ChatLog - the social Facilities Management revolution

FSI's new CAFM app development offers real time FM engagement across the user base and a more effective approach to Helpdesk data. FSI discussed with PFM magazine.

Once a building or site has been chosen and developed for occupation by a community (as a workplace, an institution, a residence, a transport terminal, etc) FM, as it has evolved in today's world, contributes significantly to the critical, ongoing role of ensuring that the location serves its designated purpose successfully.

And generally, once occupied, from the perspective of the users of a site they are not aware of FM until something goes wrong in their environment and a fix is required.

FM is thus easily taken for granted, and when industry professionals meet a primary topic of conversation is often a variation on the theme of: "How do we achieve the visibility/recognition for what we do?" That recognition applies of course, not only to all those users of a premises, but equally to the owners/operators who pay for FM, to whom its cost must be justified and who look to gain added value from the contribution its role can make to the organisation.


As is so often the case, the key to achieving recognition is (mass) communication and the solution to this FM industry issue has now presented itself through the convergence of a number of communications technologies.

Social FM
The latest developments in CAFM, along with the trend towards organisations accepting bring-your-own-device for employees to use as a workplace tool (as smartphones proliferate) and the all-pervasive nature of web-based social media have produced a combination capable of releasing FM from within its still all-to-often, silo-based organisational home. This combination of communications and data-gathering tools has resulted in the birth of simple, single-function FM apps, which bring a tangible relationship with FM to the fingertips of potentially every smartphone or tablet user who has dealings with any premises.

And what better way to introduce the mass audience to FM than a first-generation app - named ChatLog - which combines a very familiar social media experience with a new and much more efficient approach to the operation of an FM Helpdesk?

The Helpdesk process is traditionally quite fragmented. A user can report an FM issue by phone, email and, more recently, via a dedicated web portal - perhaps loaded with a little too much technical FM vocabulary! This initiates a one-to-one dialogue with the Helpdesk which may entail strings of backand- forth exchanges, with the inevitable requirement to chase people up to obtain closure on issues, and, in periods of high demand, put a strain on, and add costs to, this FM support resource.

The nature of a ChatLog interaction may be a highly personal, one-off situation - such as a coffee spill at a desk, where the private message option will be appropriate. More often though, issues will affect entire work groups or the whole user-base - perhaps a temperature control malfunction on one floor or a faulty lift. In its primary, public mode, the ChatLog presents a visible, and quite informal, two-way, conversational dialogue between the workplace community (and that word gains added importance in this new approach) and the FM team.

On opening the app, a user will see the flow of current public messages, with any important information - such as a lift closure - highlighted. It may become immediately obvious that something a user was about to report is already being dealt with, thus saving the user time and freeing-up resource at the Helpdesk. It may be that a user sees an issue in-hand that is not being dealt with in their locale and is prompted to log a me too message that is indicative of the problem being more widespread and significant. The FM side can use the log to broadcast regular public information updates regarding the current status of any issue.

De-fragmenting the Helpdesk
The consolidation of reporting through the ChatLog delivers a much more immediate, holistic picture of the current state-of-affairs at a site to the FM team in comparison with the fragmented, one-to-one Helpdesk model. This visibility brings the ability to spot trends sooner and perhaps pre-empt issues arising more frequently. The FM team can canvas the user base in real time: Is everybody too warm on the fourth floor - or is the initial complainant being overly fussy, or coming down with flu!?

In addition to the app's recognisably consumer-style visuals, user take-up is being encouraged by making the ChatLog's smartphone/tablet touch-screen data entry process as much about offering multiple choice selection as text entry. One particular goal of the app development work, to ensure ease of interaction with the Concept Evolution CAFM system, has been the desire to improve feedback response to the efforts of the FM team when an issue has been resolved. All that is required now is a simple one-touch response to provide an instant feedback rating to deliver that, often so elusive, piece of data at the end of the activity process.

Growing the user base
Encouragement for staff to try out the app and remain with it as a loyal user can be embodied though the use of gamification techniques. The app has the capability to introduce point-scoring, earned during normal app use processes (logging issues, responding to enquiries, providing feedback), which leads to rewards/prizes for users.

A ChatLog implementation uses the, now, well-developed process of a set of pre-structured chatbots to create the conversational interface. Algorithms are used to generate relevant questions in natural language. Major efforts have been made to free this conversation from any FM jargon and restrict it to the back office. As such, there is a seamlessness between the user's conversation with a chatbot and the switch to the human interface within the Helpdesk function when someone intervenes to ask specific questions and give replies.

Varied degrees of customisation are possible, depending on the scope of the FM role at any premises. The degree of automation possible within the app's functionality is partly determined by the degree of automation and intelligence installed within the premises. With the evolution of the internet-of-things and intelligent building sensors there is the scope for user interaction with considerable parts of a system to be highly automated.

There are premises where variations on the ChatLog app approach are being implemented by adaptations of various consumer social media apps which allow closed group chat. There are two important issues with this approach. First, the data flow is not integrated within the CAFM database system, as it is within ChatLog, and so valuable, and potentially business critical, information is not being directly captured for FM management purposes.

Second, there is the potential for information leakage outside of the closed chat group where users exploit the same app for personal purposes, plus the questionable uncertainty over the way owners of mass social media apps exploit the user data they accumulate within their databases.

The ChatLog app ticks a number of important boxes as an FM spearhead. While blending with already familiar apps on the smartphones or tablets of all the users in a premises, it has the potential to put FM in a spotlight and raise its awareness for the entire workplace community in an effective yet unobtrusive way. It brings the widest possible real-time interaction with the FM team and offers the tangible benefits of increased efficiency and the explicit demonstration of FM innovation.

Paul Bullard, Business Strategy Director, FSI ChatLog: part of the Concept Advantage suite of community apps, helping to improve corporate wellbeing. Improve productivity by providing the entire workplace community with the means of socially interacting with the built environment.