Balancing the inherent challenges and benefits of facility optimization
by Konkana Khaund, Industry Manager, Frost & Sullivan's Energy & Environment Business Unit — The degree to which Information Technology (IT) influences the built environment is large and increasing. There are challenges in bringing facility managers up to speed on this impact that can have huge benefits. But what steps need to be taken by technology vendors and facility managers (FM) to reap the full advantage these technologies? The integration of IT is an inevitable trend in the built environment through building automation, security solutions, energy management, and occupant comfort enhancement options. Frost & Sullivans extensive research among building technology industry participants over the last decade confirms this aspect objectively. However, this body of research also indicates that making this transition requires concentrated initiatives that go beyond expecting a traditional facility manager to get up-to-speed with technology.
Mitigating the Technology Challenge
The integrating of IT and facility management has come to be a challenge- as a result of the lack of overlap between these two disciplines. FMs typically have backgrounds in physical building systems- they are experts in maintenance, engineering, janitorial, security, and telecommunications systems. It is unusual for a facility manager to have a background or formal training in technology upgrades/sophistication, software installation, management, and maintenance, which are all outside of the normal scope of facilities personnel. This causes a barrier in incorporating and managing myriad sophisticated IT-aided technology that is increasingly being integrated into buildings.
Interactions among major asset management companies as well as building owners in North America by Frost & Sullivan reveal that with such technology comes the added dilemma of managing and making sense of vast amounts of data. Even where facilities are capable of locally storing such data, most facility operations personnel are not fully aware of transforming that data into actionable intelligence to manage their portfolio better.
However, the importance of utilizing such information cannot be overlooked. The benefits of running an optimized facility far outweigh the technical challenges that keep FMs from achieving that. While the traditional divide may continue to persist to some degree, it is encouraging to witness operations, and IT/technology vendors come together to work towards bridging the gap. Facility analytics and performance optimization through better networking of physical systems, predictive management, utmost visibility into operational dynamics, and above all- reducing total cost of ownership, are given high importance by building owners and operators. Helping them achieve that is a growing breed of technology vendors who take an integrated approach to make the technology experience seamless and supportive to FMs. This aspect is corroborated by several collaborative industry research projects undertaken by Frost & Sullivan from 2008 to present with the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), and sponsored by some of its flagship member organizations.
Working closely with FMs in day-to-day use of dashboards, analytics, advanced diagnostics and trending, industry leaders such as Johnson Controls, Inc., Siemens Industry, Inc., Honeywell International, Inc. and Schneider Electric, are already demonstrating that the challenge is more notional or perception-oriented than deep-rooted. The exhibit below depicts a few successful examples of such integrated approaches to bridge the IT and facilities gap successfully in North America.
Western Kentucky University Facility Management (Kentucky, U.S.)
Bell Trinity Towers Facility Management (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
Microsoft Headquarters Facility Management (Redmond, Washington, U.S.)
Kwantlen Polytechnic University Trade and Technology Centre Facility Management, Cloverdale, British Columbia, Canada
Delta Controls and WSC Automation
Source: Frost & Sullivan and Vendors Cited in the Exhibit
Learning from Best Practices
The best practices adopted in successful cases differ from conventional ones, in both approach and process flow, to deliver the ultimate requirements for the building owners and FMs. Case studies of projects evaluated by Frost & Sullivan as part of the aforementioned collaborative research efforts suggests that an integrated approach is a key component of this success. Efforts are usually made at the very start to integrate technology partners by the building owners and FMs. This factor is instrumental in building trust and supporting partnerships amongst various participants, thus making them work towards a common goal as opposed to merely delivering a task in the overall scheme.
Establishing performance specifications via appropriate pre-project modeling is another aspect of best practices, which is common to projects that successfully integrates the FM and IT functions. The one big question for most FMs is, what is this technology worth to me or my building? And the best way of addressing it is to set a performance standard that the FMs should target to achieve via technology integration. That would ensure that the technology opted for is indeed capable of meeting the standard. Most technology vendors are proactively collaborating to support FMs in creating such pre-project modeling. The significance of this is twofold: first, it provides clear understanding to the technology partners and FMs as to what technology is essential; second, it offers the FMs control and authority over what is procured to meet those exact requirements. It also provides purpose as to what the building owner or FM is trying to achieve, and ensures that the original requirements do not deviate further down the road.
Finally, enhancing asset value is a clear prerogative that successful FMs adopt early on. This means that not settling for less drives decisions, particularly if technology vendors have worked well to justify value. Of course, adequate access to vendors and continued service support are important in helping FMs to set aside preliminary challenges and embrace technology integration more openly.
Definitely outside of the short term FM contract scenario, best practices evaluated as part of such industry research undertaken by Frost & Sullivan reveal that most FMs wish to take proactive steps in creating and maintaining their buildings as intelligent entities over time. It is important for them to ensure that their money is well spent. However, achieving this is contingent upon the technology partners ability to customize their approach and delivery to suit that purpose.
While proactive steps on the part of FMs and technology vendors are crucial to overcome the challenge, there are institutionalized options readily available to FMs to address technology challenges. For instance, numerous college and university programs have been created in facilities management. As the scope of expertise of facilities managers has increased, the educational world has sought to provide avenues to train the next generation of facilities managers to keep up with the increasing complexity of the position and the increased level of values owners expect facilities managers to be able to create. Brigham Young University, Cornell University, Florida A&M, and Missouri State University are a few examples in this regard. Additionally, certification programs from the IFMA Foundation also addresses concerns related to the integration of IT and FM. Some even include specific sub-fields of advanced facilities management such as green building operations, energy conservation, and workflow planning and monitoring. However, merely relying on certifications and continued technical education can only offer stop-gap relief.
The pace of change in the technology arena will continue to pose ever increasing challenges, and most educational initiatives are not capable of keeping up with them. Therefore, a more logical solution would encompass ongoing collaborations, both at project level between FMs and technology vendors, as well as industry level with associations working together to bring the two domains closer.
Technology integration is making facilities smarter and more dynamic, and quantifiable benefits are already proven. With simplified modules and leveraging cloud based options, today, technology vendors are able to work better with their FM counterparts in offering trouble shooting techniques, remote support, and training options that are already making the technology challenge far more addressable than it was before.
In the FM world, it has already been established that IT is an enabler. If changes in perception, and in the fundamentals of conducting the FM business are given due importance, the buildings industry could look forward to eliminating the roadblocks more deliberately, and usher in an environment where guesswork and reactive tasks could give way to more predictive optimization of buildings.
Konkana Khaund is the Industry Manager for Frost & Sullivan’s Energy & Environment Business Unit. To contact Konkana or anyone else at Frost & Sullivan, please send an email to Liz Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (210) 477-8483.