How Facility Management Can Keep Up with the Changing Digital Economy

Facility management, like every other business field, is undergoing digital transformation.

On a global scale, facility management is being disrupted by – and adopting – new technology.

Today’s technological advancements are fueling new trends, new processes, and new approaches to facility management.

In this guide to facility management in the digital age, we’ll look at:

  • The basics of facility management – what it is, how it works, and why it matters
  • Top technology developments that are affecting the field, from the building automation system (BAS) to big data
  • The challenges and opportunities of digital transformation in facility management

And much more…

To start off, let’s look at facility management itself, along with a few related concepts and definitions.

Facility Management: Key Concepts and Definitions

Before exploring how the digital landscape is shifting facility management, it is necessary to define out terms. 

Facility Management 

Facility management (FM), according to the International Facility Management Association, is:

“A profession that encompasses multiple disciplines to ensure functionality, comfort, safety and efficiency of the built environment by integrating people, place, process and technology.”

It involves:

  • Managing the services that support facilities
  • Integrating these into one ongoing program
  • Optimizing the execution of this program over time
  • Ensuring that the program continuously supports the core business functions

Here are a few examples of the services that facility management provides:

  • Heating and air conditioning maintenance
  • Plumbing maintenance
  • Cleaning, garbage, and recycling
  • Grounds maintenance

Later, we will explore some of these services in more detail, including how they are being impacted by the changing digital landscape.

Facility Planning 

Facility management focuses on the day-to-day issues related to service provisions.

However, facility planning emphasizes details related to space or resource acquisition, such as equipment assignment, the assignment of office space, and so forth.

Strategic Facility Planning

Strategic facility planning refers to a process whereby organizations analyze their needs, analyze existing facilities, identify necessary changes, and alter how facility space is allocated and used, among other things.

This is a mult-year plan that requires in-depth analyses and careful implementation, since the financial stakes are so high.

Workspace, Site, and Facility Design

Facility design includes a variety of design and allocation needs, including choosing materials, equipment, as well as architectural design.

Workplace design focuses, naturally, on the design of the workplpace itself, which can impact the quality of – and the costs associated with – the work environment.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Facility Management

Here are three of the most commonly asked questions about facility management:

What do facility managers do?

Facility managers manage and deliver all of the services related to facility management, such as grounds maintenance and handyman services.

Ultimately, though, as the IFMA definition above pointed out, this business discipline is devoted not just to service delivery, but to…

  • Managing both the seen and unseen operations of buildings and facilities
  • Providing technical services as well as the logistical and managerial tasks associated with planning, budgeting, and performance improvement
  • Implementing these programs in such a way to maximize the value to the organization, comply with governmental regulations, minimize risk, and maintain a streamlined day-to-day experience for employees and customers

Larger organizations will often have their own facility management teams, while smaller organizations may outsource this function to agencies.

Today, as with many other business functions, facility management is becoming more digital. With the introduction of smart buildings, building automation systems, and other technology, there is a greater need for digital literacy within the field of facility management.

Why does facility management matter?

Efficient facility operations has a direct impact on daily business operations.

If problems occur within an organization’s equipment or facilities, then business operations can become disrupted, which will in turn disrupt the organization’s bottom line.

Poorly designed or unclean workspaces, for instance, can also negatively impact the experience of customers, employees, and managers, which can have detrimental effects on productivity, the workplace experience, the brand’s reputation, and more.

Ultimately, facility management, like any other business function, contributes to the efficient overall operations of a business.

As with any other business process, it should be treated as an investment with specific, measurable returns.

How is technology impacting facility management?

Digital transformation and technology are having large impacts on facility management, as we will cover later.

Some of the major trends that are impacting facility management include:

  • The Internet of Things
  • Big Data
  • Automation
  • Smart Buildings
  • Building Automation Systems 

These digital evolutions require that facility management transform the way it operates, train its workforce, and rethink the way it delivers value in the digital age.

Facility Management 101: An Overview of the Field of Facility Management

Here are a few of the core elements, processes, and responsibilities associated with facility management:

Compliance

Facility management must remain compliant with:

  • Governmental regulations, such as fire codes and local building ordinances
  • Best practices for safety and security
  • Organizational regulations, such as cleanliness standards

Among other areas.

These compliance rules should all be described in the organization’s facility maintenance policy manual.

Resource Management

Resources can include:

  • Equipment, such the physical tools, office equipment, or IT equipment
  • Space, or the actual physical building space, such as office space
  • Human capital, or the manpower and time required 

As well as any other resource required to manage and maintain a facility.

As mentioned above, the efficient management of these resources is necessary for an organization to operate effectively and profitably.

Corrective Measures and Impact Analysis

Implementing corrective measures are necessary when facility management processes fall out of compliance.

These processes involve:

  • Assessing the risk, impact, and costs associated with non-compliant procedures
  • The length of time required to fix problems
  • The priority of the discrepancies

Naturally, how efficiently an organization can implement corrective measures will also have an effect on the overall impact of discrepancies and on the organization’s workflow.

Measuring Facility Management Operations

Metrics in facility management focus on areas such as:

  • The average time between failures 
  • Average time to repair
  • Costs

The aim of these metrics is to track and improve the performance of equipment, facilities, and more.

Service Level Agreements and Objectives

Service level agreements (SLAs) are contractual obligations between vendors and customers, stating that a specified level of service will be maintained at all times.

While planned downtimes are incorporated into these agreements, an unplanned downtime would be considered a breach.

Since unplanned downtime – of IT equipment, for example – can be extremely costly for an organization and a vendor’s reputation, it is extremely important that facility management vendors adhere to their agreements.

Service level agreements are built upon a set of objectives, which can include:

  • Coverage hours, or the “open hours” that facility management personnel are available to respond to requests
  • Service request response time, which is how long it takes to answer a request
  • Time to repair, which refers to the time it takes to completely fix a problem

These variables can all be quantified, measured, and analyzed, which help businesses assess costs, required manhours, and more.

Facility Management in the Changing Digital Digital Landscape

Facility management is not exempt from the digital changes sweeping today’s business world. 

Just as with every other industry and business discipline, facility management is significantly altering the way it operates.

From the Internet of Things to analytics and AI, there are countless new technologies that are reshaping facilities management from the ground up.

Credit: facilitiesmanagementadvisor.blr.com

Next, we will look at a few ways that facility management is changing, some of the challenges that facility management faces, as well as a few strategies and tactics that can help facility managers adapt successfully.

How Technology Is Impacting Facility Management and Planning

Here are some of the major technological trends that are impacting the field of facility management:

Software 

A range of disciplines that are traditionally hardware-based, such as industries within the industrial sector, are increasingly turning to software. 

Manufacturing, healthcare, and other industries that rely heavily on physical equipment are engaging in software-led transformation, according to PwC

By leveraging emerging technologies, such as 3D printing and robotics – in combination with software – these industries are able to accelerate transformation and improve their market position. 

Facility management is also experiencing dual transformation, relying both on hardware and software to propel forward. 

Below, we will explore some specific examples of facility management software.

Big Data 

Data and analytics can offer a great deal of insight into buildings and equipment. 

Integrating a building automation system (BAS) with sensors and “smart” technology, facility managers can understand and improve many areas, such as energy consumption. 

For instance, Google famously cut its cooling bill by 40% thanks to AI-powered analytics.

The Internet of Things (IoT) 

The Internet of Things refers to the interconnection of everday devices, including smartphones and wearables as well as appliances. 

In a business context, this web of connectivity extends to include everything from security cameras to motion sensors to power meters. 

All of these, in turn, can be connected into software such as a building automation system.

Smart Buildings 

Smart buildings leverage cutting-edge devices, big data, automation, the Internet of Things, and other technology. 

On the one hand, these connected technologies can reduce power consumption and costs. 

However, these smart buildings can also diagnose problems remotely, minimize risks to business services, improve maintenance, and much more.

Emerging Technologies 

A wide variety of emerging technologies have yet to impact the facility management space. In the coming years, though, we can expect to see more effects from artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), blockchain, and other new technologies. 

New Software and Digital Tools 

Along with these new technologies come new software for facility managers. 

Building automation systems, maintenance management software, and other digital platforms are helping to revolutionize the field of facility management. 

These platforms promise a great deal of value, but, as we will discover below, there is a large gap between the promise of value and the realization of this value.

Today, we are just beginning to see the effects of digital transformation in this industry. 

Since changes in this industry will only become more pronounced, facility managers should understand the implications of these changes and prepare themselves sooner rather than later.

What Digital Transformation Means for Facility Management

All of the aforementioned trends mean several things for facility management:

  • New technology significantly alters business models and operations, requiring organizational change and digital transformation. Digital disruption impacts every aspect of the organization, from finance to facility management. These changes affect people, processes, systems, and strategies for the rest of the organization, so facility management must follow suit.
  • Staying effective and competitive in the modern era requires the adoption of new tools and processes. For better or for worse, technological advances open up new opportunities and possibilities for those who innovate first. And since many facility management companies are innovating and undergoing organizational transformation, those who don’t transform will be left behind.
  • Facility managers must learn to maintain and operate new technology in order to realize that technology’s value. Digital adoption is concerned with maintaining a proficient, productive workforce, among other things. The reason is simple: workers must be able to operate digital technology in order to extract value from it.

However, when adopting technology, facility managers – not to mention virtually every other major business function – face a signficant barrier when it comes to realizing the value of their technology.

The Promise of Technology vs. the Reality

Unfortunately, the promise of new technology often contrasts starkly with the realization of the technology’s value:

  • The Promise – Every technology promises great value. Business automation systems, for instance, promise to manage facilities, transform the workplace experience, improve energy consumption, and more. 
  • The Reality – Facility managers and their teams must learn to use new software. Unfortunately, however, many of these employees lack proficiency in these tools and in some cases may lack fundamental digital skills altogether. 
  • Technology Overwhelm – There is a vast array of technology being regularly used in the modern work environment. Naturally, not all facility management workers will use these platforms. However, managers and others that work in the back office may be required to learn a wide range of software in order to simply do their day-to-day job.
  • Limited Value Realization – Technology ROI depends on user productivity and proficiency. However, when employees are overwhelmed and unable to keep up with new technology, that new technology will only deliver a fraction of its potential value. 

Overcoming these hurdles requires a digitally-oriented mindset and new ways of thinking about facility management operations.

Three Principles for Success in the Digital Age

With the right approach, facility managers can exploit some of the aforementioned technology trends and significantly transform their operations.

To overcome the challenges just listed, however, it pays to adhere to a few guiding principles.

When adopting new software, facility managers should:

  • Stay data-driven. It is important to stay objective and based business activities on real-world information. Today, this means using data-driven processes – continually collecting, analyzing, and learning from data. 
  • Remain worker-centric. Employees are the drivers of change within an organization. As mentioned, if they cannot use a technology, then that technology will not deliver value to the organziation. A worker-centric mindset during digital transformation can help businesses ensure that their digital adoption strategy keeps workers engaged, trained, and productive.
  • Simplify workflows. When businesses undertake digital transformation efforts, it is often tempting to simply add more software or tools when a need is identified. Unfortunately, this approach only serves to make the workplace more complex, confusing, and overwhelming. To overcome this approach, organizations should develop an employee training plan that simplifies workflows.

Principles such as these can help reduce confusion and frustration during user onboarding and training.

With a solid digital adoption strategy – and the right digital adoption platform (DAP) – employee productivity can meet expectations and organizations can realize the full value of their technology investments.

Software Poised to Transform Facility Management

Here are just a few of the many software platforms that are poised to transform facility management in the coming years:

Building Automation Systems

As mentioned above, building automation systems are software platforms designed to automate a number of building functions, such as:

  • Heating and cooling
  • Ventilation
  • Lighting
  • Device operation

Building automation systems are complex, robust systems that consist of both hardware and software. 

These software platforms are incorporated into most multi-story green buildings, since they automatically optimize energy and water consumption.

Computer-Aided Facilities Management Platforms

A computer-aided facilities management (CAFM) tool is an administrative toolbox that helps facility managers…

  • Track operations and resources
  • Create reports
  • Maximize resource utilization
  • Lower costs
  • Support and organize other aspects of facility management

These platforms work in conjunction with other software, such as those covered below.

Integrated Workplace Management Systems

An integrated workplace management system (IWMS) is, like many other enterprise SaaS platforms on the market today, designed to integrate multiple business functions under one hood.

These tools focus on areas such as:

  • Real estate management
  • Space management
  • Facilities management
  • Project management
  • Asset management
  • Maintenance management

Many of these functions overlap with those covered below, so facility managers should choose carefully before choosing their tools.

Maintenance Management Software

Maintenance management software tracks data related to maintenance, helping facility managers save time, cut maintenance costs, improve productivity, and more.

Common features of these platforms include:

  • Work order and inventory management
  • Preventative maintenance
  • Resource and vendor management
  • Asset and equipment management
  • Maintenance report

Among others.

Naturally, having a platform such as this can significantly streamline the operations of a facility management department or agency.

However, as mentioned above, platforms such as these come with learning curves, making it necessary to have an effective employee training program.

Facilities Management Software

Facilities management software offers some of the same functionality as maintenance management software, such as:

  • Repair and maintenance management
  • Asset management
  • Proposal management
  • Parts and supply management
  • Preventative and scheduled maintenance

Given that there is such a wide range of facility management software on the market, organizations should investigate the options carefully before making an investment.

However, regardless of which facilities management platform is chosen, it must be remembered that this is just the first step.

Once a facilities management platform is chosen and deployed, employees must still learn to use that tool. 

Digital Adoption Platforms

Digital adoption platforms (DAPs) are automated training solutions that shrink the digital divide between employees and their software.

They enable any employee, regardless of proficiency, to be productive with a software application.

These platforms are built upon features such as:

  • Automated software walkthroughs. Automated in-product walkthroughs take users one step at a time through a workflow. Pop-up bubbles appear at exactly the right time, explaining the next action that users should take, which trains them on that workflow entirely without human intervention.
  • Contextualized guidance. AI-powered chatbots can interact with users, offering in-app guidance that is immediately relevant and applicable. With contextualized information offered on demand, users don’t need to make technical support calls, search for answers online, or halt their workflows. This greatly increases user productivity, while also slashing technical support costs.
  • Task automation. Digital adoption platforms can also be used to completely automate a workflow. This can free up user time for more valuable activities and result in massive productivity gains across the entire organization. 
  • Software analytics. Analytics can be used to track user behavior within an application, helping trainers and managers better understand how that software is used. This data can then be used to improve training programs, develop automation solutions, and further enhance employee productivity.

Effective use of these tools can dramatically improve employee productivity, increase software ROI, and help facility management keep up with the changing digital marketplace.

Facility Management Technology – Final Thoughts

The list above is not comprehensive by any means.

But it should offer some insight into the types of technology that is available for facility managers.

Here are some factors that should be considered when evaluating potential software:

  • The benefits offered by the platform in question. Each platform offers its own unique set of benefits. Some may be very useful for an organization, while others may be irrelevant. Facility managers must also choose whether to invest in multiple tools or only one.
  • The organization’s digital transformation strategy. The organization’s overarching digital transformation strategy will dictate many aspects of strategic facility planning, facility planning, workspace design, and facility management. An organization that wants to invest heavily in a forward-looking workplace experience, for instance, would likely want to stay on the cutting edge of the emerging technologies mentioned above.
  • How that tool would integrate with other facility management tools. As with most business functions, facility managers will likely be working with a suite of tools, not just one platform. For this reason, it is important to pay close attention to how well these tools integrate and how new workflows would impact the workplace.
  • How the platform would integrate with other business tools, such as ERP platforms. Integration with other tools, such as finance platforms, can significantly streamline operations, both for facility management and other business functions. The more easily that these platforms can integrate with other business systems, the smoother the workflows will be.
  • The deployment life cycle, the learning curve, and employee training needs. Though many professionals focus on the value promised by new technology, it is worth paying attention to how that platform would actually perform in the workplace. Complex, sophisticated tools may have the potential to deliver great returns … but only if employees can learn and use them effectively.

Given the variety of options on the market – and the fact that many different platforms offer many of the same functionality – organizations should evaluate their own specific circumstances in order to make the choice that is right for them.

Understanding Digital Transformation in Facility Management

Digital transformation – the process of leveraging digital tools to solve problems, evolve, and become digitally mature – can be applied to a business, a business unit, an industry, or an economy.

Below, we will look at how digital transformation works and how it applies to facility management specifically.

Why facility management departments and vendors must transform

Here are a few reasons why facility management should undertake transformation efforts as soon as possible:

  • Competition from innovators is pressuring other vendors to transform
  • Increased regulations add to that pressure, increasing the workload for facility management departments
  • Other business functions are transforming, so facility management should also transform in order to keep up
  • Facility managers that cannot meet rising expectations of clients will quickly lose ground in the marketplace

In other words, transformation is necessary to stay relevant and competitive in the digital economy.

How digital transformation works

According to Deloitte, digital transformation is a stage-based process focused on:

  • Strategy
  • Business models
  • Capabilities
  • Operating models
  • People processes and technology

Keye elements to focus on include digital adoption, an agile mindset, and customer value.

In an ideal world, digital transformation would be as straightforward as any other business project.

Unfortunately, digital transformation represents an overall overhaul of business processses, systems, methods, and mindsets.

Becoming a digital-first, digitally mature operation

Digitally mature organizations fully utilize digital technology at all areas of the business.

For many businesses, this means focusing on areas such as:

  • Customer value and customer success
  • Digital skills 
  • The organization’s culture
  • Digital strategies
  • IT infrastructure

However, for facility management, digital transformation often focuses on changes such as:

  • The Internet of Things, big data, and data-driven processes
  • Using emerging technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), maximize process efficiency
  • Testing and implementing smart building solutions
  • Creating a digitally unified workplace
  • Using digital adoption solutions to digitally train employees
  • Aligning efforts with organizational strategy, as well as other departments

To succeed in the digital age, facility management professionals will ultimately need to reenvision their approach to their discipline.

Jobs and duties will remain the same, of course, but the tools, technology, and many job functions will change dramatically.

What facility managers should do next

Staying relevant in the digital age requires effort and ongoing learning. The forward-thinking facility manager who wants to boost their career should dive deeper into the topics covered above.

In particular, professionals that want to become more digitally mature should…

  • Understand how digital technology is disrupting and transforming facility management
  • Learn about the process of digital transformation
  • Implement a digital adoption strategy
  • Understand the principles of change management
  • Evaluate facility management software

For more information on facility management, interested professionals can visit:

  • Facility management webistes, such as IFMA’s website, Service Channel, and SpaceIQ
  • The websites belonging to major research firms, such as McKinsey, Gartner, and Deloitte
  • Websites that cover digital transformation extensively, such as WalkMe’s blog, digital-adoption.com, and Tech Republic

To name just a few.

Since the wave of digital transformation has yet to end, it pays to set aside time to regularly study, perform research, and brush up on digital skills.

Conclusion: Facility Management in the Midst of Change

Organizational change and digital transformation are clearly affecting facility management as deeply as any other business discipline.

Thanks to digital disruption, facility management is experiencing changes that affect:

  • Technology
  • Services 
  • Expectations from client organizations
  • Software
  • Hardware

However, since hardware is slower to evolve than software, we have yet to see the true influence of hardware-based technology on facility management.

The Internet of Things, smart buildings, and related technologies, for instance, will continue to exert an influence on the field for some time to come.

Facility managers and facility management organizations should prepare themselves today for a digital future … after all, digital transformation is inevitable, and only those who adapt will be able to deliver value and stay competitive in a fully digitized economy.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.