Adopting automation in facilities management

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The subtle evolution of technology

It’s rare to see great leaps forward in technology like the invention of the telephone or the printing press; nonetheless, technology is evolving at a faster rate than ever by virtue of each small incremental advance that happens almost daily.

Cast your mind back to when mobile phones first became commercially available, and successful. You had to press each button repeatedly to select a specific character, and spelling long words seemed to take an age. To SMS good morning to someone you would type 4 666 666 3 0 6 666 777 66 444 66 4.

Over the next decade, small changes like T9 technology and QWERTY keypads became standard, and when the smartphone entered the mainstream in 2007 mobile evolution stepped forward again and typing a letter took just a single tap on the screen.

The mobile phone has remained a mobile phone, but the process of typing an SMS message has become automated, and even composing them has had some of the human element removed thanks to small evolutions in predictive text.

Leaders don’t wait for change, they make it happen

To remain relevant and successful, leveraging and adapting each subtle advance to deliver on contractual obligations is essential.

Innovative use of evolving technology can help reduce the time staff spend on mundane tasks, and one of the simplest examples I can give you is the switching from traditional lightbulbs to LED lighting. This provides a greatly increased bulb lifespan, a reduced utilities bill, and slashes the labour cost of needing to manage replacements.

The digitisation of payroll

Particularly relevant to Facilities Management is the digitisation of payroll. 

Manual clocking in machines were great for recording the hours an employee worked but they required an actual person to add it all up, interpret that data, and post to payroll.

The switch to electronic clocking in, cut out the need for a human to add up the hours. However, electronic payroll systems still required somebody to check the data was correct, email it to the payroll department and search for actionable trends in the data. This would then need to be done on every site, and again on a bigger scale in the actual payroll office - not just increasing the amount of work, but also the opportunity for human error.

It wasn’t until the introduction of cloud-computing that the entire payroll process could be automated using systems like Timegate. Now employees across even global organisations can clock in and out of any site, with the data sent in real time to a central database for automatic processing, removing the need for human intervention.

Don’t fly in the face of progress

It makes sense to in some way use the latest advances in technology to improve operation and service delivery, because the truth is, if you aren’t already considering switching to automated FM solutions, then your services may become redundant and filled by something else. You only have to read some of the news reports to see what is becoming capable: automated cars and even passenger drones.

Recently we’ve seen the proliferation of drones fulfilling a commercial purpose with Domino's and Amazon adopting them as delivery drivers. Could this mean they’re the technology we’re most likely to integrate into FM in the near future?

Drones. Your eye in the sky

Every facility has areas that are difficult to inspect. It might be guttering on the fifteenth floor, a hard to reach spot inside an elevator shaft, or a confined space inside a HVAC system.

Normally surveying these areas would be a time consuming exercise with every chance you’d need to bring in external contractors or hire out specialist equipment.

Attach a camera to a drone though and you turn the arduous and costly task of surveying hard to reach areas of your site into a much simpler matter.

The time and money you’ve saved, even taking drone rental or purchase into account, means you could increase coverage – improving the chances of locating potential problems before they impact operations.

Using drone technology doesn’t just have the potential to save time and money, it could also help save lives by reducing the high number of workplace fatalities that occur from falls; 144 happened between 2015/16 alone1.

The automation of security

Using drones to help your security team might be a new idea, but automated defence systems are actually nothing new in FM. We’ve become accustomed to motion sensors that contact police when triggered, heat-detecting fire alarms, and vibration-activated cameras, so a device combining these features isn’t a huge leap forward.

Enter K5, the autonomous security guard. These robots have already been tested in active facilities and are designed to take on the more monotonous aspects of a security guard’s job – namely patrolling and gathering data.

K5’s battery allows it to patrol a pre-programmed route for up to 24-hours but it also has the ability to improvise if it notices something suspicious. Its sensors allow it to “see, hear, touch and smell its surroundings” and can perform number plate and facial scans to recognise potential threats – alerting the overseeing security guard to danger. K5 can also alert the police of any anomaly it encounters because it’s remotely feeding data back into the cloud.

Connected devices and the Internet of things

Giving technology like K5 the ability to autonomously communicate with humans, apps and other technology, it’s become another part of what’s known as the Internet of Things (IoT).

Surprisingly, this isn’t actually anything new, the first Internet-Toaster was unveiled in 1989, but it wasn’t until cloud-computing improved global device connectivity that IoT really exploded.

Martini developed a smart ice cube that tells bar staff when you need a refill, and IoT has been used most prominently by energy companies installing smart meters to give you greater control over your heating from a mobile app.

Now, predictions are being made that by 2020 there will be 50bn IoT devices connected to the internet2. This surge of machine-to-machine connectivity will only increase the opportunities for FM organisations to improve automation.

One way that IoT could be integrated into FM is the conversion of existing high-maintenance equipment like HVAC systems into smart technology to help break the run-to-repair cycle. IoT-enabled equipment collects data on its own performance, identifies potential maintenance issues and then schedule repairs with external contractors – completely automating the maintenance procedure.

Computerised management systems

The most successful examples of automation integrating successfully into FM is not new technology but rather new systems, for example, computerised management systems.

These aren’t difficult or expensive to implement, and they don’t grab the imagination like robot security guards, but they are an extremely valuable resource.

Timegate is a cloud-based workforce management solution that automates the employee journey from pre-employment and on-boarding through to managing payroll and HR processes.

The intuitive system ensures that everything from scheduling conflicts to compliance regulations are easy to review and manage, in real-time.

In fact, the only time you’ll need to intervene is when Timegate lets you know something isn’t going to plan, for example when an employee’s first aid certificate is expiring or you’re short-staffed. With no software or hardware to install, your employees can access it remotely to check their schedules, book holiday and access HR resources.

Servicetrac is the result of three decades’ experience of managing customer journeys and is built upon the three pillars customer satisfaction - visibility, accuracy and compliance. Not only does it enable you to check all your contracts are being fulfilled using real-time data.

With all of your operational information online, there’s no chance for paperwork to get lost. And customers can also log-on remotely to see that contracts are being fulfilled to agreed KPIs. It even warns you in advance when something looks like it might not go to plan - giving you the chance to react proactively.

Learn more about Timegate & Servicetrac

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