Imagine this: The buildings of tomorrow will greet you, meet you and guide you to your location in the most efficient way. Arriving at your location, the temperature and light will be set and your favourite coffee will be ready at your desk or in a better case, suggest you with a healthier and more sustainable beverage option... This can be achieved by simply linking your smartphone, FM software and building system databases together and then let AI do its magic…
With so much emphasis given to technology in the service industry, FM today chats with Bart F Holsters, Operations Manager, Cofely Besix Facilities Management (CBFM) on how they have embraced technology and the trends he foresees’ in 2019. There is a lot of change on-going within the regional market place, especially in the UAE. Not so long ago we would find a fragmented approach for the design and implementation of technology solutions, whereas now there is a clear shift towards a more integrated approach in offering smart solutions, data analytics, and ultimately artificial intelligence.
“Technology will take over human action and will eventually take out the need of manning most of the buildings as we know today. I also believe it will reduce and eventually eliminate executing preventive maintenance the way it is organised today,” says Holsters. The building, he says, will simply let us know when we need to intervene timely to conduct preventive maintenance and this well in advance of a breakdown occurring. These kinds of efficiencies will make facility management more effective and much more strategic; e.g. driving cost down for the clients and with significant gains towards reliability, sustainability and also towards energy efficiency.
Cofely Besix is a technology-driven company with a clear focus on innovation and efficiency. It is clear that with the rise of technology, much greater efficiencies can be achieved and this without too much effort once the systems have been put in place. Over the last two years, CBFM has been focussing heavily on optimising their CAFM solution and automating mobile platforms to allow real-time digital interaction with their customers and field staff. “We are further experimenting with Artificial Intelligence techniques such as machine learning. We aim at implementing our hardware and software solutions to identify patterns in streams of data inputs with as on objective optimising labour planning and optimising technical inefficiencies. Machine learning is innovative as it does not rely at all on pre-programmed algorithms. It simply creates its own algorithms and continues to refine them based on the changes and patterns it detects. This kind of technology allows, for example, to predict equipment failure prematurely and optimise maintenance programs away from traditional frequency based preventive maintenance,” explains Holsters.
Implementing such technologies enables Cofely Besix to raise its efficiency on the work floor and to reduce company overheads. In addition to uplifting the quality of service, obviously, technology also provides them with the necessary cost savings to allow them to operate in the highly commoditised and competitive FM landscape of today. “Secondly, this digitalisation and availability of more (and more reliable) data also provide us with a much higher level of possibility for data analysis. This in turn drives improvements further throughout our company and our operations. Reliable data is key to achieving goals: ‘you can't manage what you can't measure’,” says Holsters. This also enables an increased level of transparency towards customers. Technology makes it possible to holistically visualise FM operations in real time. This transparency not only boosts trust and confidence but also provides the customer with convenient and tailored services.
“I believe the implemented technology enables Cofely Besix to run its portfolio at greater performance and with an auditable trail. Greater performance directly translates to an extended asset lifecycle and cost avoidance towards utility expenditure with tailored reports ready at your fingertips. We do believe our drive towards implementing technology and developing a smart FM environment shall continue to provide great opportunities and enhancing our customer experience!” he says.
When it comes to adopting technology into service delivery, they are bound to be challenged. The major challenge today remains the cost of implementing the technology within short-term FM contracts. Unfortunately, the infrastructure required to unleash the smart FM environment comes with CAPEX requirements. “We, as Cofely Besix are open to lease models and shared saving schemes. However, a lease model does generally not work well when a contract is awarded for a short period; i.e. the typical one year period awards we see in the market today for many floated tenders,” says Holsters.
Some buildings are obviously better fit than others to implement the technology. For example, having good WiFi coverage throughout a facility or having a functioning building control and automation system in place certainly helps. Fortunately, there are new techniques on the rise to overcome these issues. For example, the LiFi networks could resolve the WiFi coverage problem. LiFi uses the light of LED lamps to transmit information. Typically, WiFi is a problem for both coverage in basements and plant rooms, toilets, etc. and these just happen to be the areas where we need it the most. With LiFi, this problem would go away.
Moreover, a LiFi network is faster (up to 224GB/second, that is a lot of devices that can be connected…) and can complement existing WiFi routers. As LED retrofits are very popular in the market today, combining these technologies will definitely have a high potential for the further development of smart buildings. Another problem frequently faced is the opposition to “real” performance-based FM models. Contracts keep on being drafted with ‘minimum manpower requirements’ and ‘frequency based preventive maintenance’. “This is obviously a challenge for implementing smart technology as there is no cost saving realised at the signing of the contract when adopting such approach. Cost is not the only problem with frequency driven maintenance, as too much maintenance will also potentially damage the assets and shorten their life cycle,” says Holsters.
Furthermore, there is the problem of big data. Vast amounts of data require to be used intelligently and therefore requires careful selection to become a powerful tool. Another level of thinking will be required from the staff on the ground. The Facility Manager of the future will have to become much more tech-savvy and shall have to develop deeper analytical and strategic thinking skills to access, handle and act on the information that is being provided to him or her. Holsters points out that while a million different things can be measured, it is selecting and integrating the right ones that drive significant value to the customers and the end-users.
When it comes to incorporating technology into projects, are we stuck in a vacuum as compared to our international counterparts? “A vacuum might be temporarily created due to the increased complexity of the role of the facility manager. The facility manager will increasingly get more involved with other parts of the business to achieve overall objectives, this is opposed to the more isolated role the FM played before. This need for strategic input requires a deeper and better understanding of such strategic requirements,” explains Holsters.
Furthermore, the FM of tomorrow will have to develop strong analytical skills to handle data and more importantly, select the right data to analyse and act on. “Most of us, industry professionals will most probably not deny that there is plenty of information available. However, rendering this plethora of fragmented information useful remains the challenge. Hopefully, this more strategic role and appreciation of facility management, in general, will attract new and young talent into the business,” says Holsters, while adding, “However, as with any technology, it is important to evaluate how this will help you move forward. Just installing hardware and software because it is available does not make any sense. The technology to be implemented should be fit for purpose and provide you with benefit.”
The technology is already widely available to benefit from “Internet of Things” (IoT) enabled building management. IoT provides FM with the ability to connect all kinds of devices through the internet. However, the real power lies within the ability to facilitate communication and integration amongst the devices through FM applications. Today, both wired and wireless devices can easily capture field data to allow for efficient controlling of e.g. mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. However, these form only a small part of the smart infrastructure of the future. Fast internet communication allows detection of efficiency drops or technical anomaly in real time and can subsequently trigger a service visit through the CAFM system. In addition, the “cloud” has also made its introduction and made centralised control and system integration easy. This ability to pull all individual systems together on a single reporting platform allows easy access to information globally.
“We move towards a world where simply everything is connected. The future will only bring more data, more analytics, and therefore more efficiency. For facility managers, this means that issues and potential problems will be much easier to identify using IoT and AI,” says Holsters, while adding, “I do believe the right answer to this question is: ‘Ready or not, AI & IoT technology is coming to you…’.”
The self-driving car is here, and the same technology is taking off on factory floors and in medical facilities, among other built environments. One wonders if we will see autonomous robots managing the facilities in the future? “I believe that future is already here,” says Holsters. Cofely Besix already has an artificial intelligent robot running around in their regional headquarters. It is a fully developed autonomous AI robot in partnership with Partnering Robotics, i.e. the DIYA ONE. It purifies the air as it moves around inside the building. While conducting this primary mission, it also gathers a lot of data to support other functions, such as such as reducing energy consumption and managing maintenance requests from occupants.
Robots are definitely on the rise. Sales are increasing globally 25% year-on-year, especially for cleaning applications. Today many applications are already surrounding us. Think of PV solar cleaning robots, window cleaning robots, lawn mowers, just to name a few. The improved sensor technology that is available today combined with advanced AI will provide the opportunity to create many more applications. “For the hard FM robotics, I have my reservations as a technical intervention can be of a very complex nature. I don’t see robots capable of taking over such a task in the near future, especially in more public accessible environments,” says Holsters.
According to Holsters, there are two immediate needs in the FM industry. Firstly, a better, faster and cheaper wireless communication network with full coverage throughout a building. And secondly, a clear focus on capturing the right data for analytics. “The service provider of today has a duty that stretches far beyond keeping buildings clean and ensuring the operational status of the assets of the facility. Managing a facility consist now of driving efficiency, saving cost, and enhancing performance. Technology is definitely needed to assist the service providers in achieving these new requirements,” he says.
More than ever, sustainability is a hot topic and Holsters believes that the machine learning algorithms of today already can contribute significantly towards more sustainable operations. “The ability of these algorithms to seek for suitable outputs based on functions it discovers from inputs without any user interference is amazing. That it can do this in milliseconds, is even more mind dazzling. This is something a human will never be able to achieve,” he adds. Holsters goes on to say, that the possibilities to take over time-consuming tasks and addressing critical issues are simply endless. In conclusion, Holsters does say that there is no denying that technology is here to stay and disrupt our way of organising facility management the way we used to do over the last decades. “Therefore, in my opinion, technology will become one of the main drivers for FM growth and will allow taking FM to a strategic business level rather than being a cost centre today,” sums up Holsters.
Our SMART phones are deeply embedded in our dayto- day lives. We might barely use them to make phone calls. However, we increasingly use them to organise our lives: do our shopping, do our banking, make payments, etc. FM will also make much more use of this in the near future to communicate with CAFM systems, customers and with the built environment itself.
Drones are increasingly used for inspections of difficult accessible/dangerous areas using, for example, pre-programmed GPS routes for façade inspections. The speed of collecting valuable data increases drastically, which contributes to cost savings and time. Cofely Besix is partly owned by ENGIE. They use drones to inspect their wind and solar farms for example. Inspection of PV panels and turbine blades through drones is faster and safer. In addition, experiments are currently ongoing to use drone technology for cleaning wind turbines as well. Alternatively, drone technology can also be used to replace security patrols; they can cover a greater area in much less time and can also be equipped with e.g. thermographic imaging cameras for detection.
IOT DRIVEN MAINTENANCE FOR CRITICAL ASSETS
Introducing IoT into maintenance programs simply makes sense. The technology is available, the cost is reasonable and integration with maintenance software is not that difficult anymore. Sensors to monitor for example temperature, run time, vibration, and many other valuable parameters will find their more common use to drive predictive and condition-based maintenance programs accurately. The asset will tell us when maintenance is required, increasing reliability, while decreasing costs for overall maintenance activity.
FAULT DETECTION & DIAGNOSTICS (FDD) PLATFORMS
In our region, the HVAC systems easily take up 60% of the total energy bill. Issues with the controls and operations can create huge increases in energy costs if left unattended. There are many FDD solutions out there that can diagnose and detect issues in HVAC systems through an existing Building Management System (BMS). These FDD platforms make use a pre-set fault databases and can drive to a much deeper level of finding anomalies and diagnosing root causes. These diagnostic software solutions, in turn, can communicate with the CAFM system and assure fast attendance to an issue before it leads to premature failure or energy being wasted.
FACILITIES BUILDING INFORMATION MODELLING (BIM)
BIM is not new within the construction environment but has not been commonly used thus far within the facilities management world. Nowadays, a “data rich” & “as built updated“ BIM model will also contain a lot of valuable information to drive operations. The standardised BIM format goes far beyond archiving CAD drawings and 3D models. You will also find detailed asset data and O&M manuals that can directly integrate with CAFM software and drive your maintenance, life-cycle costing, energy management programs just to name a few.