Could Artificial Intelligence be the Future of CAFM?

Global CAFM software producers, FSI share their insight with Tomorrow's FM into what IT has in store for facilities management, with programmes allowing you to pre-select your morning coffee, the intelligent services available seem like they will go to infinity and beyond.

If integration between systems and business processes has been the defining trend of CAFM evolution during the last decade, connectivity is the new watchword for the next few years. The Internet of Things - connecting the physical environment across the web - has entered the mainstream of technology marketing. It would be difficult to come up with a function that resonates more closely with the phrase than FM, which is effectively the point at which the business meets the environment.

The rate at which the internet has grown puts the potential role of advanced technology in the next phase of CAFM innovation into context. A quarter of a century ago, it did not even exist as a concept outside the laboratories of a handful of technologists. By 2008, the number of things connected to the web exceeded the number of people on earth.

Connectivity is key
Our desire to integrate with, manage and control our environment in increasingly automated, intuitive ways, is set to find its natural home in CAFM platforms which fulfil that desire and interpret it by delivering services and information that will have a profound effect on our interaction with buildings, assets and facilities.

Intelligent buildings have already been with us for a long time. The idea of temperature and lighting controls that respond to electronic sensors is not new in itself. Most of us are used to walking down corridors in modern office buildings and hotels with the lights switching themselves on ahead of us. But as far as CAFM is concerned, this sort of energy management will soon start to look very basic, and the business benefits of CAFM systems based on deeper integration and connectivity will seem highly compelling.

The customer is King
Consumer expectations are a major influence on the intensity of this evolution. They are driven, at least in part, by the ease with which mobile devices allow us to create customised communication channels with people and services. Touching an app icon, followed by a series of similar commands, to place an order, set a television recording remotely, or book a restaurant table, is already second nature to most of us. And we are frustrated when business interfaces and applications do not respond in the same intuitive ways. 

How much easier it would be, for example, if you could swipe a smartcard at a room entrance, triggering a series of automated tasks that range from setting the lighting to the right level, to ordering coffee, to switching on the phone - personalised with your contacts list, perhaps - to issuing an alert when the room booking is running out of time. Of course, everything would return to its factory setting when you leave, conserving energy and costs that otherwise weigh heavily on the corporate bottom line. Or perhaps you would like to do all this from a display screen in reception, so that the room is set up in time for your arrival.

Quite simply, this type of scenario reflects the use of CAFM technology in increasingly joined-up ways.

The benefits
Tangible and measurable savings are matched by the depth of information that CAFM systems will be able to gather. Usage pattern analysis, for example, will help to make building use more efficient and cost-effective around the clock, enabling power consumption forecasts to be more accurate for different times, and trimming hundreds of thousands of pounds from the organisation's utilities bill.

Real-time imperatives
CAFM users are looking for truly realtime integration and connectivity that reflects their experience as technology consumers. So whether it's an app on their smartphone or a link on the company's social media page, this is the route that vendors are pursuing; a natural extension of the web-enablement strategies that have already had a major influence on the development of user interfaces and reporting tools.

Senior managers want to be able to pull up reports on their smartphones. End-users want it to be easier to log a request with the help desk, report a fault or raise a job. By extending the CAFM system into the non-desktop environment, vendors are simply answering the clarion call of the consumer in ever more innovative and intuitive ways.

Intelligent automation
However, this consumer influence will also deliver benefits to the heart of the business. Realtime connectivity and real-time integration mean the availability of real-time information. Tasks can be scheduled to the moment of optimum convenience and least financial impact for the organisation.

Take a retailer with a faulty refrigeration unit. By integrating the Internet of Things with the communications network, the CAFM system will be able to raise the alert and initiate a chain of events, from allocating the task to the nearest and most appropriate contractor to monitoring progress, closing the task and raising any relevant paperwork. It will automatically know which service is required at each stage. Information relating to the event will also automatically be added to the asset register and used to plan the net stages in the unit's lifecycle.

This means that advanced technology will ultimately combine with properly defined processes to streamline hard FM services that have traditionally been confined to the FM silo, bring them out into the open and give them full visibility across the business. As it materialises, this vision of the future will enable a coherent and comprehensive approach to integrated hard and soft service delivery, giving enterprises and organisations an improved grip on the constant drain of lost revenues caused by inefficient asset and estate management.

CAFM as a meeting point
The cultural impact of automation and integration delivered by increasingly mobile CAFM platforms cannot be underestimated. Workflow technology embedded in the systems will help to streamline processes. Reports will be valued at board level for their focus or the application of specific information to answer a business challenge or make the case for a new initiative, ensuring that CAFM will continue its rise as a core business tool of choice.

The CAFM system of the future will be a natural meeting point for internal user, contractor and external customer interactions. It will deliver an array of information and services that make FM services relevant and visible to an audience far beyond the traditional confines of the back office.