Beyond Data-driven, Intelligent Maintenance Solutions for Facility Management

Cost control, climate action and digitalisation of systems are the most critical challenges that maintenance specialists have been facing since the beginning of 2022.

Going digital in maintenance activities means going paperless and working with data to automate workflows within the building and its value chain. In this way, corporate facilities and asset managers can focus on tasks that need human intelligence and efforts to get energy costs under control and work towards net zero.

Industry 5.0 has already started, and its intention is clear: to bring humans back to the forefront, to use technology for the greater good, improve the way we interact with it, and achieve a greater work-life balance. Maintenance and Facility Management, which share responsibilities in creating safe and comfortable environments for people, must be included.

“It might be too early to tell which emerging technologies will revolutionise our industries for good, but there’s no doubt that they must be intuitive, user-friendly, and flexible. We’ve come a long way from the age of pen and paper, reports and Excel sheets, and maintenance as an afterthought. As we take on a new approach to business, maintenance software needs to connect seamlessly to every part of your operations,” says Felipe Ávila da Costa, Co-founder and CEO of Infraspeak, one of the world’s largest global players in the digitalization of maintenance activities and "only one per cent done", in his own words.

For sure, a robust computerised maintenance management system (CMMS) is at the core of operations and management. Yet, today, most leaders make CMMS purchase decisions based on old standards of operating a building portfolio. This means they are looking for functionalities around maintenance, work order management, and that's that.

But building operations have changed dramatically over the last decade, as has the adoption of the latest technologies, including AI, IoT, digital controls, and no-touch mechanisms.

In addition to the myriad responsibilities involved in property operations—including managing critical assets, interacting with various contractors, and providing the best end-user experiences—today, there are also new health and safety regulations, monitoring, safety compliance, and so on to handle. And let us not forget the implication of FM in any sustainability goal set by a corporation.

Facilio’s founder and CEO Prabhu Ramachandran explains: “Today, CMMS evaluation should consider these new challenges. Decision-makers must consider the evolving needs of engaging different stakeholders, digitising and automating processes, ensuring efficiency through visibility, and how well it can integrate with their existing enterprise tools.” His company Facilio Inc., from India, known for years as a high-tech software developing nation, is among the world's top-3 of maintenance change-makers.

A broken industry to be repaired with the help of FMTech

What has been the FM industry situation in the past, in terms of the traditional relationship between FM service providers and their clients? We look at CloudFM, a UK-based technology first maintenance platform founded in 2011 that is working on breaking the mould of this traditional relationship.

Jeff Dewing, Group CEO of CloudFM, explains: "One common thread of the industry is that of bad behaviour, not because of bad people but in having no choice due to the environment where people are overpromising and under delivering. That has been the market's fault too; promising to make it 20 per cent cheaper, take the work and try and deliver later. This pushes performance into a downward spiral and you get a cyclical process whereby an FM services provider wins the contract, then upsets the client by failing to deliver. The client goes back out to market and employs another company where performance is no different and so it goes on and on.”

For Jeff Dewing, the necessary turnaround in the FM industry is one of a change in mindset.

Trust and long-term relationships are the final goals, together with realistic, digital-driven cost savings.

His company Cloud FM achieves this, amongst others, with the help of digital technology, drastically increasing transparency on processes and speeding up maintenance response times.

Also, on the quest to restore trust in the FM industry and Real Estate as a whole, we find Jo Bronckers, Co-founder and Executive Board of FIBREE, the Foundation for International Blockchain and Real Estate Expertise. His organisation envisions the employment of blockchain technologies for FM. Building data are stored in independent and unmodifiable ledgers and accessible to all stakeholders, as the fundamental trust enabler in the industry. “It is already possible to establish a system secured with blockchain tech. This system stores all data produced by any element (utility, sensor, robot…) installed or action taken in the building. The building owner can then establish access authorisation for incumbents to access these data and make use of them. The ideal situation would be for this data to become an intrinsic part of the building itself, in a way that, if the building is sold, all historical data will move to the new owner”, he explains.

Placing building-user experience at the core of FM

Breaking moulds, building a trust relationship with clients and technicians alike, and achieving a better building user experience are also the critical success factors of WeMaintain, a Paris-born scale-up dedicated to elevator maintenance.

“The great complexity in the elevator world is that we have access to a lot of data from very different sources (field, IoT, etc...), but often these are compartmentalised and do not speak to each other, which prevents a 360-degree analysis of situations. We have worked from the start to set up a structure that allows the different data to communicate instantly. In this way, we can quickly find solutions for technical elevator problems,” says Olivier Gabriel, scientific director at WeMaintain.

Putting building-user experience at the core of software design is often seen in solutions offered by digital native firms.

"Ask different facilities managers what the goal of their job is, and you will likely receive a variety of answers. Some replies might focus on ensuring equipment uptime. Others might focus on ensuring contract renewal by providing great service to the building owner,” states Patrick Sim, Co-Founder and Director at FacilityBot, a multi-channel AI-powered facilities management chatbot. “While these are legitimate daily pre-occupations of facilities management, in many cases, there is a lack of focus on building occupants. Whether it is preventive maintenance to make sure chiller systems do not fail, or repairing room lighting; ultimately, the goal is for people in the building to live or work productively and comfortably.” Therefore, his startup’s chatbot for facilities management takes the building user as the starting point of tasks and requests to be executed.

A different perspective for asset performance analytics

This new way of examining the "jobs-to-done" thoroughly, considering all stakeholders involved, plus the speed of software development, makes digital native firms different from other players in the FM industry. 

“It is tough to look beyond the incumbent, but there is a reason why you should, and especially when you are an FM company looking to differentiate and build a digital suite of products or services around your conventional offering" claims Umesh Bhutoria, CEO of Xempla, a company specialising in asset performance analytics for Facility Management teams.

“Startups or other SaaS companies that are bringing out innovation are looking from a completely different perspective at asset performance management: not just from what's been done in the past, but what is possible in the future.”

BIM is becoming standard in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry between now and the near future. It digitally broadens collaboration capacities, streamlines workflows and increases efficiency, productivity, and cost savings. But after project handoff, paper-based processes continue to swamp owners of large energy-consuming assets. Facility managers responsible for business centres, shopping malls, hospitals, and museums struggle to achieve energy-efficient operations and maintenance. In these vast structures with complex utility systems, analysing processes and identifying and predicting issues is complicated and costly without big data operations.

Arseny Tarasov, CEO at HiperIT, explains that his digital native firm integrates a building’s utility big data into the intelligent model used to construct that building. “This provides owners/operators with a real-time, streaming digital twin of the structure that enables visualisation of the building's operational processes. Now they can easily identify and predict issues and their locations and react quickly and effectively. In times where energy costs rise and acting on sustainability is mandatory; facility managers need help from fine-tuned tech to get the job done.”

Beyond Digitalization in Maintenance

Digital maintenance is clearly a given in these times and we can see it becoming more mature (for lack of a better word) or is already moving beyond automation and control of the process flow towards being able to connect seamlessly with every part of the building’s operations. In addition to this seamless and open connection, we see digital maintenance increasingly becoming an umbrella over building operations - extending its reach down to the building users - first by taking-in their inputs directly then ultimately enabling building user experience.