|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
|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.
For more information visit www.askporter.com