The emergence of smart technology is bringing huge benefits to various building stakeholders. For building owners, smart tech brings new property value, allowing them to attract better tenants and charge higher rents. For tenants, smart tech brings new business value, allowing them to optimize cost against productivity and attract better talent. For building occupants, smart tech brings health, wellbeing, and comfort benefits, allowing them to be the best they can be. However, for one group of stakeholders, facility managers (FM), smart tech has brought as much confusion and stress as clear benefits as they try to manage the rapid transformation of buildings.
“Demands on property are rapidly changing – new patterns around how we work, live, and play demand greater flexibility and a more personalized experience. Individuals are also becoming more aware of their own health and wellbeing, which is driving more interest in the quality of internal environments. Alongside this there is a steadily increasing industry focus on the environmental impact of buildings in operation,” says Stephen Hill, an associate at Arup. “Taken together, these factors are leading to a significant increase in pressure not just to design and construct our buildings differently, but to operate and maintain them differently too.”
Hill is the lead author of a report titled ‘FM 2.0: Re-imagining Facility Management for the Digital Age’ that presents a bright vision for the digital future of facility management. It proposes that the purpose of FM is to improve the end-user experience whilst reducing the overall environmental impact of the facility, and suggests that intelligent automation is the best process to bring that about. In FM 2.0, automation optimizes building performance and takes responsibility for many of the menial tasks that consume FMs’ time today, this gives them more control of the building in real-time and allows them to be more proactive in long-term planning. Releasing the FM can be a major driving force for smart tech integration and, therefore, smart building evolution.
“It’s no secret that many buildings don’t perform to their potential, and digital transformation certainly has the potential to address this. Building a business case for digital transformation needs to focus on an organization’s FM objectives, whether that’s improving user satisfaction, reducing complaints, the resilience of systems, comfort, air quality, or energy performance,” reads the Arup report. “Alongside the hard commercial benefits, it’s also important to recognize the softer benefits, such as improvements to health and well-being, recruitment and retention of staff.”
While much of this is commonsense for a buildings industry that has been driving these objectives for over a decade, not all experts agree with the way Arup has framed the issue. Over the past decade, solutions have evolved and over the past two years, the world has changed — the concepts, definitions, and best practices of the past do not necessarily apply to the smart building market of today. The COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent shift in focus towards public health have had direct impacts on buying patterns and investment across the sector. Health features that were a growing “value adds” before COVID have now become central to even the most comprehensive smart building solutions, and the building itself has become central to public health.
“We argue that for most global organizations, these “softer benefits” to which Arup refers have now become hard financial values. Facilities are no longer just structures: they are considered a major factor in the success of their users and have a significant impact on the environment,” reads the 2021 Schneider Electric report: Designing for FM 2.0. “As such, facilities – and the organizations that own or operate them – are now being scrutinized more closely. All dimensions of facility performance are increasingly crucial to attracting investors, tenants, and employees.”
The hardening of health and wellbeing benefits, due to shifting priorities during the pandemic and general maturing of solutions, makes a significant difference to many aspects of smart building evolution. This growing demand for higher health and wellbeing standards in buildings falls largely on the plate of the FM, who will in turn demand solutions and funding that will allow them to continue improving the end-user experience whilst reducing environmental impact. Arup, Schneider, and most of the big players in the smart buildings sector have pivoted towards the new normal by adapting their solutions and marketing to the new priorities.
It’s not all about the big guys however, this disruptive environment has also created opportunities for FM-specific startups. Recently in Europe, 3-year-old Austria-based Wowflow has raised €300K pre-seed investment for its collaboration tool for facility maintenance teams, while 6-year-old Portugal-based Infraspeak announced a €10 million funding last week for its top-to-bottom facilities maintenance solution. Meanwhile, the workplace-specific management solution market is expected to grow at a 19% CAGR to a $1 billion market by 2025 from just $406 million in 2020 — European startups have also taken the lead in this segment according to our latest research on the segment.
“The future of facilities management software is around flexibility, intelligence, and integration. Flexibility to allow each team to adapt their software to any kind of operations; Intelligence to proactively transform the thousands of data points collected daily into actionable insights for staff and management; and Integration to allow the plethora of people, processes, IoT, and software to intercommunicate efficiently with each other,” explains Infraspeak co-founder and CEO Felipe Ávila da Costa.
The evolution of buildings demands the evolution of facilities management. The so-called “FM 2.0” has been a necessary development since our buildings began to get smarter but the impacts of the pandemic have now accelerated the adoption of smart technology in building and placed a greater share of the responsibility on the FM. The role of the FM was always going to develop in this direction, in line with the human-centric trends that made smart health applications more valuable, but COVID has brought this issue to the fore. Those pre-pandemic human-centric trends meant that we had smart health solutions ready for the crisis, now we need to recognize the increased load on FMs and the value of releasing their potential.