James Dunnett, IT Director, EMCOR UK, discusses how the exponential growth of digital data is enabling opportunities for Facilities Management professionals to provide critical added value for public and private sector clients, and why separating the wheat from the chaff is even more important now than ever.
Digital data is expanding at an exponential rate and shows no signs of slowing down. Every two days as much information is created as there was produced from the beginning of time until the year 2003 — 90% of all data was created in the last two years alone. The total amount of data being captured and stored by industry doubles every 1.2 years. There is literally information everywhere you look. But as Albert Einstein was quoted, “Information is not knowledge”. At the moment less than 0.5% of data is ever analysed and then used.
Nowhere is the concept of data capture and analysis more important than in Facilities Management (FM), where access to and utilisation of accurate information is crucial to designing and managing facilities that operate at the maximum efficiency. The need for facilities to perform to their maximum potential is not simply a matter of good economics, but is also essential to supporting wider sustainability goals and ensuring the sense of well-being of the workforce and other users of the building. This is becoming an increasingly important requirement as customers recognise that a happy workforce is also much more likely to be highly productive, too!
Innovation in Information Management in FM
The changing landscape of Information Management (IM) will have profound impacts on FM and its public and private sector clients. If facilities managers can access, manage, and interpret the right information with regard to asset performance, they have the potential to add huge value to decision making across all aspects of property management on a sustained basis. Conversely if the wrong decisions are made and investment in IM is implemented poorly it can result in wasted effort with little or no insight gained and poor performance of the facility. So how do facilities managers maintain the best read on the rapidly changing environment and leverage the real opportunities while avoiding the hidden traps arising from innovation in IM technology?
This is where experience comes in. Indeed, the other missing half of Einstein’s observation is that “The only source of knowledge is experience.” We have been involved in the introduction and operation of value-add information systems across all services within the FM sphere. Our experience has taught us that there are five key areas that FM professionals should focus on when investing in this field:
1. Inter-Company Solutions & Integration
Although we focus on providing bespoke solutions to clients’ requirements, it does not follow that innovative solutions should only apply to their in-house boundaries. Indeed, we are focusing on the design of processes that can span multiple companies and sources, including clients, FM’s, and supply chain. It is often necessary to develop integrated solutions, both from a resource capability and from a systems perspective in order to help ensure that data has a clear, uninterrupted path through the process.
Key success factors in implementing effective inter-company data collaboration solutions are established to help ensure that these solutions can be deployed in a flexible, secure, and non-resource intensive way.
2. Data Quality Standards
Having a clear grasp of data standards and data quality measures is essential to helping ensure that practical and value added insight can be derived from the increasing volume of data that can be rapidly accumulated. FM companies need to make available Data Science and Data Mining teams to help ensure that maximum value is derived from the extracted data and that managed data leads to actions that increase asset performance.
3. New & Flexible Data Sources
The rapidly developing world of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) opens up a world of possibilities in terms of easy to deploy, cost efficient sensors which can be effectively integrated into asset management or building utilisation strategies. The IoT landscape is at a very exciting point of its development, with successful solutions providing either end to end strategies – encompassing sensor, communications and analytics / dash boarding capability – or integrating to existing building management systems. Innovations in the IoT environment have the potential to ‘de-centralise’ building management and intelligence in the same way that we have moved from mainframes to laptops, and increasingly, to handheld devices. We believe that this will lead to real operational efficiencies and long term added value. However for these strategies to be successful it will be important for FM companies to identify the best solutions from the many available and suggest ways of integrating these to provide a true picture of the performance of clients’ assets and estates.
4. Best in Class Business Process Integration
To ensure access to and management of good quality data and to allow this data to drive efficiency, FM companies must develop best in class processes supported by technology. However, it is very important to ensure that the cart is not put before the horse and, in other words, make sure that the technology selection does not drive process. Utilising agile processes, supported by objective measures, easily produced from the data, is the best and quickest way to drive value.
Processes don’t in themselves manage or facilitate anything or anyone unless they are properly implemented. Therefore, training and awareness of the process for all of those who are required to interact with it are as essential as creating a culture that reinforces the importance of this engagement. This can be a challenge even at a single site, but it is particularly true in a geographically dispersed, organisation.
5. Bringing the data to life
Innovative and relevant data visualisation capability allows for insight to be gained more easily across multiple data sources. So from an asset management point of view, highlighting geographic, criticality, condition, and cost information can easily show areas for attention and investment.
We are putting considerable focus on data visualisation, as we see it as being essential to allowing real time performance improvements and making sure that data is shared and used practically by everyone involved in the project, from facilities managers to maintenance staff.
Data visualisation can also help to build trust in collaborative relationships between customers, FM service providers and other stakeholders. If the data can be visualised in a way that makes for intuitive conclusions, the more likely it is to lead to efficient and supported actions.
After all as Einstein also said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
By continuing to swiftly innovate and harness new technologies, FM providers are ideally placed to adopt robust business strategies which support the use of Information Systems and the data they produce to make better, more intelligent decisions as a further way to add significant value for clients.