Navigant Research Blog

STEM Matters – Let’s Get Data Smart for Facilities Management

— November 9, 2017

November 8 was national STEM Day, and it was a great excuse to talk about career opportunities for the next generations of business leaders. The aging workforce is a strange phrase to hear in an era when there is a steady stream of conversation and study on the disruptive power of the millennial workforce. However, some important economic sectors face the real issue of diminishing employee pools. Let’s look at facilities management (FM) as an example: it faces the threat of an aging workforce, but also provides an opportunity for the focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to change the course.

According to IFMA, less than 10% of its members are under 35 years old, and according to JLL, only 45% of millennials have heard of FM and less than 1% plan on a career in the industry. And just wait: next up is Generation Z—the students entering high school today who represent the real opportunity for shaping the future workforce through STEM. While only a hum of study on this group has occurred so far, a few signs suggest STEM can be a great avenue for channeling this generation’s profile, characterized in a recent Inc. article as realistic, independent, “digital natives.”

It is time to flip the switch. We need a new face for FM, and there are two side-by-side pathways the industry should explore to overcome the challenges of the aging workforce.

#1 – Excite the Digital Natives

The legacy caricature of a facilities manager is a middle-aged male with a clipboard and socket wrench. Today, the Internet of Things, analytics, and the digital transformation of building systems open the door to a new ideal for FM. An opportunity exists for the industry to redefine roles, titles, and influence in business to elevate the career path with a technology spotlight that can attract the next generation of employees. FM firms and corporate FM leadership can showcase how they are incorporating analytics into their operations strategy and how the data and insights illustrate the business value of best-in-class FM practices. There is a new frontier for FM as more intelligent systems become embedded and owners explore how smart facilities can become platforms for new business opportunities. The career path becomes exciting when a facilities manager becomes the data scientist for the digital building and has influence on projects like orchestrating energy consumption across a campus or portfolio to ensure power reliability or reach climate change mitigation goals.

#2 – Explore Business Models with Flexibility

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that today’s students will have 8-10 jobs by the time they are 38 years old. The question then emerges, What can companies, including FM services and corporate real estate firms, do to keep new talent focused on improving building operations and moving toward that vision of the digital building kind of business asset? The answer may be a partnership framework, with FM as a service capturing the attention and commitment of new talent demanding flexibility and work diversity. The nimble approach of the as a service model companies emerging in the intelligent buildings space aligns with the data-centric mindset of the digital native generation. These companies build a set of services off a software backbone offering. The opportunity is to infuse data science alongside domain expertise for FM. STEM can play a big role in helping to groom new employees for opportunities in this sector through its educational focus.


Drones or Data for Facilities Management?

— March 7, 2016

Luftbild einer Windkraftanlage mit Drohne Rotorblatt Wartung InspektionThe potential benefits of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, have received a lot of attention as more and more applications have been identified. In addition to their continued use in warfare, drones are emerging as a useful tool for everything from wind turbine inspection to stopping poachers and spotting sharks. The seemingly infinite possibilities for drones have now extended to commercial buildings, where they can be used to provide visual inspections of hard-to-access spaces.

The use of drones by facilities managers seems like a smart move. Technicians no longer need dangerous ladders or expensive scaffolding to inspect the conditions of their facilities. However, drones are not the transformative change that facilities management needs. Physical inspection is the old way of thinking—it has been a necessity driven by technological limitations. Though drones now present the opportunity to enhance the process, the process itself is fundamentally flawed. While not as flashy, advances in building energy management systems (BEMSs) create the promise of technology’s ability to change the maintenance paradigm.

Data, Not Drones

The problem is not in drones, but rather, in a management strategy that relies on periodic visual inspection. Facilities managers will only find problems if they are looking for them, but that’s not a guarantee that these problems will be found before they affect operations. The inspector needs to know what to look for, the problem has to have symptoms that can be seen visually, and the inspections need to occur regularly.

Even if the manual process of drone inspection does properly identify problems, maintenance to address those problems still needs to be scheduled. The more sophisticated solution is to rely on building data. By understanding how a building operates and monitoring for deviations from that baseline, problems can be automatically identified. Moreover, fault detection from building data can be directly integrated into workforce management software so that the labor needed to address problems is actually performed.

Vendor Challenges

The challenge for vendors of building systems is that building owners and operators don’t have much of an appetite for reducing operating costs through capital investment. After all, paying for the installation and integration of sensors now may provide cost savings in the future. On the other hand, those savings might never be realized. Or that conversation could never happen because investment is focused on business operations to grow revenue rather than to cut the cost of operating the building.

As a result, the idea of inspections with a drone are promising because they do not require capital investment, yet produce some operational savings. They are also flashy new pieces of technology with lots of buzz. However, investment in BEMSs provides a meaningful alternative strategy to the management of operations and maintenance. What’s more, unlike drones, BEMSs have the ability to shift operations and maintenance procedures from a reactive process to proactive approach.


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