More important than ever, Property and Facilities Management consultants must be plugged into the tech scene.
The digitisation of the world is happening rapidly. This is impacting all sectors of the economy – disrupting some, whilst improving others – and this trend is something that is here to stay. Sector by sector, new technologies have transformed business models and pushed companies to rethink the way that we operate.
Similarly, property and facilities management has not been spared. Digitisation has, and will continue to change the processes – from cleaning, to security and maintenance, to customer service.
Facilities management: More than meets the eye
Property Management and Facilities Management are multi-disciplinary functions that focus on the operation of real estate. The ultimate aim is to deliver a cost-effective, comfortable and sustainable environment for its owners and occupants.
"Sector by sector, new technologies have transformed business models and pushed companies to rethink the way that we operate."
Typical services include security, building inspections, cleaning, landscaping, fire safety, environment, health and safety (EHS), building and equipment maintenance, lease and tenancy management, traffic and carpark control, plumbing and drainage, electrical and/or mechanical engineering disciplines and other duties related to the administration of office, industrial and retail properties.
It is a complex network of disciplines that needs careful organisation due to its complexity. It is common that many organisations and landlords opt to outsource the function to external vendors, such as consultancy firms like Colliers.
The vendor, in turn, works with a range of service providers to make sure that buildings and their facilities – including lifts, air conditioning, common areas and toilets – are well-maintained and operating properly.
"Through greater innovation and more smart solutions within the facilities management sector, technology is rapidly improving the place we work, play, eat and live."
Embracing digital transformation
While the adoption of technology has been slow traditionally, the speed at which technology is being embraced in Property and Facilities Management is accelerating due to the recent pandemic. Through greater innovation and more smart solutions within the facilities management sector, technology is rapidly improving the place we work, play, eat and live.
Using drones for building inspections or surveying large sites will help improve productivity and reduce costs
Embracing innovations such as the use of drones for building facade inspection, automated cleaning robots and simplified 'smart sensors' is changing the built environment at speed. Technologies including machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and sensors will no doubt chart a new future for the industry – in fact, some innovative concepts have already been rolled out in the marketplace:
As an area becomes more built-up and skyscrapers get ever taller, the use of drones to assess a building's facade or hard to reach places, or even to survey a large site will help to improve productivity and reduce cost. For instance, a facade inspection job which requires three workers could potentially be done by one person operating the drone.
- IOT and sensors
Wireless smart sensors in buildings can act as the "eyes, ears and noses" on the ground, boosting efficiencies in facility management operations. For example, Smart toilet systems can track how heavily used the toilets are. Air quality sensors can be installed to detect the level of substances such as ammonia (which is present in urine) in the restrooms as well as people-counter sensors to detect the number of people going in and out of the toilets.
Movement sensors can let cleaners know which parts of office space are more heavily used and therefore require more attention, or ascertain safe levels of occupant numbers (for track and trace purposes). Smart glass and automatic sunshades can help reduce the impact of direct sunlight on buildings and reduce energy consumption by a considerable margin. With such information, a smart building system could then adjust ventilation or air-conditioning accordingly.
The use of facial recognition software has been increasingly integrated into building management processes, including for security and access control
- Artificial intelligence
Some buildings have also adopted facial recognition technology for security and building access control. This could be particularly useful in the current pandemic to allow for touchless entry points and temperature recording in once device (that can be hidden and allow for relative easy access). Staff manning the concierge desks at commercial buildings could make use of facial recognition software to register visitors to the property instead of collecting their IDs (a practice that has now been tightened).
- Big data
Facility managers can glean meaningful insights from a myriad of information that has been collected from various machines and sensors. These data sets can be mined and analysed, providing key takeaways that could facilitate real-time decision making and enhance the deployment of resources (both manned and automatic).
To this end, Colliers works with a wide range of established service providers – including technology solutions partners – to offer customised solutions for our projects.
Smart buildings and the sustainable built environment
Technology aside, new trends in how buildings are being constructed and the growing focus on sustainability and wellness could also increase the complexity of a facility manager's job.
For instance, more and more newly constructed buildings come equipped with a Building Information Modelling (BIM) system, which changes the way that facility managers manage their buildings. Although such a system enables a building to be more intelligently managed, it also raises the bar for the technical skill sets of the building management professionals.
In addition, building features such as a green wall – a wall covered with greenery, also known as a living wall – may have a water delivery or irrigation system, which will have different maintenance requirements compared with a normal wall.
More buildings are incorporating 'green' features and innovations for long-term sustainability - but could increase the complexity of facilities management
The choice of building materials too, can impact the facility management budget. The cost of replacing normal timber is higher than that of composite wood, for example. All these need to be considered carefully in order to create an optimal facility management strategy.
"It is not a question of if, but when technology will radically reshape the way that facility managers work… A key challenge is how to encourage a mindset shift among workers."
Help the industry raise the game
There is no question that the industry needs to embrace change – and do so quickly. Continuous training and skills upgrading will remain critical in equipping workers with new know-how and helping them to stay relevant.
It is not a question of if, but when, technology will radically reshape the way that facility managers work. However, a key challenge is how to encourage a mindset shift among workers, many of whom have been in the business for a long time.
Opportunities will indeed arise as technology reshapes the industry. In embarking on this journey of change, it is also important that the industry sees it with new eyes.
Contact Colliers to find out how we can make a difference to your Property and Facilities Management strategy.
Editor's note: A previous version of this blog post was originally published in the SME Magazine (Business Times) in 2019. This post has been updated for relevance.
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