drone in the sky

Which tech trends are most impacting the FM industry?

From drones to robotics, a wave of change is about to break over the facilities management industry.

A lot of tech trends that previously seemed fanciful or gimmicky are fast becoming a reality. Drones, for example, are already in use by fire services - not inclined to buy gadgets for the sake of it. They’re using them to send back pictures of incidents, look for people in areas that firefighters can’t access, and direct operational efforts. So let’s see which tech trends may have the biggest impact on the FM industry in the near and medium-term.

Robotics

This doesn’t yet mean person-shaped androids working on fixing the air conditioning, but it does mean that repetitive tasks will soon be done by robotic tools. Sweeping the grounds, picking up leaves, floor cleaning, window washing and grass cutting are all jobs that can be done by robots available now.

High initial costs are offset by the fact that the robot maintenance workers don’t need breaks, holidays or sick leave and can work day and night, in most kinds of weather. And the rapid development of more sophisticated sensor technologies, allied to machine learning and artificial intelligence, means that robotic security in buildings is likely to come about much sooner than many people realise.

Drones

In use already, drones have been in some ways a solution looking for a problem. But now that they are cheaper, smaller and lighter, their use in facilities maintenance is beginning to grow. Drones with high-resolution cameras can send back pictures of inaccessible parts of the building, allowing facilities managers to diagnose a problem accurately before they go to the expense of getting contractors in.

One underestimated effect of technology is that the fact it exists begins to change the way we do other things. Previously, we’ve needed to design the maintenance and management envelope of a building so that it was accessible to people for inspection purposes. Now, building design may change as we delegate that kind of task to drones. Once drones become more specialised, able to carry out tasks or to transport robotic tools that can be programmed to perform specific jobs, everything changes.

Intelligent things, internet connected

The Internet of Things had a lot of hype last year - since then things have quietened down a bit. But that doesn’t mean that development stopped. We’re now on the verge of a world where things (pumps, controllers, heating systems, ventilation pipes, AV conference rooms) have enough inbuilt intelligence to predict that they are going to go wrong and to use internet technology to let us know before it happens. That completely changes facilities management from a reactive “fixing it” mode to a proactive “preventing it failing” role.

There’s just one drawback - people’s expectations will simply rise, until the new normal is a seamless, trouble-free, smoothly flowing building environment where the temperature is always perfect, robots silently clean and everything is fixed before it ever breaks down. If it sounds like a dream, it isn’t - it will be a reality sooner than we think.


management

How is facilities management changing in the workplace?

There have been enormous changes in the past few years, in the way that people view their workplaces, and this, in turn, has led to significant shifts in the part played by facilities management. It's not just tech startups that feel the need to design a workplace that makes its users feel comfortable. Even major, traditional companies have recognised that there's a strong link between people feeling that their workplace gives them a sense of well-being and consequent rises in productivity.

Growth in project work and home working

With more and more people working on project-based assignments, workflows are often dictated by the demands of the project, and this can lead to occasional long hours for employees who are key to project delivery. An environment where these people feel relaxed yet can work professionally can make extra hours spent delivering a key project more acceptable.

Similarly, the growth in home working has made the formality of office life look increasingly constrained. With many employees spending a couple of days a week at home and the rest of the time in the office, it's become clear that a formal office environment is not necessary for productive work. That has led people to question whether it is necessary at all, and what function it is performing.

New types of facilities managers needed

In addition, when people do come into the office, they are looking for a more sociable environment and they don't wish to sit in rigidly separated structures. To achieve the balance between home working and office life, facilities have had to change and facilities managers have had to become far more customer-focused in order to provide the kind of workspaces that modern organisations demand.

The facilities industry needs to recruit a new type of manager who is capable of understanding these shifts in the working environment. Previously, the industry was seen by the public as concerned with lighting, heating and the most basic aspects of the workplace. That's changing, although the industry still has a long way to go to persuade new recruits to look at facilities management as a forward-looking and rewarding career that integrates many aspects of building design and functionality.

One way forward is to ensure that professional qualifications, including those offered by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), are seen as part of the development path for those entering the industry. Facilities management is exceptionally well-placed to recruit a diverse workforce because it is one of the industries most likely to promote those from the shop floor - almost literally - those who perhaps started as cleaners or caretakers can work their way up to leading and influential positions, collecting relevant qualifications as they go.

As buildings change, so do the challenges of the facility, and environmental management is now seen as a key driver of workforce wellbeing in both new and old buildings. The facilities manager is taking an increasingly important role in building design and sustainability initiatives, and this should encourage new entrants who are interested in new technology and new ways to work.