Smart Buildings Enable Smarter Facility Management

August 8, 2023


Dr. Hari Gunasingham

The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) defines Facility Management (FM) as a multidisciplinary profession, whose core business is “to ensure the functionality, comfort, safety and efficiency of the built environment by integrating people, place, process and technology”. Unfortunately, the integration of technology has greatly lagged behind its potential.

Smart buildings enable facility managers to do much more with significantly less, and to do it better. However, it has hardly made a dent on the way facilities are managed. Facility managers continue to rely on manpower-intensive planned and reactive maintenance processes-at best, supported by a computer-aided FM system (CAFM).

The exciting news is that things are about to change. Indeed, we are on the cusp of a digital transformation of FM that is being powered by smart building technology, increasingly called “Smart FM”.

The Two Drivers of Smart FM

The First Driver: Pure and simple economics

By combining condition monitoring, IoT, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and intelligent process automation, you can reduce operations and maintenance cost by over 30%. At the same time, you can achieve step-change improvements in equipment performance, energy and tenant comfort. The payback for the smart building technology to enable this is within 18-24 months!

For an operator managing a portfolio of buildings, further improvements in efficiency can be achieved through the use of automated and dynamic planning, scheduling, dispatching, and routing. Using smart algorithms, maintenance work can be optimized at a highly granular level depending on the technician’s location, skills, urgency of the job and the time required to do the work.

The Second Driver: Growing demand for agile workspaces

Agile workspaces integrate a variety of technologies to support health and wellbeing, and a more sustainable, resilient and flexible working environment. The current COVID-19 epidemic is accelerating this demand. Smart buildings can enhance workspaces. For example, for end-to-end touchless entry, the base building access control system should be integrated with the tenant systems. Automated, tenant-initiated after-hour air conditioning control also requires integration with the base building system.

What are the obstacles to smart building technology adoption?

Facility Managers aren’t at the frontlines

Facility managers should be at the frontline of smart building design, implementation and operation. Unfortunately, they are usually not involved until the handover to operations. One consequence is that smart buildings are often overly complex and use cases are not tailored to meet tenant and landlord expectations. Further, because technology lifecycles are far shorter than building lifecycles, constant changes and improvements may be needed, requiring specialized knowledge, which the facilities team usually do not have

No incentive to adopt smart building technology

An even bigger problem is that FM contracts are traditionally indexed to the manpower supplied to undertake planned and reactive maintenance, which are generally time-based. The consequence is that FM companies and professionals do not have the incentive to use smart building technology. Nor do owners of buildings push them to do so.

Employee resistance to change

According to McKinsey, 70% of all maintenance transformation projects fail because of employee resistance and a lack of change in leadership behaviour. For the building industry, the failure rate could be even higher, because of its slowness in adopting technology. The reasons are manifold, rooted in silos in which the industry works.

Proven Examples

Both facility managers and owners stand to gain from the adoption of Smart FM. There are already several proven examples of the benefits such as International Towers, Barangaroo South in Sydney, managed by JLL, and Paya Lebar Quarter, in Singapore, managed by Lendlease. Both are smart precincts that use a Smart Building platform powered by iviva, to enable the proactive management of multiple buildings, systems and processes. A case study report done by Verdantix describes how the International Towers’ operations team delivers efficiencies across multiple properties and processes in regard to energy, maintenance, security, contractor compliance and delivery of tenant services.

Singapore is at the forefront of Smart FM and sees it as a linchpin of its construction and real estate industry digital transformation programme, launched in 2018. Spearheaded by the Building Construction Authority (BCA), the programme aims to get broad-based industry adoption by owners and operators within the next few years.

Smart Buildings do enable smarter Facility Management. The time is ripe to fully exploit its potential!

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