FMTech Insights is a series where subject matter experts and thought leaders in FMTech share their knowledge and opinions on the topic of their expertise; helping the industry learn, innovate and grow. The series will cover every sector in FM – from workplace management, operations and maintenance, energy management, waste management and everything in between.
Alexandre McCormack is the CEO of Shayp, a digital native firm that helps public and private organisations reduce water consumption in buildings thanks to artificial intelligence. Using only water meter data, Shayp's AI reveals water consumption anomalies and leakages in buildings and guides operators to improve the situation.
A Veolia facility manager once told me they checked their client’s water meter index every week. In case there was a significant jump in consumption, they’d send his facility management teams on a hunt to find any potential leakages.
Knowing that weekly monitoring was not a part of their duty, I asked the manager why this was important to them. He told me: “Keeping my eyes on how a building is doing means I can maintain it better. It helps me stay on top of things.”
The amount of care and work that facility managers put into their buildings is greater than most people see.
Later, when we started Shayp, we knew we wanted to find a way to use technology not to replace that, but to make FM work even more meaningful. We wanted to help the buildings talk back to those who maintain them.
Analysing data across over 5,000 non-residential buildings, we learned that leaks are a leading cause of water waste in buildings.
Our data shows that 1 in 3 buildings is leaking, accounting for over 20% of buildings’ total water consumption on average.
Naturally, we wanted to understand why this is happening.
We have seen the daily work of FMs, plumbers and building operators first-hand. But we realised that, despite the excellent care, FMs sometimes lack the tools to detect the signs that buildings are sending them.
Water networks in buildings are usually hidden out of sight, and technologies for leak detection are far from standardised. Leak detection often includes manual work and relying on tools that don’t show the whole picture. Though smart water metres are suitable for correct billing of water consumption, they fail when it comes to detecting when something is wrong.
Even when individuals like the person I mentioned earlier go the extra mile and check water metres regularly, they cannot see everything happening. For example, another person, in charge of energy in a French municipality, told us that 20% of their smart water metres stopped reporting without them knowing. They realised this only after receiving a significantly higher water bill.
Due to the lack of good tools, communication between FMs and their buildings is unexisting. Our customer surveys and data estimates show that 93% of leakages and consumption anomalies go either unreported or unnoticed. Digital technology and AI have the potential to bridge this communication gap.
What happens when buildings talk back?
Using the building’s existing water meters, we pull the raw data into a platform. The AI automatically analyses water consumption in real time. The learning algorithms progressively learn the normal flow patterns in plumbing systems and assess leakage patterns that differ from regular water consumption.
The system constantly reads the signals a building sends and organises them into data anybody can read. The AI also send out alerts autonomously and categorises leaks and anomalies. It enables the building to communicate that there is an issue as soon as it occurs, without the need for human inspection.
In other words, technology is a translator between the building and those who take care of it.
Monitoring buildings’ water consumption helps FMs to act as soon as a problem is detected. It also helps to prioritise and organise work, saving time and money. Rather than spending time in guesswork, FM using AI can effectively address building problems.
Moreover, technology makes the hidden work of building maintenance visible to others.
Thanks to data, we can effectively measure the impact of every intervention that a plumber or facility manager takes on repairing leaks. It is possible to determine and visualise the initial water loss in the building before and after that intervention. Seeing the impact of one’s work is undoubtedly rewarding. But it also allows building owners and clients to see how much water and costs FM help them save.
The role of FM in facing water scarcity
The work of a plumber, FM or a building technician is happening in the background, yet it is essential. It is vital for keeping the building healthy but also to building resilient and more sustainable infrastructure, cities, and the future. I firmly believe that FMs hold the key to addressing water scarcity.
Considering that buildings in Europe use about 70% of drinking water, managing that water smartly and preventing water loss is non-negotiable. FM are on the frontline of this strategy. With the right tools, they can increase water efficiency and reduce the building’s environmental footprint.
Disclaimer: the author's opinion does not necessarily reflect that of the Global Alliance of Facility Management Innovators.