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Using CAFM to work smarter not harder in facilities management

We spend more time in front of a screen than sleeping; technology has integrated itself into every aspect of our lives. Reaching for a smartphone on waking, tracking vitals with wearables and even installing ever-listening digital personal assistants like Amazon Alexa for the home is becoming more commonplace to solve those little everyday challenges to make life easier. Yet when it comes to business, technology can sometimes be seen as a drain on resources rather than a viable way to improve efficiency. The ‘little challenges’ solved with tech can be magnified throughout a business, so the initial time spent on implementation is repaid manifold.

Better with BIM

BIM (building information modelling) is often cited as being a revolution for FMs but the percentage of the industry using it is relatively low. A global survey by FM software vendor Service Works Global published in 2020 found that respondents felt BIM was the fourth highest item on their agenda, falling closely behind energy management, IoT and integration. But while uptake is generally rising, it is still in the early stages of market growth.

The turning point for BIM in the UK was through the government mandate on public sector projects, and this is something very much under consideration in other countries. Governments are increasingly backing BIM projects, such as the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Australia, the world cup stadia in Qatar and Oakland International Airport in the USA; any FMs using it are already at an advantage.

For FM, the crux of the difficulty lies with the history of the building. If it was not designed collaboratively using BIM, then how can FMs benefit from it? As ever, technology has been developed to supply the missing piece of the puzzle and a BIM model can be retrofitted to an existing building. Lasers can be used to scan the interior and exterior of a building, mapping an accurate digital representation which forms the basis of a realistic 3D model. Once integrated with an asset register and an IWMS (integrated workplace management system), the model can be used to gain measurements of any area; view asset locations, their histories and if there are any access constraints; troubleshoot areas of common breakdowns or view energy hotspots. The two-way link between BIM and IWMS means any update performed on one is reflected in the other so there is no need for complex CAD (computer aided design) tools or  software training – the model can be maintained with no extra effort to give a wealth of valuable information.

A measured, analytical approach to sensors

With the cost of sensors falling and workplace demands rising, the benefits offered by sensor technology are becoming more commercially viable. But with facility managers already stretched getting the day-to-day work done, who has time to implement a sensor network?

Careful consideration should be undertaken to decide what needs to be achieved and how it will be measured. For example, is it to reduce utility costs? Improve service efficiency? Help with wayfinding across large organizations? Increase employee retention?

Sensors can be used to gather data on occupancy and activity patterns as well as environmental data and this accurate, real-time information can aid decision making. Identifying building trends mean lighting and heating can be reduced during empty periods, and resources (like cleaning) can be increased according to volume of building users. A sensor attached to a soap dispenser in a washroom can monitor when it needs refilling, helping the cleaning team prioritize their workload and remove unnecessary trips. A wider sensor network can even provide information on the availability of nearby facilities such as meeting rooms or hot desks. Accessible via an app, the location’s temperature or brightness can be customised according to the user’s preference to ultimately improve employee productivity and retention rates through a more comfortable workplace.

It is usually prudent to start installing sensors in a small test area first, with a clear goal in mind, which also minimizes time and resources spent. When the benefits of the pilot project are proven, the sensor-based system can be rolled out, to the benefit of the wider organization.

Cut out the middleman

IWMS software can be easily integrated by the IWMS vendor with a sensor network or BMS (building management system) to perform actions automatically, without the need for human intervention. If a sensor on an asset predicts or identifies a problem, an alert is sent directly to the IWMS. A job is then raised containing the details of the problem and automatically sent to the mobile device of the appropriately skilled and available engineer. Once the issue is fixed, the engineer can then mark the job as completed using their mobile app, which in turn alerts the BMS to turn the asset back on (if applicable). Triggers could also be created to streamline asset management, for example a boiler operating for over 200 run hours or running at a higher than acceptable limit. Jobs will then be created and assigned automatically when pre-defined conditions are met. This means engineers can attend an asset and resolve an issue before it becomes a problem that impacts building users, thereby improving the working environment. It also takes pressure off the helpdesk where mistakes can happen due to the volume of work; and removes the need for team walk-rounds as conditions can be monitored centrally.

The evolving FM

The role of the facility manager has certainly transitioned from being a technical role to a more strategic, service-based role. This has naturally led to an evolved skillset, where data is becoming as important as mechanical knowledge, and technology is essential in supporting this. Centralized control and easier identification of service bottlenecks means the FM team can be deployed more effectively and service levels can be improved. Some time-consuming manual processes can be eliminated, ultimately allowing the team to use their knowledge to make their facility a more productive, welcoming environment.

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