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Facilities Matters - October 2018

05 September 2018

Stephen Roots explains why there is a huge opportunity to positively change the way FM works through new technology.

NEW TECHNOLOGY has to be leveraged by skilled and knowledgeable professionals who understand how best to facilitate the convergence of people, place and process for business. Technology can transform the FM function and advancements in IoT, building information modelling (BIM) and robotics are already contributing to improving business performance.

In the short-to-medium term, technology is more likely to augment, rather than replace, the role of people in facilities management. There are some activities where the role of people will be diminished, but this may mean that FMs can focus on activities that are more important and rewarding. 

The increased automation of front-line services will clearly have implications for facilities managers, who may find they are spending less time managing people and more time overseeing automated systems, both physical and virtual.

The increased automation of facilities service delivery could also increase the risk of FMs being cut out of the supply chain – if clients and customers can manage automated services directly.

Exploring the indirect impact of technology on FM via the wider world of work is more complex because the nature of work varies so greatly and the FM profession is often one step removed from the technological developments in the businesses they support.

Work where the ‘human touch’ is less important is likely to be automated and involve fewer people. FM’s role in such working environments is likely to be less about enabling people and more about supporting automated business critical processes. In other work settings, automation will be focused on augmenting the work people do and/or improving the customer experience by creating a more seamless environment.

Customer experience 

In these settings FM’s focus will be more about ‘front of house’, customer experience and hospitality. This divergence may amplify the traditional differences between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ FM, for better or worse.

The impact that technological change will have on the FM profession will depend, partly, on how the profession and the broader facilities services industry responds to the opportunities and challenges presented by emerging digital technologies.

Emerging digital technologies could enable FMs to carry out tasks and processes more efficiently and effectively, freeing up time to spend on value-adding or strategic activities. This, in turn, might help to improve the standing of the profession in the world of business.  

Low levels of knowledge of emerging digital technologies is a potential weakness for FM and underlines the importance of facilities managers taking a proactive, rather than passive, approach to technological change. This in turn means improving their understanding of what new technologies can do for facilities management.

The lack of technological awareness perhaps reflects the fact that many FMs are preoccupied with the here and now of getting the job done – with cutting costs and keeping their head above water. They don’t have the time or resources to consider how they might make use of emerging technologies.

FM appears to be approaching a technological tipping point that could either exacerbate its problems or help remedy them. Many routine front-line facilities services appear to be susceptible to automation and this in turn will impact on the role of the people managing those services, who will need different skills. 

Recent research undertaken by 3Edges on behalf of the British Institute of Facilities Management  (BIFM) suggests that some activities, such as finance and procurement have a high potential to be automated because they involve standardised processes and/or because a ‘human touch’ is less important.  Other activities, such as project, contract and space management, have moderate automation potential, although this potential could increase as technology improves.  

There are some activities that have much less potential for automation because they are non-routine and/or a ‘human touch’ is important. Examples include strategic planning, change management and people management. The results of analysis suggest that, at least in the short-to-medium term, technology is more likely to augment, rather than replace, the role of people in facilities management. However, there are some activities where the role of people will be diminished, which may mean that FMs can focus their attention on activities that are perceived to be more strategic and value-adding.

You can read more on how technology and indeed the workplace are changing how we approach Facilities Management at www.bifm.org.uk/bifm/about/bifmchange

Stephen Roots is chairman of the British Institute of Facilities Management. For more information, please visit www.bifm.org.uk