The world of Facilities Management (FM) is going digital - again. The last time we digitised it was mostly about generating, storing and sharing digital versions of our traditional documents and drawings. It was also about putting facility data into in-house databases. It was a driver of incremental efficiencies and gradual process improvements.
The next wave is about the intelligence of the shared data, reengineering the processes and involving the extended cross-organisational team.
This article will explore how these intelligent digital assets and digital collaborative processes are enabling innovation and disruption in our industry - today.
Why digital and why now?
The need for innovation and improvement should be clear for everyone. The increased demand for performance and flexibility, the expected resource efficiencies, the complex systems, the maintenance backlog, the outsourcing/ insourcing cycles etc etc. We all know this story. However coping with this with limited resources has been an almost impossible challenge and a collective inertia has been allowed to take hold. It has been hard to justify and demonstrate “Return On Investment” on digital initiatives. Until now. So why now? Advances around us has finally made the real digitalisation of FM possible and affordable. There are two main drivers for the digital future of FM.
Update : we created a presentation with some images to supplement the article :
What are the main drivers for Digital Facilities Management?
First - the explosive development and demand in the consumer world for technology are making digital solutions affordable for professional use. Our main news headlines are filled with stories of Pokemon GO, Hololens, Oculus, Drones, the newest iPhone, Nest thermostats etc. The price and quality of consumer products make professional equipment accessible at reasonable prices. Similarly advancements in open source software and cloud services make it possible for developers to build affordable solutions utilising these technologies and “gadgets”.
Second - the construction industry is going digital at a rapid pace. On one hand projects are implementing design and site management technologies for most AEC processes. On the other hand more and more technologically advanced solutions are included into the buildings as part of the delivery. All this generates intelligent connected data and paves the way for digital operations. As data from projects are becoming digital and intelligent the promise of information lifecycle management could finally be fulfilled.
Who are leading the way
There are two prime movers in this next wave of digital FM. On one hand we see government agencies, universities and hospitals who know that they will own and operate complex facilities decades from now. As big new build projects are started they find it make sense to implement digital FM for the new facility. Then they see how it can be implemented for the rest of the portfolio. They have a long road ahead aligning with current tools, current workflows, current workforce and current assets, but it will be worth the effort.
On the other hand we see newcomers that are treating building data and digital processes as enablers of new business models and focusing not just on the cost saved but also on the value added. Using data and feedback loops at every stage of planning these organisations are able to constantly tweak their performance and get value out of every square meter. They treat their assets as products composed of components and constantly learn and improve across their portfolio.
Examples of Digital Facilities Management
What does digital FM look like? Let's explore some processes with examples of where we came from, where we are today and where we are heading
Asset data and operations and maintenance documentation
Operations and Maintenance archives used to be rolls of drawings and text in three ring binders. Now we have the same documents as PDFs and digital drawings. It has become somewhat easier and cheaper to store, duplicate and retrieve the data, but the digital equivalent does not add that much value over paper. You still have to scan through the drawings and documents to find what you need and manually combine data across the sources.
The next step is sharing intelligent models and structured data. We go from from sharing information to sharing meaning. This allows more intelligent reuse and composition. The new wave of digital promises an intelligent asset information model where geometry, data and documents are interlinked.
At its core it is about finally being able to answer the age old FM questions:
- What spaces are we managing?
- What equipment do we have?
- Where are the spaces and equipment located?
- How are the equipment identified?
- How are components working together in systems?
- What are the condition of what I have?
- What instruction and documentation do we have for the assets?
- What is the equipment history - problems, inspections, service requests etc.?
This core data will drive processes and priorities when combined with the changing needs and wishes of the end users
- Automatically generated inspection plans
- Automatically generated maintenance plans
- Life cycle scenarios for move, expand, renovate and similar decisions
- Scenarios for resource usage and anticipated effect of possible initiatives
The core data and the processes will work together in an endless loop to keep the data linked, updated and integrated. Data as decision support will be exposed to the operator in context where they are when they need it and in a format that is relevant to their need. 3D models, 2D floor plans, schedules, text descriptions, web forms are all different filtered views to the same asset information model. Capabilities and views are mixed in a way that make the user's task effective. Simple search may be used to find the component then the geometry in the model may be used to verify that it is correct, show location and access and the intelligence in the model will inform consequences of adjusting, shutting down etc.
And the main thing - operators and managers will get their job done efficiently while keeping the archive up to date as they do so.
Being on the receiving end of a handover used to mean getting “truckloads” of the mentioned binders and drawings some months after the physical handover. Now we do the same but we also get memory sticks or a Dropbox folder where we can download the digital equivalent. Being PDFs and plot files there is no way we can keep the information up to date and the digital nature just means that you get more information - the whole catalogue instead of just what was delivered and a lot of copy and paste from the suppliers last project.
With BIM based design, construction and handover processes we can inspect, validate and approve the asset information model during all the project stages and do gradual handover during commissioning. When receiving validated and approved data it can be imported into our FM systems keeping the intelligence and history intact.
What are the enablers of this interoperability? Open industry standards allow for the industry participants to share a common data model that describe the interfaces for information exchange. Process standards describe when information should be shared and by whom. Just remember the standards will only take you so far. You still have to understand and state your requirements and make sure they are baked into the contract requirements.
What about existing buildings? Most buildings are already built and the available data is not up to date and not in the intelligent format we have been talking about.
The first wave of digitalisation have given us digital cameras, laser measures and even point cloud scanners. This has lowered the cost of data capture to a level where we more efficiently can go out and capture existing conditions when we have decided that renovations or major works needs to be done. There are still a lot of manual work though to get this digital “dead” data into data we can use to proactively manage our facilities.
Here we also see a new wave of “going digital”. For one data capture is getting way cheaper and more accessible. The camera is now a drone that can access any part of the building exterior (or in some cases also interior). The laser scanner can be mounted to or are included in your mobile phone. Professional grade equipment are getting more and more affordable and portable. But the real advancement is going to be in object recognition and machine learning. Point clouds will be gradually interpreted as more and more intelligent objects. E.g. scan a property before renovations and have the system report calculated values for space volumes, floor, wall and ceiling areas, door, window and furniture counts etc.
Similarly machines are getting way better at identifying building defects and classifying them according to risk and urgency. First steps will be suggestions that will have to be verified by an operator. As the operator corrects the machine the machine gets smarter...
Access to information
The binders used to be located one set in the central archive and one set in the basement of the building. To access it you had to go to either of those locations (if you had access and knew your way around). You would then look up the information you thought you needed, find some lines on a drawing and then start hunting down additional info in documents, schedules, maintenance logs etc. In practice though you would rarely do that. You would rather access the info from memory or call up the retired janitor that did the work before you.
First wave of digital meant easier access and some search and link capabilities but the info was in specialised systems available on some special desktop computers and the links between systems was never maintained so it was still a hunt and gather exercise.
With mobile devices connected to intelligent FM software running in the cloud everyone that should have access can get access to the data they need when they need it. And it's not just about having access to all the information (that could lead to information overload quickly). The new systems will expose relevant data in context (your role and part of the workflow) and let you navigate links to relevant information in multiple systems when that is needed.
For information to be accessible to the end user it also needs to be understandable - meaning easier to interpret, interrogate and analyse. For easy location info the data may be best served as a marker on a floor plan with simple directions on how to get there. When you want to examine how the component are connected to systems or how it affects zones a combination of 3D bird's-eye view and first-person walk-through mode combined with x-ray vision is more suitable. Also any part of the model can be queried where you get a structured list of items. When examining the items the graphical model will support your interrogation. The list goes on and on.
Advances in technology related to gaming, mapping and entertainment are also driving further how we access the intersection between geometric and structured data. All the big IT companies are making big bets on Augmented Reality (AR) and/ or Virtual Reality (VR) technologies. For our industry this will also help making information more accessible. For buildings at the design stage users and operators will now be totally immersed in the building to be better able to give feedback on the usability and maintainability of the asset. They will also be able to start their training and familiarisation way earlier. Similarly the x-ray scenario described earlier will be much more powerful when things hidden behind the wall are overlain the real world instead of just looking at a virtual 3D model.
Shopping for new equipment used to mean flipping through paper catalogues or leaving it up to the tradesmen to pick something up when at the store. These brochures are now digital, either as digital publications or as online searchable databases. Even if the supply chain has been going digital there is still a big challenge in comparing and selecting items based on requirements criteria. Also the documentation connected to a piece of equipment that is procured is not delivered automatically.
All of this is about to change. Firstly the online shopping experience provided by the likes of amazon.com are moving into b2b sales. Try searching amazon.com for valves, filters, refrigerators or office chairs. You may not find the exact part you are looking for but you will find multiple items in that same category. In addition you will get images, description, customer reviews, ability to ask questions, options for delivery dates/ costs etc. You will also be able to compare to similar items using product metadata and customer feedback as parameters.
To avoid being short circuited the traditional professional supply chain are innovating to stay competitive. E.g. in Norway the three main wholesalers databases have launched a service where they will automatically match items in your BIM model with potential products (matching specs with performance data). And when you procure items through the system they will give you standardised data and industry standard identifications so you can replace the part when it breaks down (or purchase a similar item if you don't trust the component due to the breakdown).
The AEC and FM industries has not been big on asking for or utilising feedback mechanisms. There may be some “suggestion” boxes or satisfaction surveys but they are rare and it is even more rare to use them to inform the next building project or major renovation.
Things have improved somewhat. With more technology in the buildings there are now sensors controlling and monitoring real time and historical conditions. Also we see more digital feedback stations in the restrooms (how satisfied are you with the cleaning) or in the cantina (how satisfied were you with the food and service today). But still there is a big challenge gathering and presenting this data and making it available to those that make decisions. They also need to see the data in context with all the other systems running in the facility as they are all interlinked.
By hooking up the Building Automation System with the BIM and external data the manager will quickly be able to analyse the data from the sensors and compare it with work orders, adjustments, weather data and user complaints. When the system are reporting anomalies it is time to drill down to find the root cause and fix it, or it can be used to track the effectiveness of improvement initiatives
Cheap sensors can now track presence, temperature, CO2 levels and pollutions and they can be easily installed in new or existing facilities. By hooking the sensors up with your building services you can have it adjust for the actual use and user requirements. The ventilation system can direct fresh air to the places where the building is in use and reduce the inflow when meeting rooms or offices are unoccupied. The system can also learn from user feedback (via apps) what the user preferences are so they get the temperature they are comfortable and productive with. The same or similar sensors can be used to automatically book meeting rooms if you walk into one you did not book. Or they could suggest others and give directions if the someone already booked it.
First you start collecting feedback and learn what people want and need to be productive. Then you learn how that will affect both your costs and income and you can start being proactive. Then you design for wellbeing, performance and business value across your projects. With the latest advances in parametric design and human research you will be able to tweak floorplan alternative and score them across key performance indicators instantly.
Digital Facilities Management is not just about technology
Let us pause for a moment in all this technology talk. Lets remember that the technology are only enablers. As we know there is a people aspect to all of this as well. People has to implement it and people has to use and control the technology. The automation is not about replacing the workforce but it is about getting better results, better energy efficiency, better productivity with the resources we have. To embark on this journey you need a visionary leader in the FM department that are able to see a better future and communicate it to top management and to the rest of the team. She/he will need to be able to think long term and invite the others on a multi-year journey where digital FM gets implemented piece by piece, facility by facility. Some organisations may think that it is too early to start such a journey. Just remember that any new project or renovation where you do not plan for such an opportunity is a missed opportunity. Also remember that to get the right information in a common format you have to ask for it. To ask for it you know what to ask for. It is the right time to learn and it is time to get experience. Follow us and we will continue to share what we learn along the way. In the mean time, check out some of our previous articles, for example
Click here to sign up for our newsletter!