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.