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Paul McCarthy, Chief Technical Officer, Service Works Global, is featured in the October Issue of Facilities Management Journal discussing how FMs can determine which digital solutions are the right ones. Read more on page 28. 

From IWMS to Al, how can FMs determine which digital solutions are the right ones for their needs? We asked the experts for their views.

IWMS (Integrated Workplace Management System) has long been the foremost software solution used by FMs, allowing them to access asset data and information on the built environment as well as delivering mobile solutions for operatives in the field. Now a range of next-generation FM-related software solutions have entered the field, designed to complement and ideally enhance IWMS performance.

Let’s begin with a useful overview of the relationship between IWMS software and other digital tools. According to Paul McCarthy, CTO of Service Works Global, IWMS provides the solid foundation where FMs can manage and maintain their estate. “When integrated with IWMS software, smart building and IoT (Internet of Things) technology can drive significant operational improvements as it offers the ability to capture real-time data, allowing users to gather insights on building usage, asset performance and energy consumption. This can then be fed into IWMS software to drive efficiencies and influence maintenance strategies.”

He continues: “Al adds a further layer of intelligence, allowing systems to take existing data patterns and trends to determine when input is needed from FM. The variables are infinite; from predicting equipment faults and scheduling preventative maintenance to avoid asset failure to identifying potential security risks.”

So how do you choose which is right for individual needs? James Massey, Managing Director, Facilities Management, Energy and Retail Intelligence at MRI recommends you begin with your end goal. He explains: “Consider what reports and data-driven decisions you are going to make with this data and take into account what the various stakeholders will want to understand from that data set.

“Once that is mapped out, critical to success is a good collection platform, be that either as a one-off survey or an ongoing process, this could take various forms including a mobile app, loT sensors, historic data ingest etc. all should be considered as options.”

John Gorman, Marketing Manager, Anders+ Kern adds: “A word of warning, you need to speak to people that want to solve your issues not sell you technology. You can spot this straight away when speaking to different digital service providers, as they will start presenting their technology, not asking you what the issue is.”

Meanwhile, Craig Allan, UK Commercial Director, ABAX thinks it is important to remember to look beyond the physical building side of FM. “An often, overlooked area are the mobile assets that fall under control of FMs. Here there are many new innovations that, depending upon the required outcomes, can easily assist FMs to achieve their goals.”

Digital Assistance

The way organisations are managed has changed dramatically since the pandemic and software solutions are required that help FMs manage buildings and people working within the new hybrid working model. McCarthy of SWG believes it is here that digital software can help organizations monitor their space to reflect hybrid working patterns and utilize it to encourage staff back into the office. If downsizing space, the adoption of flexible hot desking and the subsequent restructuring of an office can be difficult to manage without space management software.

“This software can provide scenario planning features to help with this, making sure every inch of the office is optimized,” he says. “Furthermore, loT and sensor technology can also be implemented so FMs can understand how a space is used. Data on how often desks or meeting rooms are occupied can add valuable insight into how to arrange an office space.

“For organizations trying to encourage people back to the office, the focus on facilities has never been more important. Making sure workspaces are optimized for employee needs, creating more collaborative spaces, and making sure assets are running as they should will help to incentivize people out of their home office and back into the corporate one.

“Implementing workplace software can make it easy for staff to plan their in-office days. If a hybrid working policy such as hot desking is introduced, staff need to feel confident that when they turn up at work, they’ll have access to everything they need.”

Massey describes how digital tech can help facilitate “hotel style amenities” where everything from the air conditioning to the availability of meeting room refreshments are in place and crucially can also help FMs reduce wasted resources such as heating/ cooling in empty spaces. “People want to come in to work, not to come in and work around the facility” he explains. “Proactive space management is also critical, as there is little value in having a six-story building with six people in it and one on each floor. Technology can help to flag these kinds of points and change the FM role into one of “proactive’ as opposed to ‘reactive’, encourage people to collaborate on those quiet days, and doesn’t let them sit in isolation.”

Measuring occupancy levels is another essential part of the digital mix, which is why Gorman would always advise installing the sensor technology first, as this provides a good foundation for data utilization. He says: “Utilisation data helps to provide confidence that you have enough space to support hybrid working, but most importantly it gives you the data and insight to have conversations with the businesses you support. With this you can demonstrate their average utilization of the space they currently use and the maximums they have reached.”

Paul Witter, Head of Finance, Commercial & Partnerships at BigChange argues there are other benefits of using data to unlock efficiencies and help save time, money and resources, particularly by switching from paper to digital-based records.”Automation-such as computer-generated service renewal reminders, booking confirmations and job despatch, reduce the administration burden. Information is also more accurate and instantly updated and some issues can be resolved much quicker and resources optimized more effectively. Meanwhile field operatives are freed from filling out paper job cards, timesheets and other forms.”

BIM (Building Information Modelling) data models shouldn’t be overlooked either says SWG’s McCarthy as it gives contractors and operatives the ability to view a space beforehand, enabling them to access any areas where maintenance is required and familiarise themselves with a building layout without the need for multiple expensive site visits.

He says: “If needed, 3D viewing tools can be used to ‘see’ assets that may normally be hidden from view such as in ceiling voids. BIM technology means simple things such as knowing the make and models of certain equipment in advance and ensuring the right tools are taken to the site prevents the possibility of multiple unnecessary visits and streamlining the task at hand. This helps prevent a backlog and can ensure a building is performing at optimal levels.

“IoT data can also help drive energy efficiencies – making sure energy is only used in spaces that are being used and introducing elements such as temperature control to make sure a space is not overheated.”

Integration

Many of the common challenges in the FM industry, such as minimizing cost, increasing productivity and becoming more sustainable, can be dramatically helped by integrated technology solutions. But with so many solutions now available, where do you begin to integrate tech solutions to work together? Gorman at Anders+Kern recommends looking for technologies that have already provided integration with other technologies, and asking for examples and references. IoT and sensor technology can also be implemented so FMs can understand how a space is used. Data on how often desks or meeting rooms are occupied can add valuable insight into how to arrange an office space.” He says: “There are quite a few service providers now in the arena that partner with different technologies. These service providers have experienced the problems of integrating the technologies and they may have already tested solutions and found what works well.” He recommends that users avoid trying to integrate several technologies in one step and, if one thing goes wrong it will bring everything down.

Core data integration is another critical consideration according to MRI’s Massey: “Be that the creation of an asset in a single system and it being available in any subsequent ones. It’s about being able to call other technology platforms from within another (single sign-on being key to keep a good user experience), and giving the right user the right data.”

Witter of BigChange also recommends talking to other companies that have been through the process and get recommendations before choosing a system. He says: “It is important to involve everyone from administration to accounts and field service engineers to customer service teams. A phased implementation (in one service area or regional location, for example) will help smooth out the pitfalls that may well arise.”

Software Futures

The software developments McCarthy sees as most useful for FM in terms of building performance and asset management include IWMS Software which is integrated with other technology for a best-in-breed solution, loT and Smart Building Technology, BIM & Digital Twins and Al for predictive maintenance. “Ultimately, all the above converging together will create an optimal building management system. As buildings and building requirements continue to grow and develop, having a succinct and established building management system to assist with performance and asset management is transitioning from a desirable arrangement to a necessary one.”

Massey says the latest lot and not basic sensors that we used to have 10 years ago, but ultra-smart sensors that can give early indication to a wide-ranging set of issues will deliver huge digital benefits. This enables the compilation of: “A ‘building health’ indicator, built up of a vast amount of data, feeding into a core FM platform. By this I mean the ability for a sensor to raise an alert (for example CO2 level is too high in a room), send that ‘task’ to the IWMS system and in-turn that IWMS system could (where possible) tell the BMS system to open the fresh air-vents or increase the AC unit or tell the facilities team to go and visit that room – all from a single sensor.”

Using IoT tools in this way could deliver smart energy management he says, working as “a digitally attentive landlord who offers a feature-rich self-service portal or integrated access control on your phone. All of these are the foundations for ‘digitally driven maintenance’ which in my view is the most useful set of developments we are working on.”

ABAX’s Craig Allan agrees asset management is an area of focus for FMs, and while some developments within buildings can often be expensive, introducing an effective asset management system can be a smaller, but rewarding and cost-effective, investment. He explains: “As part of strong asset management, it can be possible to increase the life of some assets. We have a ‘one year longer’ commitment whereby we aim to share insights to help customers use their assets in a way that means they last at least a year longer than anticipated.

“This could mean offering data-led insights on driving behaviors to reduce idling or sharing insights on how to limit wear and tear on machinery. Achieving this ‘additional year’ requires that the location of the asset is easily identifiable, and if it is lost/mislaid it can be recovered.”

However, he adds, with all these developments we should never forget the user’s role: “Data is what software uses and processes, but humans need information (processed data) to make more informed decisions. By using this information FMs can implement new ways of working, reduce energy spending or remove the need to unnecessarily replace assets – thus providing a more efficient, sustainable and profitable business.”

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