Making the most of communication technology

Implementing a comprehensive communication technology solution

Originally published in the May 2016 issue of PFM — Effective communication is key to all areas of business and service delivery and technological advancements continue to make this easier to facilitate.
One of the topics constantly discussed throughout all areas of society is the march of technology and the implications this has for all areas of our lives.

Focusing on communications within the FM sector provides a more clearly defined subject matter, but still offers considerable scope. Advancing technology is a major factor within this, as it now offers the ability to completely transform the communications strategy of any business.

Bearing this in mind, we asked a selection of industry experts to provide their thoughts on the benefits derived from implementing a comprehensive communication technology solution. Locale managing director Guy Windsor-Lewis agrees that the impact of technology has changed communication methods, the processing of information and all aspects of everyday life.

“More importantly, in our industry, it has changed the way we develop and maintain buildings. According to the BBC, by the end of 2015, nearly 3.2bn people had access to the Internet, just under half of the world’s entire population,” he says.

Thoughts of a more connected world turns attention to occupier technology within buildings, he continues, referring to the rise of specialist estate management system suppliers. Many offer enhanced communications, allowing the tenant or resident to be the first to know of any building update through email or text.

“This notification is almost instantaneous. If we look back 10 years or more, this communication would have been done through word-of-mouth or through post. It’s the instant connection which makes this feature on many estate management systems special,” says Mr Windsor-Lewis.

This corresponds to changes seen in facility management and in the workforce demographic, introducing new people to building management and resulting in a fresher approach of how to run a building. This has allowed occupier technology to develop, resulting in higher ROI’s for companies by sourcing an effective long-term solution.

“Not only is occupier technology an instant and efficient process, it also allows those using it total visibility. More often than not, permission based access on the technology provides all users with a custom view, allowing for editorial access and control,” he says.

This visibility works for the tenant and resident by allowing them to see only the information they need and allows the building manager to see and understand everything. “Targeted communications are also key when managing the estate. Instant contact to relevant and selected people results in a proactive management service, managed reactions and increased occupier satisfaction.

“As technology becomes more important in the way we develop and run buildings, occupiers are reaching out for enhanced communications and more visibility to effectively run a building efficiently. Due to this increasing connected world there is an increased need for smarter technology in buildings for the occupiers,” he concludes.

Ineffective communication

The example of councils resurfacing roads which are then immediately dug up for scheduled maintenance to be carried out is provided by ANT Telecom managing director Klaus Allion to highlight issues caused by ineffective communication.

“Many businesses adopt the same patchwork approach to the development of their telecommunications infrastructure – and end up paying a high price for hitting the predictable potholes they encounter along the way,” he states.

Telecommunications requirements of modern businesses are broad, so organisations need a robust telecoms infrastructure to assure business continuity, effective customer communications and on-demand business intelligence, he states.

It’s not unusual for businesses to operate in departmental silos, particularly – though not exclusively – when working across large or multiple sites. This approach can be particularly prominent in the field of telecommunications where investment in specific equipment such as lone worker devices or internal pagers can seem entirely separate from a decision to implement a new enterprise-wide telecoms system.

Hypothetical examples are offered, including a multiple-site manufacturing firm, where one plant has decided to maximise its healthy coverage by replacing its old DECT system with GSM – whilst another site is maintaining its radio system and a third is implementing wi-fi.

Or a utility company where the health and safety manager has bought a batch of replacement radio devices to enable lone workers to stay in contact with head office – while the operations department is procuring wi-fi capability to give remote employees real-time access to their CRM system.

In each example the purchasing decisions made may appear to be the most cost-effective and may also satisfy the needs of individuals but, in each case, the companies are investing in the wrong technology because they are not aware of their business’s wider telecoms plans.

“The solution is for senior and Board executives to take ownership of telecommunications,” he says.

Optimal telecoms strategies will have been developed through cross-functional collaboration, combining insight from all key departmental stakeholders and the expertise of specialist telecoms partners, drawing on cross-sector experience, product knowledge and best practice exemplars to inform the strategy and help design the optimal solution.

“The importance of good telecommunications in assuring business continuity, productivity and growth cannot be overstated. But it can often be overlooked. However, with a little thought, more proactive planning and therefore a concrete telecommunications strategy, organisations can make wiser investments that save money and accelerate growth,” Mr Allion concludes.

The benefits of communications technology in safeguarding site security is discussed by Julius Rutherfoord operations director Chris Parkes: “Cleaning organisations providing contract services for establishments must be vetted in the same way as other internal staff, in order to ensure everyone’s security and safety.

“Forged, altered or out-of-date ID documents are used by thousands of people in the UK, yet few contractors are able to spot them and identify when people aren’t who they say they are.”

He outlines four technology measures to support site security, starting with identifying fake documents. While some organisations settle for Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, these are useless if the ID in question is fake; fictitious people will not appear on criminal records, but passport and identity document scanning technology similar to that used at international airports can help verify documentation.

The scanner reads and verifies the machine readable zone (MRZ) at the bottom of passports and checks documentation under both infra-red and ultra violet light, automatically highlighting any irregularities.

Documentation can be checked against an international database with information from over 200 countries. Biometric identification, whereby a person’s identity can be verified through unique physical attributes, such as their fingerprint, offers the most advanced and reliable means of ensuring only the right personnel enter client premises.

Approved staff fingerprints are registered on the system and these are scanned at the start and end of their shift. The data can be fed through to head office in real time, highlighting any discrepancies. Vehicle fleets can also be tracked by GPS linked into a fleet software system.

This ensures service providers know exactly where vehicles are in real time and whether they are parked or moving. If an emergency requires additional backup support at a client’s site, it is possible to check online and deploy the vehicle closest to the site.

Finally, CRM systems enable communication between clients and service providers to be logged and accessed quickly, which can help alleviate security concerns. Summaries can be held of conversations, emails, meetings, consumables used on site and details of any sub-contractors involved. This helps to understand clients’ needs more deeply and faster, which in turn builds a stronger and transparent working relationship.

Unified communications

VIA director Alex Tebbs says many telephony networks across the UK are outdated with limited functionality. “The cost of replacing ‘like-for-like’ can be steep – especially if you have a large workforce spread over multiple locations,” he says.

However, a hosted unified communications (UC) solution simply requires an Internet connection and the relevant software, he continues. As platforms like this are often powered by the service provider’s off-site data centre infrastructure, it also frees up important and expensive office space.

“UC has definitely lived up to the hype and it is truly revolutionising the way businesses work. Flexible working is no longer a luxury and companies are holding more and more meetings online. There have been huge gains in efficiency,” says Mr Tebbs.

Historically, remote working was seen as a privilege only afforded to senior staff and directors. Letting employees work from home on a regular basis was viewed as a risk, because of a lack of visibility and concerns over productivity.

However, as a result of the digital revolution businesses can now deploy unified communications solutions to boost connectivity between workforces that are spread across different locations, including at individual homes, he continues.

Business continuity

A number of businesses are now using Internet-based communication platforms to increase workforce connectivity, efficiency and resilience.

Many hosted UC products allow employees to stay connected through voice communication, instant messaging, email, video, audio and conferencing, across a variety of devices.

These platforms are accessible from any Internet connection and device, allowing employees to stay continuously connected, providing an effective solution for businesses affected by extraordinary circumstances.

For example, last year’s Holborn Fire caused challenges for hundreds of businesses, but any using a UC solution would be able to continue operations seamlessly at a pop-up office, another location or from home.

“UC removes the barriers associated with traditional communication platforms and this can only be a good thing for any business, whatever the size. UC overcomes any physical distance between employees and customers by providing effective collaboration tools,” says Mr Tebbs.

It can also be used by SMEs to facilitate a competitive advantage over larger organisations, migrating to UC faster than any larger organisation because the business impact on existing systems and the displacement of existing technologies should be easier.

“One of the major benefits of deploying a fully hosted UC solution is that it gives your organisation the freedom and flexibility to relocate offices without transferring substantial equipment and/or setting up new telephony lines, which can be a costly and time consuming process.

“As the communications platform operates over the Internet, the solution can then be accessed immediately upon arrival at your new offices, ensuring a seamless switchover,” Mr Tebbs concludes.

Another element to consider within the march of technology is the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), says Tridonic. According to Gartner research, around five billion devices communicated through the Internet last year, with the figure expected to rise to between seven and eight billion this year and passing the 24 billion mark by 2020.

IoT is expanding at more than 40% per year and BI Intelligence predicts that hardware expenditure will reach $6bn within five years, the company states. Smart technology implementation is expected to increase in line with this, but quantity brings complexity.

Any modern office will include smoke detectors, thermostats and numerous sensors from different manufacturers for building services including lighting, security, heating and air conditioning and possibly window blinds, too.

Complexity is an obvious issue that urgently needs to be addressed and this can be completed through use of the IoT. Luminaires are required in all areas where people are present, with many providing space for digital sensors or microchips to be included.

These will already have power supplied, so no need to change batteries or include extra cabling, and the fact that luminaires are usually located on floors or ceilings means these will also be in a good position for the sensors, the company states.

Use of existing infrastructure therefore means the IoT can be put to best use with minimal extra effort and expense. Examples provided include a presence sensor integrated into a luminaire to detect whether an office is occupied, with the data stored in the cloud for evaluation and forwarding to the relevant systems.

In addition to HVAC and security, this could also be used within a room management system to determine how well meeting rooms and other areas are used. Within numerous additional opportunities is the option to manage car parking through sensors placed in any of the lighting solutions chosen for these areas.

Information can then be passed to satnavs to guide drivers to the available space. Tridonic states that it has long recognised the potential for the IoT to transform businesses and has named its concept the Internet of Light.

As the UK’s leading FM title, PFM has been reporting on facilities management in the UK from its beginnings, and highlighting best practice in Europe and the USA.