Preparing for the next big thing

Looking at what the future holds in the fast-moving area of communications technology and the implications for FMs.

Where technology is concerned, there are boundless opportunities emerging for utilising the latest developments and this can also be seen to be driving more options and providing challenges for FMs to keep up to speed with the changes.

It is, of course, essential to ensure that any new introductions will match the requirements of the user and this will typically include the need to meet FM budgetary constraints, amongst others. However, communications systems have been noted for how they are showing signs of providing increased functionality without the need for high levels of added investment, which means that there is the potential to deliver improvements and savings by swapping to a more up-to-date system.

Bearing in mind the difficulties that many FMs and industry personnel have expressed about how they have struggled to keep pace, PFM asked a number of industry experts for their thoughts on what the ‘next big thing' is likely to be. Our intention is to provide a view of the areas most likely to be see significant change and improvement on the basis that being forewarned will allow FMs to be forearmed.

Sony Professional Solutions marketing manager Carl Standertskjold says this is most likely to involve the trend for buildings and workplaces to utilise smart technology, using integrated, networked equipment and driving the development of new solutions.

"Traditionally, organisations had systems that were discrete but increasingly we are seeing software solutions branching across multiple areas from AV, to lighting," says Mr Standertskjold. "New challenges are emerging, but also fantastic opportunities."

Organisations are now able to create customised signage content and play it out to thousands of IP devices in minutes, he continues.

"The speed at which companies can communicate with their employees and visitors, whether that be lunch menus or emergency announcements, is incredible. Expect Internet of Things (IoT) driven solutions to also increasingly collect and process data, helping organisations address cost and performance across their workplace," says Mr Standertskjold.

There has been much discussion on the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and the automation of tasks in all areas of the workplace, with high levels of significance for a number of FM roles. This was another enthusiastically-received topic of debate within a PFM Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) meeting at the end of last year.

EAB members expressed caution in taking this too far, as many of the claimed benefits of AI have yet to be seen to be easily deliverable. However, there are many areas where FMs can deliver efficiencies that will either see no change to service levels or, in the best-case scenario, improve response with the use of reduced levels of resource.

FSI director of technology Peter Tyler continues this discussion: "There will be an increase in the use of voice or text chat and interaction with smart bots for FM activities such as using FAQs to deal with helpdesk queries or booking rooms and equipment for meetings," he says. "Taking the technology further, any FM activities that focus on repeatable, standardised actions can be automated, allowing the real human expertise to be freed-up to deal with lengthy and comprehensive queries."

Similarly, he continues, IoT feeds from smart devices and sensors, combined with AI algorithms, will bring information to the helpdesk, or individual end-users, recommending appropriate actions. There is an increased level of possibility that those actions will be able to be taken automatically.

He further states that a new communications infrastructure layer will interact with smart buildings/IoT devices such that (smartphone) messaging can be focused to individual facility users, based on who they are and where they are within a building at any point in time. Be it guiding a visitor to a meeting room or advising those in a building that a lift is out of action, this will remove the need for checking message board postings or blanket emailing.

"It will provide more certainty that those who need to know something know it and those who don't are not interrupted by being told it unnecessarily," Mr Tyler states.

"The data-handling capacity of 5G offers a revolution in support of mobile engineers. Beyond the ability to rapidly obtain rich data about the assets they may be working on - drawings, manuals, performance history, etc - 5G's video capabilities make it possible for less qualified engineers to operate in the field with the ability, when necessary, to consult central ‘super engineers' in real time to be instructed on how to deal with non-standard repair or maintenance queries," Mr Tyler concludes.

PFM's hosted visit to the ISE exhibition in Amsterdam earlier this year allowed our party of FM delegates to appreciate some of the latest advances in a range of technologies, with a particular focus on communications. Subsequent feedback with those included in this year's visit have revealed that the event proved to be highly useful in changing their attitude towards communication technology while assisting with ongoing projects.

Thoughts on how the application of how the various new and emerging developments will facilitate the sharing of information are provided by Mersive Technologies chief executive officer Rob Balgley, whose company's stand at ISE was visited by PFM delegates: "Meeting rooms and huddle spaces need to be set up so that every participant can easily share content not only from laptops but also from their mobile devices like phones and tablets to the meeting room display. Wirelessly stream device screens, app windows, HD videos and more - whatever it takes to drive consensus and get the job done," he says.

Connecting a wireless content sharing and collaboration solution to the meeting-room flat panel or projector and leveraging existing networks facilitates this kind of universal collaborative content sharing, leading to improved decision making, and better meeting results.

"Unleashing the power of your applications, devices, and most of all people, makes for more productive meetings," says Mr Balgley.

"A well-designed implementation can provide further benefits in the form of statistics on meeting room productivity. How often is each space used and by how many participants? How many share content and from what type of device? How interactive are the meetings? You can even obtain participant feedback on the quality of each meeting," he continues.

He further states that by redesigning meeting spaces and deploying the right technology, we can redesign meetings. Changing the environment with comparatively inexpensive technology transforms the meeting environment to facilitate collaborative content sharing.

"This will bring about improved decision making and better meeting results. By fully leveraging the insights of the whole team in every meeting you will not only get to your corporate goals faster but also achieve greater employee satisfaction for the team," says Mr Balgley.

The final words of comment on this topic are provided by Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors chief executive officer Steve Barraclough, who says: "It is inevitable that our environments and workplaces will involve increasing levels of automation, informatics, robotics, sensors and mobile devices. However, this does not mean jobs will be replaced wholesale as human skills will remain central to many tasks.

"It is imperative that we make the marriage between humans and machines as seamless as possible, and human factors is critical to this success," he continues. "Our own research revealed that 68.5% of industry professionals do not recognise human factors.

"This has to change. To ensure automation and robotics has the best possible impact then the contribution of human factors must be considered at a very early stage."

Mr Barraclough's comments are broadly in line with the views of the PFM EAB members, who stated that there are likely to be a number of areas where human contact will remain an important factor and also likely to provide better outcomes. These included the need for receptionists and security personnel to be present to deal with the diverse range of requests and needs of facilities users.

When considering or implementing any new system, it is always essential "not to throw the baby away with the bath water", of course, but the continuing development of communications technology is increasing showing the possibilities that can be achieved when applying this in a number of areas of FM and further driving yet more change in the industry.