This article argues that the inherent risk aversion of the Facilities Management (FM) profession, which to-date has been a barrier to the adoption of smart FM technologies, in 2017-18 is becoming one driver of a sea change.

The Smart Revolution: so what’s the holdup?

Consensus is building that we’ve reached the tipping point in the use of the Internet of Things (IoT).

The basic conditions necessary for a smart technology revolution have been in place for several years.

On the side of the technologists, increasing competition and investment have fuelled rapid evolution in the affordability, usability and connectivity of sensors and platforms.

On the client side, there has been a corresponding growth in awareness of the promise of smart operations to deliver those efficiencies and marginal gains upon which c21st success depends.

The holdup has been the lack of a party with sufficient understanding of the technology, and the clients’ needs and operations, to weave solutions that deliver on this promise.

Inherent Risk Aversion as a Barrier to Smart FM

Clearly, FM is best equipped and placed to fulfil this role.  There is also increasing pressure for us to do so.  IoT is quickly becoming a client expectation both within existing contracts and the tendering process.

Nevertheless, FM is an inherently conservative profession, underpinned by the principle that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.  This is particular so in challenging economic times such as these.

While technology has become central to our toolkit, FM is often a hidden laggardly influence in the adoption curve.  Many providers are driven reluctantly by client demand, not by intrinsic innovation.

In the case of IoT, this resistance is exacerbated by implications more radical and haunting than previous technologies.

There are concerns around ownership, security and unproven technology.  Deeper still, there are existential questions around FM’s role and purpose in a world where buildings effectively manage themselves.

The explicit and implicit threats are non-trivial, not least wholesale restructuring, downsizing, and loss of control and expertise.

Facilities Managers 'Minding the Gap' between smart technology providers and the market.

Are Facilities Managers ‘minding the gap’ between smart FM technology and the client?

On these bases, we attribute the failure of smart FM to go mainstream already, in part, to the risk aversive nature of FM.

Risk Aversion as a Basic Principle of FM

Nevertheless, in the arena of operations, risk aversion is one of FM’s basic principles.  We assess and mitigate risk, and implement processes to ensure that failure events have minimum impact on business continuity.

It is in the area of risk management that IoT aligns best with the conservative FM mind-set.

Smart sensors offer an affordable, quickly implemented solution for remotely monitoring critical assets and environments.  This application enables Facilities Managers without threatening to change them.  It also allows them to take a low-risk first step into the world of IoT, and to learn about the technology and its win-win benefits for FM and clients.

Once that step’s taken, there’s no turning back!

Risk Aversion as a Driver of Smart FM

Unsurprisingly, therefore, risk management is one area where we are seeing an acceleration in the adoption of smart FM technologies.  This is particularly apparent in the food and manufacturing sectors, and also as a mechanism to plug risky gaps in business information systems.

There is also a growing trend for looking beyond the measurement of discrete variables such as temperature, humidity and vibration. The new frontier is to understand the complex behaviour of specific assets and environments. The goal is to predict and resolve business critical issues before they occur.

The major advances to-date are in farming, for example, to monitor disease in cattle, the quality of the shellfish marine environment, and the interior conditions of beehives.  Smart sensors are also being developed which can pre-empt breakdown of cars and and even the human body!!

It is inevitable that similar context-specific condition-based monitoring will become integral to planned preventative maintenance and FM.  It is proposed one catalyst for this transformation is and shall be the management of business continuity risk.

Conclusion

This article has argued that, paradoxically, FM’s inherent risk aversion is both a barrier to and underlying driver of the mainstream adoption of smart technologies.  A catalyst for the shift from the former to the latter is proposed to be FM’s recognition of the value of IoT for ensuring business continuity.

Check out KEY’s case studies on our application of smart technologies for the management of business critical assets and environments.

Listen to a podcast on the future of smart technologies for risk management and FM from Gordon Mitchell, KEY’s Chief Information Officer.

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