What is the Influence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on Facility Management?

All facility managers will agree that the environments we take care of are “mini-societies” in which happiness, health, comfort, hygiene, and good-working assets are the basics of our corporations functioning well in their core activities.

We manage many different aspects of the lives of the bees in our hives -- from their access to food via the restaurants we cater for them to the air that they breathe in our buildings. Whatever industrial revolution there may be, it will have a profound effect on us facility managers as it will quickly influence one, or more, or even all our activities.

But what does "fourth industrial revolution" mean exactly and that "profound effect", how does that take shape in facility management? 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The term “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” was coined in 2016  by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF), via a book published with the same title. It became the central theme of the Davos meeting that year.

Schwab argued a technological revolution is underway “that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.” These technological changes are drastically altering how individuals, companies and governments operate, ultimately leading to a societal transformation like previous industrial revolutions.

Simply put, the Fourth Industrial Revolution refers to how technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles and the internet of things (IoT) are merging with humans’ physical lives. Think of voice-activated assistants, facial ID recognition or digital healthcare sensors.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution vs. The First Three Industrial Revolutions

Zvika Krieger, the head of technology policy and partnerships at WEF, says there is a common theme among each of the industrial revolutions: the invention of a specific technology that changed society fundamentally.

The First Industrial Revolution started in Britain around 1760. It was powered by a major invention: the steam engine. The steam engine enabled new manufacturing processes, leading to the creation of factories.

The Second Industrial Revolution came roughly one century later and was characterized by mass production in new industries like steel, oil, and electricity. The light bulb, the telephone and the internal combustion engine were some of the key inventions of this era.

The inventions of the semiconductor, the personal computer and the internet marked the Third Industrial Revolution starting in the 1960s. This is also referred to as the “Digital Revolution.”

Krieger said the Fourth Industrial Revolution is different from the third for two reasons: the gap between the digital, physical, and biological worlds is shrinking, and technology is changing faster than ever.

The rapid spread of technological change

For evidence of how quickly technological change is spreading, Krieger pointed to the adoption of the telephone. It took 75 years for 100 million people to get access to the telephone; the gaming app “Pokémon Go” hooked that many users in less than one month in 2016. The present-day form of the good old telephone – the smart phone, has over 90% penetration rate in developed countries and over 50% penetration in developing countries, reveals a 2020 Deloitte report on Global Mobile Consumer Trends

We truly love our smart phones. We swiftly adopted the powerful abilities that are brought to us through the technology of its apps enabling us to control and track so many things in our daily lives. And younger generations are even more hooked to their smart devices than we are. Altogether, we could not imagine living without anymore. “Technology, and specifically digital technology, is so intertwined with many businesses, as well as our social and economic lives, that trying to separate ‘tech’ from ‘non-tech’ is becoming increasingly redundant,” said David Stubbs, head of client investment strategy for EMEA at J.P. Morgan Private Bank.

The Facilities Manager in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The users of our buildings and sites are thus every day more tech savvy, and not only would like their environments to be integrated with tech, but even expect this to be so. 

For millennials, now 25 to 40 years of age, anything not being agile and smartly and individually resolved can look extremely old fashioned - like the good old fax of twenty-five years ago now looks to us. Having to cue up in a physical place without knowing how much time to wait, booked meeting rooms that are empty, the use of physical keys, non-diverse and repetitive food in a catering venue, dirty toilets but no automated way to complain about them. It puts them off and turns them away from the corporation they are working for or the brand they are a client of. 

This reminds us, FM’ers, of the extent of our responsibility for the brand image of our corporation. We should integrate technology into our daily activities to meet the expectations of our clients, of our employees, to maintain the brand image of our corporation on an acceptable level and not to forget, for our own convenience. 

Climate action, sustainability, carbon footprint management: facilities management has the hands on the knobs of managing and changing the way buildings consume energy today. For the next coming many years, FM will play a significant role in saving our planet Earth. The Fourth Industrial Revolution gives FM the digital tools to rise to that challenge.

FMTech startups are pushing digitalization of Facility Management

FMTech startups, or digital native firms, as we also like to call them, embody the changes of the fourth industrial revolution with their easy-to-use platforms and smart but comprehensive tech solutions. They make our work and lives easier. All startup solutions give us clear dashboards reflecting all information on what is happening in and around our buildings and they empower subcontracted workforce with technology so we have fewer errors and less rectification or repair costs. They optimize machines and processes and have this “before you can fix it, you have to measure it”-mentality, returning us control over the operations they act on.

The FMTech Startup Meeting Point

Here at the Global Alliance of Facility Management Innovators, facility managers get to meet all kinds of startups that offer solutions and innovations for FM. With our trend radar, we tell you which and how new technologies are relevant to the FM industry, and you'll hear about the innovation journey other facility managers are taking. At our online Digital FM Summits, you can meet FMTech players and listen to the presentation of their solutions.

Easy access to the latest innovations and the most powerful FMTech startups from around the globe - that is what we go for!