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In our 2016 FM technology survey, we identified a dramatic increase of 27% in the percentage of FMs using smartphones to manage their facilities operations. This rapid change pointed to an industry with a keener focus on productivity, and also coincided with the launch of the Stoddart Review which aimed to generate further conversation around the key contribution of FM to the performance of the workplace and the economy as a whole. 12 months on, and the industry is now widely discussing the adoption of IoT (Internet of Things) and AI (Artificial Intelligence). The pace of change is rapid, but what about the rate of adoption?

Despite sounding futuristic (and expensive), AI is becoming more commonplace. Digital assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa are gaining in popularity due to the ease and speed with which a user can perform a task, and they, among others, are changing the expectations of the modern consumer. FM is starting to meet this demand for immediacy with 24 hour service through the use of robots as floor cleaners, mail delivery, catering and even receptionists. The use of AI in healthcare is becoming especially popular, leading to an enhanced patient experience and faster turnaround times. The new Royal Adelaide Hospital (nRAH) in South Australia will use AGVs (Automatic Guided Vehicles) to deliver patient meals, linen, medical items and waste to the necessary locations, freeing resources for improved assistance with patient support services. These bots are co-ordinated through Service Works’ CAFM system, QFM, which manages, prioritises and streamlines requests throughout the whole 180,000m2 hospital estate.

A recent study by Deloitte stated that 42% of UK companies have adopted robotics, cognitive and AI technologies within all or parts of their workforce. Another 42% are running pilots in certain areas of their organisation. However, FM is a traditionally low-margin industry so the question of funding is especially relevant to adoption of these new technical advances. This issue was discussed at this month’s ThinkFM and Facilities Show, both held in London. The resounding opinion of the speakers was that technology is worth the investment: whether it’s a smart building generating data and enabling greater control or a bot saving manpower and reducing workforce costs – this is the way forward. In order to get there, they suggest more of a partnership approach is required. Through a closer collaboration of service providers, technology houses and the clients, a re-education can take place of what is achievable and a strategy developed to meet each partner’s goals. While the initial investment of technology may be high, if an agreement can be achieved, the benefits and the long-term cost savings will be highly worthwhile.

The acceptance of AI also requires some strategic changes from the sector as a whole. There’s no doubt that the increased use of AI will lead to a percentage of job losses in FM as the machines take on repetitive tasks as a faster, more tireless  rate than humans, but in turn will lead to higher profits and efficiency.  A new set of skills will be required to manage an AI integrated workforce, and FM needs to reposition itself in a more strategic role to avoid being viewed as just the people who fix these machines. The revolution is definitely coming, but there is still time to prepare.

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