project progress.
The initial use of drones in facilities management will be focused on performing inspections of buildings and equipment for damage, or carrying small loads. As the level of sophistication increases, drones will be equipped with thermal imaging technology that will be used to assess the energy efficiency of a building.
Capitalizing on Technology
By now you might be wondering if the days of your FM team are numbered. While the potential exists for aggregate job losses, there will be factors that influence how quickly and to what extent this will occur.
Also, a study by the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice revealed that out of 2,000 work activities across more than 800 occupations, less than five percent of all occupations could be automated entirely by existing technology. They also found that at least 30 percent of activities within 60 percent of occupations could be automated at the time this study was conducted – in 2017.
It’s far more likely that this increase in productivity will result in a shift from tactical tasks to analytical and strategic responsibilities for facilities managers and others who work in built environments. This can include: workplace and space management, emergency preparedness planning, ensuring compliance, and preparing for audits.
For facilities managers, this shift may require an increased focus on professional development to learn skills that equip them for adopting new technologies, identifying ways to complement the capabilities of artificial intelligence, analyzing and applying data insights and managing an evolving business environment. Online learning sites like Lynda, Udemy, Coursera offer a range of professional development courses you can complete on your own schedule.
Another important step is implementing regular reporting of key metrics to executives which will provide visibility of results achieved from adopting these technologies and the opportunity to redirect freed-up staff time.
It’s also key to embrace change. Consider connecting with other facilities managers who have either already adopted these technologies or those who are currently exploring the most relevant options for their built environment.
While it may seem daunting right now, take steps today to explore and adopt new technologies that will transform how you and your team manage facilities in the future.