This article also features in the March edition of FMJ.
In November last year, we launched a survey in partnership with UK journal FMJ to ask people working in FM about their use of software and gather insights on industry trends. The questions asked respondents to reflect on both the last 12 months and the time since the start of the pandemic.
- Role in FM – 55% employed directly at premises; 29% FM service provider
- Role in purchasing FM technology – 38% influencers; 37% decision-makers; 21% users
- Respondents’ FM teams range from >5 to <100
- 36% work in the private sector; 28% in the public sector; 23% as a service provider in both
Arguably the biggest impact of Covid on the workplace has been how businesses manage space. Where before there were people-per-square-foot ratios, now there is much more thought given to creating workplaces that are hygienic, healthy, and conducive to work.
This is a trend that respondents believe is here to stay. When asked about the top technology trends that will have the biggest impact in the next 12 months, property and space management (including flexible working) was the second highest answer. Interestingly, workplace wellbeing was a very close third, tying in neatly with space management.
65 per cent of respondents have either made changes to their workplaces to allow for flexible working or are in the process of doing so. A further 14 per cent had already adopted flexible working. When asked about how FM has changed since March 2020, the majority of respondents cited the use of more technology for remote asset or space monitoring, including implementing integrated workplace management system (IWMS) software, workplace or sensor technology.
Yet there are a number of challenges that FMs face. Despite an increased workload in the last 12 months, budgets have remained largely unchanged and just 17 per cent of respondents said that their current FM software was flexible enough to support changing workplace demands. Furthermore, when asked about the key challenges for FM in the next 12 months, budgetary pressures and meeting demand for flexible working ranked in the top three answers.
Space management is clearly a key part of the FM role, but without the right budget or support, FMs may not be as effective as they would like to be.
Energy management and sustainability
Unsurprisingly, respondents noted energy management and sustainability would be simultaneously the biggest trend and the biggest challenge in the next 12 months. COP26 sent us all a stark warning about the need for urgent action to tackle climate change. Building and construction are responsible for 39 per cent of all carbon emissions; 28 per cent of this is from operational carbon.
Operational carbon includes the energy used to heat, cool and light a building, and falls under the remit of FMs. But as we have already seen, budgetary constraints mean that FMs have little to no additional funds to meet this renewed demand for sustainability.
One respondent highlighted the challenge, saying “technology is great in new or refurbished buildings but to retrofit systems, i.e., HVAC Controls, upgrade LED luminaires to IoT and having the technology to use is unaffordable to the public sector.”
This is perhaps where Building information modelling (BIM) could assist, yet only 12 per cent of those surveyed are currently using BIM data. Of those, 20 per cent are using it to improve environmental performance.
The reasons for lack of BIM adoption varied, with common themes around lack of internal resource or being unaware of the benefits. 20 per cent of those not using BIM now say they plan to in the future, which may point to a more manageable workload following the height of the pandemic and an appreciation of BIM’s benefits for improving sustainability.
When asked about the tools FMs use to manage their work, aside from Excel spreadsheets, FM software was the most commonly used solution, followed by software tool developed in-house. 47 per cent are either planning to change their tool or software or are undecided as yet.
Of those planning to change, lack of integration with other organisational systems was the most common reason. A lack of required functionality and out-dated systems were also popular responses which further point to issues with integration.
The potential for integration was highlighted a handful of respondents in the survey. One said: “I am an advocate for further adoption of technology. Aligning our digital platforms into a single interface would enable greater opportunities to deliver a better service for a lower cost to the organisation.”
Another respondent bemoaned outdated client IT systems, saying: “The technology in FM is continually hampered by utilising the same infrastructure as client’s business critical IT, which leads to a lack of desire to integrate and utilize the technology that exists.”
Interestingly, integration with space management and CAD tools has increased since our last survey: in 2020 ,32 per cent of people reported integration, compared with 11 per cent in 2020.
Whether this trend continues may well hinge on the supporting IT infrastructure and ensuring that all systems can be readily integrated before making the change.
Visualization is the process of creating digital renders of buildings not yet constructed (to help demonstrate the finished space) or re-imagined with a different purpose (for example to show transformation of an unused retail unit into a functional café).
Similarly to BIM and, perhaps surprisingly, slightly more respondents are employing visualization with 15 per cent already using it and a further 19 per cent are planning to.
Visualization seems particularly popular in higher education. FMs from eight universities took part in the survey; four of those are already using visualization, and another three are planning to use it. It’s fair to assume their use would be to give virtual campus tours to students that have not been able to attend in-person because of the pandemic.
Although Covid restrictions have been removed and don’t look as if they will return for the foreseeable future, visualization will still be an important tool for FMs in the coming years. We have all become familiar with digital tools, whether that’s video calls or virtual tours.
Virtual tours are great for showing prospective tenants around an office space. For high priority spaces, such as a hospital operating room, virtual tours can be given to surgeons who may not have the time to visit in-person.
This trend is definitely one to watch, especially if client demand stays strong.
Tech must be a strategic decision
It’s vital that whatever tech is employed is done so strategically. We’ll leave the final word to one of our respondents:
“Collecting data is great, but it needs to be available to the client in full and any data collection needs to create added value; there is no point collecting data/going digital if the process is not more efficient.”
A white paper of the full findings will be released next month. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a copy.