Buildings with brains

Henry Ford, American industrialist and founder of Ford Motor Company, has a number
of famous quotes attributed to him but my particular favourite is “I know that half of my
advertising budget is working…I just don’t know which half.”

At first this may seem shocking but given the age in which this quote was originated it
is perhaps unsurprising. These days things are different; I can go out for a run with my
phone strapped to my arm and then on my return I can see a range of data about my
performance and upload it on to social networks before I’ve even taken my running
shoes off.

This sudden burst in technological wizardry has been boosted by the level of
sophistication in hardware, coupled with cloud capability. Everything is now a device
and everything has the potential to capture data which has given rise to the buzz term
‘Big Data’. The challenge we face isn’t capturing data, that’s the easy bit. It is making
sense of the streaming code in front of them and working out what decisions to make
as a result.

Those managing buildings are facing up to this challenge. Smart buildings can capture
an extraordinary amount of data whether that is using smart meters to monitor energy
use, sensors under desks to analyse space utilisation or an app that can keep track of
coffee consumption; it all helps to paint a picture of how a building, and the space in it,
is being used.

This data can have a profound impact on performance as well. In our FM and the Trust
Dividend9 project last year we asked Facilities Management professionals what would
improve the relationship between them and their service provider; 54% pointed
towards a combination of real-time, trustworthy data. We found that organisations that
had this were much more likely to have productive, high performance relationships
with their suppliers. They also enjoyed the confidence of the board fostered through
the ability to present concise, transparent data. In turn this led to these Facilities
Management teams being able to focus on forward thinking, proactive projects rather
than a series of cost cutting initiatives.

It makes total sense but still we don’t see the technology used to its maximum extent
very often, due to perceptions around the investment needed. Even when investment
is made, a lack of focus on behaviour change required to adopt the new ways of
working leads to a perceived lack of effectiveness. Perhaps a cynical view, would
suggest that the more data that is provided increases the level of scrutiny and
accountability of performance.

We need to overcome these barriers. The results this can yield are great; energy
management, for example. Many organisations are taking the sustainability agenda
more seriously but the more Facilities Managers I speak to the more I hear that the
biggest challenge is behaviour change, rather than not having the right kit to manage
energy. Being able to demonstrate the impact that behaviour is having on a shared
vision and objective is critical to modify behaviours and sustain momentum.

The opportunities are endless and as the technology continues to improve I’m sure
we’re going to see some amazing uses in buildings and sites. One organisation I’ve
spoken to are processing weather data and using it to automate gritting jobs in specific
areas of the country. Will it be long before that gritting process is delivered by robots
rather than onsite personnel? Who knows? Teams, as they become more aware of the
possibilities, will be dreaming up more innovative ways of utilising the technology but
at its heart is not the ability to install gimmicky devices; it must be about being able to
monitor behaviour and performance to make informed business decisions.