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How COVID has provided a catalyst for AI and digital assistant solutions in facilities management 10/03/2022

THE UK is effectively ending the vast majority of its pandemic-related social distancing rules and ONS tracking – and this will no doubt accelerate the rate at which people return to built environments like offices.

At the same time, however, the pandemic is far from over – as one SAGE member put it, ending the ONS’s COVID surveys is “like switching off the radar before the Battle of Britain was finished.” This means that workers returning to still-risky offices will feel the value and necessity of facilities management (FM) more keenly than ever.

As Dr Ashwini Konanahalli and Professor Zeeshan Pervez of the University of the West of Scotland have pointed out, “the COVID-19 pandemic has justified the crucial leadership role of FM organisations as creators of functional and safe built environments.” And, increasingly, both safety and functionality come hand-in-hand with technological advances – especially in the world of AI and digital assistants.

These kinds of advances might seem counter-intuitive at first glance. After all, FM can traditionally be associated with very physical processes, as important parts of the work like maintenance and repair have hands-on connotations.

COVID has changed things. With hybrid working here to stay, it’s no longer helpful to rely on paper contracts sitting in offices – and this principle applies to a number of historically non-digitised processes and workflows. 

As such, the hands-on world of FM is enthusiastically adopting AI and software solutions powerful enough to automate key tasks, facilitate hybrid working, and respond swiftly to customer demand. 

COVID has brought about a new-found need for remote service provision with an emphasis on safety while simultaneously providing the FM industry with the means to reach beyond the role of essential services, using AI and digital assistants to engage with customers and residents in new and exciting ways.

Sensors and safety

First and foremost, it’s worth establishing the fantastic and vital FM technology which has promoted safety and wellbeing in the pandemic era.

By employing sensor technology, FM companies are now able to access a wealth of information concerning where people are in a given space. The applications for this kind of advance are of particular use in an age of social distancing.

Facilities managers can, for example, track which rooms need disinfecting and when – in fact, in some cases, they can engage in remote sanitisation by releasing UV into HVAC systems. It’s even possible for some sensors to determine whether there are COVID particles in the air itself.

When these sensors are combined with deep learning techniques, facilities managers are able to proactively manage building spaces by intelligently positioning workers at safe distances from one another.

Sensors aren’t limited to the movements of people, either – by placing sensor technology on key pieces of equipment, it is possible to use AI in order to predict malfunctions or failures and, by extension, gain an idea of when machines and devices will need replacing.

But the applications of AI extend far beyond these localised instances of safety and maintenance. This matters because, in an age of hybrid working, workers will need a more compelling reason to return to office spaces than a simple desk. They have proved, after all, that they don’t need to leave the house to work.

As such, FM companies need to go beyond safety protocols, delivering involved and high touch services to the users of their buildings – and these can be delivered through digital assistants.

Simple interfaces, superhuman patience

The kinds of useful technology described above are only as beneficial as the data they provide – and, by making use of digital assistants, FM teams can turn that data into comprehensible and actionable insights.

What could be construed as intimidating or difficult-to-comprehend volumes of information can be autonomously actions, through chatbots, by situating them in an accessible and easy-to-use conversational interface, ensuring that – for example – the kinds of social distancing or maintenance measures described above can be interpreted and acted upon.

This has important implications for workflow, since repetitive tasks can be cut down or even automated while management costs are reduced. Crucially, digital assistants are able hit the dual targets of efficiently standardising working practices while maintaining the flexibility required for an industry in which every building and asset requires a slightly different service.

Digital assistants also have exceptionally useful qualities in an outward-facing capacity. Tenants of a given building, for example, might use a chatbot in order to request additional cleaning services.

On that note, in fact, digital assistants have huge applications for customer service. Unlike a flesh-and-blood customer service agent, chatbots have infinite reserves of patience and fortitude, and they can work on dozens of cases at the same time – a feat that would require a fleet of human workers to replicate.

Given the wide range of applications and easy-to-use interfaces of chatbots and assistants, we are going to find that places from parks to offices – and the people that use them – will all have their own personalised assistants connecting them with both the essential and value-added services around them. 

In this exciting new future, the organisations that embrace digital assistants and similar advances fastest will benefit most. And, given the wealth of sensory and smart technology at the fingertips of today’s FM industry, spurred on by the pandemic, facilities managers should be ready to embrace digital assistants as an accessible means of utilising, interpreting, and actioning these innovations within and beyond COVID.

Tom Shrive, CEO of AskPorter


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Digital engagement strategy through AI adoption 24/02/2022

LEADING GERMAN based facilities management and service provider, WISAG Facility Service, has selected London-based Artificial Intelligence [AI] tech firm, askporter, to significantly enhance their customer user experience through an autonomous AI platform.

Rebranded as ‘ELLIE’, the platform has been developed as part of a transformative digital customer engagement strategy, enabling WISAG’s clients to manage both existing and new services via the askporter solution.

As a highly configurable platform developed to seamlessly manage and respond to human interaction, WISAG is also offering ‘ELLIE’ as a value-add service to their client base – enabling businesses worldwide to integrate the AI platform into existing workflows
and create end-to-end automation.

Finalised in November 2021, this new strategic agreement and partnership demonstrates WISAG’s commitment to embracing new technologies to help drive a greater standard of service delivery.

The three-year contract covers a range of the firm’s services, including cleaning, maintenance, and valet services.

Till Eichenauer, head of digital transformation & innovation at WISAG, confirmed: “We see ourselves as a part of a large digital ecosystem and are therefore very pleased to be working with a tech expert like askporter. Enhancing our customer experience through an autonomous AI platform is a very complex project which can only be mastered by working together as partners. We are convinced, that ELLIE will help both our clients and our own employees manage housing and offices more efficiently.”

Established in December 2016 by CEO, Tom Shrive, askporter was initially launched as an effective management solution for the property sector – enabling facilities and property management providers to benefit from the platform’s capability to eliminate repetitive, outdated, and time-consuming tasks.

Over the last two years, Tom and the askporter team have invested time and resource into the redevelopment of the AI platform, culminating in a highly configurable solution that can successfully deliver end-to-end automation across both public and private sectors.

Lee Morris, chief commercial officer for askporter, said: “We are thrilled that WISAG has recognised the potential that our platform brings in transforming
and accelerating their digital customer engagement strategy.

“In an increasingly digitised world, artificial intelligence enables firms to push the level of customer service they can offer further than ever before while giving clients greater autonomy over how the services they use are effectively managed.

“Given the strength of the results we’ve already garnered with WISAG, we are excited by the prospect of rolling out the platform to other Enterprise organisations in the near future, thereby bringing the power of AI to the forefront for many more customers.”

For more information visit www.askporter.com

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