IoT and the Modern Facilities Manager

By Hugues Meyrath

Unless a company considers how physical infrastructure will impact its overall performance, the risk of failure is vast.

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Facilities management is a broad discipline in which professionals are responsible for designing, building, maintaining, upgrading or even closing physical premises (and everything associated with them). An increasingly important role of a facilities manager (FM) is to ensure the efficient and effective delivery of support and maintenance of all assets and equipment that it serves.

In addition to overseeing a location’s physical environment, a facilities manager also oversees the people and organization. In essence, he or she is responsible for making sure that all facilities—be it a restaurant chain, a retail store or a health-care location—meet the needs of employees, customers, browsers, etc., by managing all of the required services. This includes ensuring the seamless integration of individuals, systems, places, processes, regulations and technology, and involves hundreds of moving parts, especially for those operating multi-location facilities.

One of the most important pieces of the FM’s puzzle is applying the appropriate safeguards to the equipment critical for brand uptime, which is a new way to consider how the physical infrastructure impacts a company’s overall performance. This can include proper maintenance and performance. Without it, the risk of failure is vast—and, in this day and age of innovation, unacceptable.

IoT in Facilities Management
Innovation around the Internet of Things (IoT) has catalyzed FM into a new era—one in which critical equipment is internet-enabled, allowing communication from all sorts of devices so they may report on their own condition and needs, bringing dramatic changes to the world of facilities management. Known for its traditional and unvarying processes, facilities management has seen a baseline increase in innovation throughout the past decade, transitioning from traditional pen-and-paper processes to workflow-based software—which, unsurprisingly, has proven to yield a far greater level of efficiency.

Based on existing technology and what’s in the pipeline, it’s reasonable to expect an increase in efficient facilities propelled by IoT integration, including machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), throughout the next decade. In fact, McKinsey estimates that the IoT will have a $4 trillion to $11 trillion economic impact by 2025, with operations management and predictive maintenance topping the list of greatest impact.

The benefits of the IoT in FM are endless: greater visibility into the equipment and maintenance ecosystem eliminates inefficient processes, driving more informed repair and replace decisions with a desired impact on the bottom line. Self-monitoring assets facilitate preemptive maintenance, enabling FMs to be everywhere at once. With everything from heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment to lighting, as well as food and beverage dispensers reporting on their respective needs, FMs will even be able to identify seasonal trends, further extending their value within the organization.

Benefits
It’s no secret that customer experience is the differentiator in many highly competitive industries, including retail and restaurants. But traditional brick-and-mortar businesses have been slow to adopt new technologies that would allow them to learn more about their customers, enabling a more personalized customer experience. According to Forrester’s US 2017 Customer Experience Index, while increased customer experience yields greater revenue and drives loyalty (for starters), not one industry included in the report improved the customer experience (CX) this year.

Per the index: “To win, you need actionable CX insights that allow you to prioritize investments that will continuously improve your customers’ experiences.” Beyond the fact that integrating IoT-enabled assets helps increase efficiency and reduces costs, there is a huge opportunity for retailers to connect with customers to enhance experience. By taking advantage of customer insights, businesses can achieve a level of granularity about customers so they can respond to their needs.

This includes facilities management, which is slowly adopting machine learning and AI technologies to drive visibility and provide deep insights to make data-driven decisions. One of the most exciting advancements associated with AI and machine learning is how it allows FMs to process and leverage information more efficiently. For success, data has to be smart and actionable for it to drive real change in any organization, offering a distinct competitive advantage if leveraged strategically.

A good example of the IoT in FM is the seasonal weather and facilities expenses that can constantly fluctuate, causing unforeseen problems due to budget overruns or unpreparedness. Let’s say a prolonged heat wave drives up HVAC costs or, worse, overtaxed equipment fails. If this happens, customers won’t want to shop or dine, harming revenue. Consider a winter storm that catches a region off guard without enough sand or salt, or priority plowing services, resulting in a delayed store opening.

FMs are faced with similar situations every day, but thanks to the accessibility of constant connectivity, devices with built-in sensors and the overwhelming presence of smartphones, FMs can make sure that funds are budgeted, potentially needed parts are available and service techs are ready in the case of an unpredicted weather-related event. In addition, we can correlate real-time weather data with equipment availability to deploy equipment, people and services at locations experimenting severe weather conditions.

Next Steps
A recent report by IFMA and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), titled “Raising the Bar: From Operational Excellence to Strategic Impact in FM,” found an increased need for “focus on the strategic impact of facility management as well as increased efforts to champion the benefits professionals can deliver in workplaces and to the people and organizations that use them.” This validates the need for change, but also raises questions within organizations: Where should a company start when implementing technology in facilities management? What are the quantifiable benefits of the investment?

In short, the IoT takes asset management to the next level, making it a more impactful and strategic program. It begins with a forward-thinking approach, coupled with collaboration with internal peers and external partners. Overall, this is a paradigm shift for FMs. Not only do they need to develop creative and unique ideas for tying repair and maintenance (R&M) operations into an organization’s broader-based strategy, but the need to leverage the IoT in a new way in which assets are turned into an operational layer and real-time changes can be made.

The daily role of an FM automatically achieves these goals but serves a greater purpose as well: it transforms facilities management into a more efficient but strategic domain that can drive substantive business impact. CX insights allow FMs to make data-informed decisions that will move the needle for organizations focused on playing on the new battleground that is optimized customer experience.

Hugues Meyrath is the chief product officer at ServiceChannel. He is responsible for driving and executing the company’s product strategy and roadmap, with emphasis on enhancing and simplifying the user experience throughout the ServiceChannel software portfolio. Hugues’ charter also includes fostering and driving key technology partnerships as a way to accelerate product innovation. He brings extensive experience at global technology companies. Most recently, he served as the VP and managing director at Dell Technologies Capital, where he was responsible for driving venture funding, mergers and acquisitions, and other advisory roles for a diverse set of portfolio companies. Previous to that, he was the VP of product management and business development for EMC’s data-protection business. Hugues’ experience also includes executive roles at Juniper Networks, Brocade Communications and SBS.