Apr 12 2023
Digital Workspace

Hybrid and Remote Work Present New Challenges for Building Managers

Integrated systems help facilities employees track and optimize building operations.

Proper facilities management is essential for any organization to keep employees safe and working environments functional. After all, it’s what ensures your physical spaces and assets can support your organization’s needs.

Given its importance, state and local governments would benefit from modernizing their facilities management practices to optimize efficiency. In today’s environment, agencies might wonder how government building operators can modernize. According to Buildings IOT, such steps include unifying systems, adding smart devices, and implementing software to optimize insight and performance.

Before modernizing, an organization’s leaders must be fully aware of what facilities management is and all it encompasses.

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 What Is Facilities Management?

The ISO defines facilities management as “an organizational function which integrates people, place and process within the built environment with the purpose of improving the quality of life of people and the productivity of the core business.” Similarly, IBM defines facilities management as “the tools and services that support the functionality, safety, and sustainability of buildings, grounds, infrastructure and real estate.”

There is hard facilities management, which deals with physical aspects of a building, such as plumbing, wiring, and heating and cooling. There is also soft facilities management, which is about the use of a facility, focusing on tasks performed by people such as custodial services, lease accounting, catering, security and groundskeeping.

Essentially, facility managers must make sure a building and all of its components work properly.

For Dom Cottone, sustainability brand manager at IBM Public Sector, Government and Healthcare, facilities management in the public sector is centered on space, lease and asset management. Dean Ely, IBM’s Americas sales leader in AI applications asset management and the Internet of Things, adds that facilities management involves looking at all the work processes that go into the lifecycle of a building.

“‘How do I acquire it, configure it, maintain it, optimize utilization and ultimately dispose of it?” Ely says. 

Operationally, facilities management is mostly the same in the public and private sector. However, Ely points out that corporations have more general flexibility than government organizations do, and corporations are able to plan long-term and make bigger investments, while agencies are often restricted by yearly budgets. State and local governments also have more regulations with which to comply, which can make the early adoption of emerging technologies difficult.

“State and local brings a higher sense of urgency and purpose around making sure you’re selecting the right technologies, deploying the right ones and having the right priorities,” Ely says.

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What Are the Benefits of Effective Facilities Management for Governments?

Any well-run building is going to be safe and compliant, and will also minimize operating costs, help workers do their jobs well and help inhabitants use facilities effectively. For state and local governments, another benefit is transparency, given their tremendous responsibility to be open and accountable.

Cottone says he’s seen constituents in all government service areas demanding more transparency in recent years, and organizations have had trouble keeping up with these demands. Facilities managers who leverage tech platforms such as IBM’s TRIRIGA can collect and analyze data, then export it to their organizations’ public-facing websites to address inquiries from constituents.

Proper facilities management also helps organizations stay agile. The vast majority of the workforce went remote when the pandemic hit, and organizations faced the challenge of reinstating employees safely and effectively when they returned to the office.

The emergence of hybrid work meant that not everyone had to come back onsite, so organizations had more space than they really needed. Suddenly, space management became paramount. Effective facilities managers who know the ins and outs of a building can pivot as needed while remaining compliant.

“The paradigm has shifted to, ‘What do we do with all of this square footage? Do we continue to maintain it? Do we continue to modernize it with technology to support our workforce, or do we adapt it?” Cottone says.

Facilities management also helps organizations hit sustainability goals, since tools can measure emissions and identify inefficiencies.

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What Technologies Support Facilities Management?

With so many moving parts, effective facilities management is difficult. For government organizations, the sheer size of operations makes it tougher, as municipalities need to manage hundreds of buildings across multiple sites. According to Cisco, “Historically, there has been little or no collaboration among IT, facilities, and physical security departments. This led to a piecemeal approach to technology investments, with different technology and tenant services in different buildings.”

As a result, many public administrations currently struggle with fragmented facility systems. Today, forward-looking public administrations are adopting a new approach. When government IT, facilities and physical security teams collaborate, they can each deliver better services at a lower cost than if they continued to operate in silos, experts say. Organizations can achieve this by leveraging facilities management technologies.

Facilities management technology solutions can modernize an organization’s operations, allowing them to create smart, integrated systems. Today, facilities managers use Internet of Things (IoT) tools to gather a wealth of data, then use software to analyze that data to reduce operational costs, improve building safety, detect anomalies and boost operational efficiency.

Facilities managers employ fault detection and diagnostics software that uses sensors to monitor a building’s operations. FDD software detects faults by reading sensors that can register a number of inputs within a building, including air quality, temperature and humidity, number of occupants, equipment failures, the levels of substances in liquid, gasses in the air, and pressure changes.

“With the proliferation of IoT, you have devices on equipment and buildings that are sensing and generating an explosion of new operational data,” Ely says.

Dom Cottone
The paradigm has shifted to, ‘What do we do with all of this square footage? Do we continue to maintain it? Do we continue to modernize it with technology to support our workforce, or do we adapt it?”

Dom Cottone Sustainability Brand Manager Public Sector, Government and Healthcare, IBM

Data captured by these devices then must be analyzed to identify ways to improve operations. Facilities managers will work in either computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) or integrated workplace management systems (IWMS) to analyze data and manage operations, says Dean Stanberry, first vice chair of the International Facility Management Association’s global board of directors.

A CMMS is a kind of software that centralizes maintenance information and tracks assets in a database. In a CMMS, a facilities manager can store, access and share information on assets; track employee availability for resource management purposes; manage work orders; and schedule routine inspections.

While a CMMS is all about managing maintenance, an IWMS is a broader, more holistic facilities management solution  used to manage all aspects of a company’s facilities, equipment and space use. Designed to be multifaceted, an IWMS pulls data and information from various sources.

According to Gartner, an IWMS consists of five core pillars:

  • Space and facilities management
  • Real estate management and lease accounting
  • Maintenance management
  • Capital project management
  • Sustainability and energy management

An IWMS helps organize all efforts surrounding real estate usage by putting data on five core areas of operational focus into one platform. By combining multiple software systems into one, IWMS software breaks down silos within organizations, allowing for better communication and transparency. This is especially vital now, as many workforces are widely dispersed.

With these platforms, facilities managers have a wealth of data and prior knowledge to draw from that they can use to optimize operations and minimize costs.

“When you ask, ‘How many work orders did we do?’ or ‘How much time did those things take?’ or ‘What skilled trades were used in that maintenance?’ You have a history of all the work that you did, which you now can use for forecasting the future,” Stanberry says.

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How Can State and Local Governments Utilize Facilities Management Tools?

Procuring an intelligent data analysis platform is the key to optimizing processes and maximizing efficiency. Facilities managers must have solutions that can make sense of the swaths of data that they collect. Platforms such as IBM’s integrated work management system, TRIRIGA, can accomplish this.

“It’s all about the data and the insights that facilities managers can gather: artificial intelligence, machine learning, predictive analytics — all gleaned from the sensor data or the characteristic data of the people in the facilities and the facilities themselves,” Cottone says.

Once organizations have that data, they can use workplace management software to drive decision-making and problem-solving. Government organizations would benefit from using an IWMS to:

  • Streamline lease administration and modernize lease accounting
  • Check project outcomes and analyze different investment scenarios
  • Generate insights around optimizing space utilization
  • Automate maintenance and service management processes

Unifying systems is also another fundamental way to improve facilities management in government buildings, which an IWMS can do. Organizations can also work with systems integrators to accomplish this.

No matter what platform organizations use, Stanberry says, government agencies would benefit from upskilling workers to better understand new technologies.

“Facilities managers need to learn about data, data analytics and data governance,” he says. “You need to make sure that the information you’re collecting in your work order systems is complete, accurate and timely.”

Kateryna Onyshchuk/Getty Images

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