The not-so-distant future of the FM industry

by Tiffany Paczek
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The next five to 10 years will reshape the facilities management industry far from what we know today, writes ADAM TREFFRY.

Never before has there been such opportunity and challenge facing the facilities management industry; organisations that embrace change in their delivery to support the evolving nature of their business, customers and competitive landscape will thrive. Those that don’t, won’t survive.

Let’s start with opportunities. Most of these are anchored in technology, which is advancing at a rapid rate and revolutionising traditional FM processes that have stood the test of time. Intelligent buildings will allow improved user experience within the tenancies, a reduction in operating costs (in particular, energy consumption), extended life cycle of HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) and improved air quality, which is now linked to health to and well-being but also productivity. Intelligent buildings that measure, predict, regulate and report will allow facility managers to have more data at their fingertips than ever before.

Imagine a building where an occupant enters a building and immediately is greeted by a friendly robot concierge informing her that her meeting is on the second level, her manager has already arrived and she needs to drink more water. The smart building knows how people inside interact with each other, and informs you when potential collaborators are nearby.

The smart building observes and understands stress points and recommends changes and strategies that will improve either the physical workplace or human behaviour. Security is tight, but discreet, with routine facial recognition scans. Indeed, the security check also scans your overall health. It doesn’t let you carry a virus; it will call a car (driverless, of course) to bring an employee home, to a nearby doctor or hospital when necessary. This information allows the facility management team to curate the user experience and future- proof both the tenancy and building.

Technology is continually enabling new ways of working. The future office will have no cables (wireless charging and working via the cloud will be standard practice), open plan offices will be obsolete as will paper. Work will be arranged around projects and neighbourhoods created for the project teams. Walls will be flexible, and the work environment will be reshaped every night based on the workplace needs of the coming day.

Spaces will become more fluid and dynamically configurable. Three-dimensional printing will emerge to revolutionise office fitouts, making them highly customisable and easily recycled. Leases will encompass the use of both fixed and temporary spaces, with co-working concepts evolving to be a staple. Facility management teams will be empowered by continuous workplace monitoring, assessing how people work and what they need from the space both physically and emotionally.

As automation, virtual reality and artificial intelligence become the norm in managing buildings and workplaces, we will see a shift in the required skills within the FM industry, from technical and harder services into softer services. Intelligent buildings will enable proactive maintenance to be performed by robots, meaning the core skill of a facility manager will move towards customer service, curating the workplace experience and thinking strategically about how the portfolio can best support the needs of the business, customers and shareholders.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an increasingly pervasive part of both life and work. The possible applications of IoT are broad and varied, and real estate is leading the charge.

Some of the potential uses of IoT include predictive maintenance. Performance tracking of facility assets like HVAC, lighting units and elevators allows maintenance work orders to be triggered automatically. With 30 percent of planned maintenance activities being carried out too frequently and 40 percent of assets having a limited impact on facility uptime, there are real opportunities to drive out cost savings through a more targeted approach.

IoT will allow for smarter capital asset planning – combining the same performance data with asset condition/ criticality ratings and degradation models to help ensure capital investment is directed to the equipment with the greatest impact on facility uptime and/or the greatest risk of failure.

IoT will create sophisticated sensing environments within buildings. Sensors are already widely used to switch off devices that don’t need to be in use, such as lights and air-conditioning in vacant rooms. Increasingly, they are also allowing people to set light and temperature settings according to their personal preferences via their smartphones, with clear positive impacts on cost, sustainability, and user experience. As companies look to the power of technology to provide a more productive and engaging workplace experience and to retain key staff, IoT can be leveraged to track people’s activity and heart rates as a means to reduce stress and provide for increased health and well-being.

123RF's Kirill Kedrinski ©

123RF’s Kirill Kedrinski ©

Wellness is becoming a regular agenda item in boardrooms across corporate Australia, creating more opportunity for facility managers to positively impact the workplace experience of their users.

Human happiness has been found to have significant positive effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to motivate, while negative emotions have the opposite effect. Facility managers can help improve the physical comfort of people in the workplace, contribute to reducing stress levels and enable cognitive function through a range of measures, including bringing nature into the workplace, setting appropriate levels of heating and cooling, introducing soothing colours and reducing background noise.

If organisations can improve the well-being of employees, an abundance of research demonstrates links between employee well-being and bottom line financial outcomes.

Gallup suggest that businesses with highly satisfied, engaged employees are rewarded with 37 percent lower absenteeism, 21 percent higher productivity, and 10 percent higher customer satisfaction.

Technology presents exciting opportunities for the FM industry, but equally there are a number of challenges the industry needs to respond to. Doing more with less has become the mantra for most organisations, a perennial challenge for facility management teams. The challenge for the industry is to support business in its cost efficiency objectives, while at the same time supporting a business to achieve its customer, shareholder and employee outcomes.

Cost efficiency has been the raison d’être for the facilities management industry for many years. There are myriad levers that can be pulled to influence real estate operating costs – energy efficiency, procurement, occupancy efficiency, reducing reactive maintenance and proactive asset management. We are seeing automation, robotics and virtual reality, enabling quicker and cheaper delivery of FM services. The challenge remains, how do we continue to deliver cost efficiency?

Another challenge the industry is facing is how to elevate the role of facilities management inside the organisation. Automation and IoT are helping this, but the industry must demonstrate how the FM deliverables are supporting a business scorecard. How are the cost efficiencies driving bottom line performance? How is technology enablement improving employee productivity, reducing speed to market and lowering the cost of sale? The story needs to be told about the incremental improvements the facilities teams is delivering, as well as the show-stopping innovations.

Perhaps one of the most important roles that we have to play is creating an industry that is diverse and inclusive. By working with people from different backgrounds, with varying experiences and working styles, we learn and get another view. Diverse thinking makes for better decisions, more robust thinking, thus driving a high-performance culture.

Ultimately, a sense of belonging creates a healthier and more successful employee experience. Research shows diversity is needed for teams to be their most productive, whether it be in age, religion, ethnicity, ability or disability, sexual orientation, heritage, socioeconomic, geographic or life experiences.

Adam Treffry is managing director, Global Occupier Services – Australia and New Zealand for Cushman & Wakefield.

This article also appears in the April/May issue of Facility Management magazine.

Lead image: 123RF’s Jozef Polc ©

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