Facilities Management (Managing Assets)

The IoT, and More

Ah… today’s newest and confusing techie development imposing itself on the built environment: IoT, a.k.a. the Internet of Things. There is an avalanche of information about it. All I know is that it may not be long before my refrigerator, knowing that I am low on Bloody Mary mix, will be able to contact my neighbors’ refrigerators to find some. Isn’t that cool?

I am of the age and generation that allows me to think fondly of when the most sophisticated technology we worked with was an on/off switch. Our toolboxes contained hammers, screwdrivers, baling wire and duct tape. Training consisted of when to take breaks and what kind of shoes to wear. Oh yeah, and also on how often to toss down salt tablets on a hot day. Life was so simple in the O&M world. Nostalgia is wonderful… and often misleading.

Of course I jest. Life really wasn’t that simple around the physical plant, nor was it that wonderful. Our employees ranged in skill level from highly skilled to barely being able to walk and chew gum at the same time. From my recollection, very little time was spent on discussing new technologies or discovering new and better ways of meeting expectations. We didn’t really focus as much on satisfying building occupants as we did on just keeping stuff functioning. If not, the tendency might have been to disconnect and remove stuff.

How times have changed!

How Smart Are Our Buildings?

It is my perception, arguably, that in the automotive world, the characteristic that separates one type of vehicle from another, or one manufacturer from another, is not so much the mechanics as it is the digital technology that goes into each vehicle. They are literally computers on wheels. So it is with buildings. I’ve heard it said that our buildings are now smarter than we are. A good friend of mine, recently deceased, used to say that our business is about people and the buildings just come along for the fun of it. Today, I would modify his paradigm by substituting the word “technology” for “buildings.” The unfortunate facilities employee who has not stayed current with today’s sophisticated technologies is likely doomed, eliminated, reassigned or at least mighty depressed. The unfortunate facility manager — its CEO if you will — is in very serious trouble if s/he is not on a first-name basis with the technologies that engineers and architects are designing into our new buildings.

Get to Know What Runs the Show

There are at least two reasons why we should be acquainted with those new technologies. First, we need to understand and make appropriate recommendations when planning for new buildings is in the programming phase. We need to be able to challenge users and programmers in order to help them arrive at the best possible solutions for any given situation. We can’t do that very well if we don’t understand the language.

Second, and at least as critical, is that we must be able to provide timely educational (training) opportunities to members of our staff. No benefit is achieved when employees are marched through a new building during final closeout if that is the first time that they are face to face with a new technology. We should all know what is likely to happen then: things won’t work as designed after only a short time. The other and often appropriate option is to commit to contracting this particular function out to a third party. Even then, however, our staff should know about affected systems to know how to react and who to call when trouble arises. Remember, a driving reason for these new and improved technologies (when they actually function as intended) is to benefit the building occupant, while allowing our buildings to operate at a higher level of energy efficiency.

Have you recently reviewed your investment in training? There are some who suggest that we ought to be spending around 5 percent of our total budget in training our employees. More closely analyzed, that is not very much if we consider the cost of labor while they’re being trained. By the time consultants and specialists are brought in and compensated, while making accommodations for our own employees, that 5 percent is going to disappear in a hurry. I might argue that we need to increase the training budget in order to keep everyone ahead of the curve.

@TEOTD, IoT might better be defined as “Investment of Training.” If we pick the right emphases…

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Pete van der Have is a retired facilities management professional and is currently teaching university-level FM classes as well as doing independent consulting. He can be reached at petevanderhave@msn.com.

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