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The Future of Facilities Management: AI, Robots, and Outer Space

The importance of facilities management has increased exponentially over the last decade, as businesses start to understand the true impact of the environment. Gone are the days when management teams were responsible for little more than checking boxes and ticking off safety requirements. Now, the role is heavily integrated with enterprise asset management (EAM) processes.

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Perhaps more so than any other operational process, facilities management is sensitive to social and cultural change. Take the urgency of environmental policies, for example. The drive for sustainability affects all aspects of the workplace. It’s the job of a facilities manager to ensure social constraints are effectively balanced with productivity and development. It’s no easy feat, but technology is the secret to success. We’re going to take a closer look at the trends currently driving innovation within facilities management:

Virtual and Augmented Reality

We’re used to hearing about VR technology in relation to things like video games, but it also has huge potential for FM systems. Think about it. Virtual worlds are governed by physical rules, just like the real one. They may not be as complex, but they are essential for movement and navigation. Real or otherwise, they’ve got to be perfect, or they won’t function.

If it’s possible to design physically viable spaces using augmented reality, there’s no reason why the technology can’t be used to create flawless workspaces. In theory, facilities managers could view buildings based on legacy and active sensor data. They could identify weak spots, construct rooms within simulations, and optimize spaces for future occupants.

Drones

The most interesting use of drones for facilities management is the observation of external envelopes. This involves directing high-resolution cameras to elevated spots in order to carry out inspections and check for damage. Obviously, this is much safer than sending technicians and engineers, particularly when dealing with dangerous areas.

The drones of today are limited to capturing footage and carrying small loads. However, they’re able to work in almost all conditions, including low light and in areas where there may be dangerous substances. Plus, drones with thermal imaging technology can actually be used to assess the energy efficiency of a building by checking its heat signature.

Robotics

It seems like robots are set to make a big impact in almost every industry. They hold a lot of promise for facilities management, particularly in the form of ‘front of house’ automation. The likelihood is that they would be linked to facilities management software solutions, so tasks like cleaning and repairs could be carried out intuitively.

Due to cost issues, robotics isn’t in widespread use just yet, but this will change. Some experts believe that, in time, deep learning technologies will create machines that can interpret and respond to problems without human help. In the future, a facility robot may be able to plug itself into a computer terminal and fix software faults without having to alert anybody first.

Wireless Protocols

The next generation of wireless protocols is going to change the way we access our workplaces. Near field communication (NFC) technologies are already being combined with IoT networks to create ‘all access’ passes. For example, imagine carrying around a wireless device that prepares for your arrival as you approach the building.

It assesses your credentials, unlocks the front door, signs you in, and starts your computer before you’ve reached the office. While it’s true that security is going to be a big issue here – there are vulnerabilities that need to be worked through – the same risks already exist with the use of key cards. At least with a wireless device, you wouldn’t have to take it out of your bag or pocket.

AI, Machine, and Deep Learning

In order to realize the potential of machine learning, it’s necessary to understand how it differs from artificial intelligence. AI is very valuable, but it can’t “learn” in any true sense. It’s only able to imitate and improve on things that humans have already taught it, such as how to play chess. This is often referred to as narrow artificial intelligence.

Machine and deep learning technologies are enabling computers to think for themselves. They still need algorithms supplied by us, but they can use this data to construct their own responses to various stimuli. With every new decision, they memorize the outcome and use it to inform the next one. One day, it’s possible that the role of facility manager could become largely supervisory.

The Importance of Software for FM Development

All of these technologies require the support of robust software solutions. The good news is that, when it comes to automation, developers are already moving at a remarkable pace. Risk management and compliance, identity management, and enterprise asset management processes are intrinsically linked with the success of facilities management.

Vendors like SAP, Oracle, and Infor offer responsive, scalable systems that can be shaped to fit the needs of the user. In the future, software providers that are committed to innovation will start to make room for things like AI and robotics. It’s likely that we’ll see automation features become more heavily oriented towards organic machine learning.

The best way to prepare for the future is to invest in high-quality facilities management software right now. Primavera Facilities Management, from Oracle, is one of our favorites. It’s especially skilled at creating automated work orders and forecasting occupancy rates. We also recommend Faciliworks CMMS Software, as it’s built to cater to businesses with multiple sites or branches.

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