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2020 brought unprecedented challenges to the facilities management (FM) industry, forcing it to adapt to new challenges presented by the pandemic. Whilst some were able to overcome these issues, many FM businesses were left exposed, highlighting the need for more efficient and reliable ways of working. Fortunately, digital platforms are offering a practical solution to these issues and adoption is gaining pace.
However, as we emerge from COVID, how do we maintain this positive momentum? What lessons have been learned over the last 12 months and why should digital transformation remain a core priority?
To answer these questions, Ibrahim Imam, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of PlanRadar, explains why the sector should continue on its current trajectory and the importance on maintaining focus.
There’s no doubt that 2020 and 2021 will go down as two of the most challenging consecutive years in living memory. Like many sectors, the FM industry has been deeply affected, forcing it to re-evaluate and re-think current working practices.
Some major lessons were learnt the hard way. First, that a reliance on traditional ways of working were no longer feasible. Second, that digital adoption needed to play a much larger role toward improving daily efficiency, productivity and safety for staff and end user alike.
Cause and effect
There were some silver linings, as the pandemic directly helped to identify procedural inefficiencies that were stalling progress.
One specific area which has seen a marked improvement through the implementation of digital solutions is how FMs conduct working relationships with suppliers and contractors, particularly in terms of exchanging important information.
In the past, there was an over-reliance on telephone conversations and email chains; channels that can easily lead to information being lost or misplaced. What’s more, a habit of printing out important documentation, delivering by hand to on-site or to office-based staff and physically filing (with no digital back-up) was endemic.
Whilst these time-honoured ways are great for building face-to-face relations, it presented obvious efficiency gaps. Couple this with the introduction of strict lockdown measures and reduced staff numbers on-site and suddenly these workflows posed even greater challenges. Something had to change.
The importance of the Golden Thread
In addition to the challenges of COVID-19, we need to view the situation against the wider construction industry landscape and the ongoing conversations around tighter building regulations.
Notably, sector-wide discussion has universally established the importance of the Golden Thread of Information to the safety, compliance and smooth running of the facilities management businesses.
The ever-growing wave of BIM users has shown just how effective this methodology is. It improves end user safety, ensures projects are completed on time and, most importantly, creates a digital blueprint that can be easily accessed.
Not only is this important from a design and build perspective, this approach also ensures a proper handover of a detailed digital blueprint to FMs, so they have a clear understanding of the building they are responsible for. It’s represents a crucial part of the construction journey, equipping the FM with clear knowledge of a building’s composition and what has been specified, so they can make the correct repair, maintenance and replacement decisions.
Work still to be done
It’s a positive start, yet there still remains some considerable disconnect, with information sharing not at the standard it should be.
In cases where a building’s history can be retrieved, it’s not necessarily always understood and, crucially, access is not always straightforward. This creates safety and compliance issues.
By joining the dots between specifiers, contractors and those in charge of a building’s upkeep, FMs can feel confident they have a thorough understanding of a building’s construction and service history. In the eventuality of something going wrong, this information could be critical.
Should another lockdown situation arise, facilities managers will also want peace of mind that physical documents can no longer be lost, or held by a single person. This can be achieved through the use of tools such as BIM, maintained digital twins and cloud-based record-keeping software. These solutions allow access to this information when it is most needed, from any secure device and in any location, realising the principle of the Golden Thread.
Staying in the loop
Ensuring effective levels of communication proved challenging in 2020. As an industry that relies heavily on face-to-face interaction to nurture working relationships, the introduction of strict lockdown measures caused severe disruption.
What became obvious is that communications channels needed to be improved. Luckily, technology, particularly site management software and apps, was able to fill the gap.
It gave facilities managers the ability to send photo and video documentation within specific teams, as well as detailed project updates, which could be shared and stored instantly. This proved a huge bonus when overseeing multiple sites.
Instant messaging and in-app notes improved team interaction as all communication happened within a single platform. Meanwhile, document sharing software meant workers could be kept up to date with the most recent files and paperwork. Staff were also kept safe, as sites were able to operate with only the minimum number of staff needed.
What’s more, when ‘normal’ working life is restored, there will be no need for duplicate paperwork, as digital tools keep an automatic digital record and can be used to automatically generate reports needed by an owner or asset manager.
With digital technology presenting so many solutions to age-old problems, it’s no surprise that adoption has gained considerable momentum since March 2020.
Whilst the initial rise in uptake may have been due to the pressures of the pandemic, FM businesses are now waking up to the power of digital and its benefits across all areas of its operations.
These products have been designed in conjunction with industry professionals who understand what they need to achieve and how best to assist users in their day-to-day duties. Further, many need very little ‘tech know-how’ to get up and running and are accessible on existing smart devices such as phones and tablets, removing the need for expensive hardware.
With question marks over the inevitable return to work, having the right digital infrastructure in place now could pay dividends should any complications appear further down the line. It can also support FMs in finding previously overlooked opportunities to lower operating costs.
If you want to start a revolution
By building on the progress that digital has demonstrated in the last twelve months, the industry should now look to take it one step further. FM companies should be exploring what other roles technology can have to improve working practices.
With access to historic data, businesses can identify trends and patterns, which may give them more scope when it comes to bottom-line issues such as budget allocation and staffing numbers.
With the ‘lockdown roadmap’ now at the forefront of the collective mind, digital adoption is also providing a way to keep employees safe, businesses running efficiently and improve standards across the board.
So, let’s not waste the hard-fought wins of 2020. We need to continue the digital journey with greater vigour and gusto, to achieve a more efficient facilities management sector throughout the rest of 2021 and beyond.
The importance of continued digital transformation in 2021
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