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IoT and facilities management

IoT and facilities management

Facilities management is a wide-ranging field that is standing on the edge of a precipice. Lee Davies looks at what technology has to offer for the best way forward.

The industry that combines multiple competencies to create an overarching strategy of managing operations going on inside a building has the chance to re-invent itself with the onset of the Internet of Things.

The ability to get today’s buildings up to speed to take advantage of this revolutionary technology is at the forefront of challenges facing facilities management.

What can the IoT do to upgrade FM? The benefits are many. Facilities managers often find themselves in a tug-of-war between safety and cost-effectiveness, but digitalisation has changed how tenants and FMs interact. Using wireless sensors to collect data from all points around a facility, then using mobile technologies and beacons to gather it gives facilities managers the opportunity to harness big-data analytics and transform the interactions between them and building occupants.

The benefits of IoT for FM

These can be summed up under a series of headings –

Better occupant experience
Build users who don’t feel their needs are being met are always at risk of becoming ex-occupants (or tenants, in the case of leased property). IoT sensors allow facilities managers to gather real-time data and make decisions that minimise costs.

Fewer wrong changes
Errors occurs all the time, whether by human oversight or system failure. Things like unauthorised access to facilities or breaches in cybersecurity can be greatly reduced by leveraging IoT-collected data along with the analytics that parse it into usable information. The more available, the more control the FM can have over the environment.

Asset tracking
With a centralised dashboard, facilities managers can locate, track and monitor assets deployed to an occupant and see if they are performing up to task. This includes items like smoke detectors, ventilators, escalators and elevators, and HVAC systems.

Staying ahead of water damage
There's no more quiet killer in facilities management than water damage. Hurricanes and floods can cause catastrophic damage, but it's the kind you can see coming, prepare some stopgaps against, and know exactly where the damage is when the storm passes. The silent killer is the pipe that develops a pinhole from rust and starts slowly leaking or the vent that can't close because of a bird's nest that allows an inch of rain in every week. These little drips and drops can add up to enormous consequences, from unseen mold growth to electrical systems damage to the saturation of walls and ceilings that collapse without warning. Water ropes and water sensors can be judiciously placed near sensitive equipment or in problematic areas where leaks have occurred before. These high-tech wireless sensors are sensitive to even the slightest change in moisture levels. When a change is detected, they can alert the FM via email, SMS or a phone-based app. A simple investigation determine the cause of the leak leaves the team a step ahead of Mother Nature and design flaws every time.

Open/close sensors
Peace of mind isn't just for worriers; it's for anyone involved with the safety and security of a building that people call home. Sensors on all doors and windows of a facility can send data to the cloud 24 hours a day, making sure it is open when it should be, and closed airtight the rest of the time. This doesn't just give the FM team safety against unwelcome visitors, it can also help occupiers protect against, for example, former employees entering after business hours if they have maintained access credentials. In addition, unsecured windows can lead to water damage or spending extra money on HVAC systems to cool or heat areas being influenced by the conditions outside.

The challenges of IoT-enhanced facilities management

As good as the benefits listed above sound, the challenges that form a barrier between present conditions and future possibilities are substantial. Among their number are –

Cost management
As great as it would be to fix every problem right away and replace every faulty unit with a brand new one, that's not always possible.  Making the call between what is necessary and what would be nice has to come into play here. Decisions on how long equipment should be kept based on its current state of (dis)repair factor against the cost of keeping building occupants happy.

Inventory age
No matter how advanced your sensors and analysis technology are, they are limited by the age of the machinery and systems in place in the building. Nearly any equipment can be fitted with the right kind of wireless sensors, but what those sensors pick up might be a problem. As sensors collect data and send it for analysis, this may produce recommendations about the need to replace or significantly upgrade legacy equipment systems. This may be cost prohibitive, as upgrades can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds, including removal of existing equipment, purchase of upgrades and installation. To ensure that money is only spent on replacements when it's absolutely necessary, the facilities manager needs to invest money in proactive and preventive maintenance procedures.

Lee Davies is marketing director at data collection specialist Wireless Sensors.

Audit 2019

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