Guest Blog - Technology in Maintenance

What technology is used on your site to manage maintenance processes? Pen and paper? Spread sheets? A Building Management System (BMS) or a Computer-aided Facilities Management (CAFM) software..or…or… 

Technology in Maintenance

What technology is used on your site to manage maintenance processes? Pen and paper? Spread sheets? A Building Management System (BMS) or a Computer-aided Facilities Management (CAFM) software..or…or…

No matter what approach you’re using at the moment one thing is for certain - it will be impacted by technology. The pace of change is accelerating creating a myriad of innovations to help maintenance and facilities professionals do their jobs.

And yet there are huge disparities in the adoption of technology depending upon:

  • attitudes towards technology
  • the level of benefits it brings (will it make a difference on a specific site?)
  • budget

However, people use technology in all areas of life raising expectations and changing attitudes as to how it can help them in their day job; flexible functionality means that people no longer need to struggle with a solution too complex (or too simple) for their needs; and, overall costs of acquisition and subsequent running costs have reduced.

It’s about more than the technology

Technology innovation goes hand-in-hand with changes in the way it can be acquired. These changes mean it is no longer reserved for large organisations with big IT departments and deep pockets.

For example, more flexible licensing encourages technology adoption and makes it more affordable with options such as:

  • Yearly or monthly subscriptions - whether fixed or flexible allowing organisations to scale use up or down to cope with peaks and troughs in workloads;
  • Data as a Service – where costs are related to the data being managed rather than the number of users e.g. the area of the estate or number of records or transactions being managed;
  • Revenue – where the costs are related to the user organisation’s revenue e.g. a large estate with a high number of users but a low income stream.

For micro and SME businesses providing maintenance services this improved access levels up (to coin a phrase) the market. They can be more nimble and quicker to adopt technology than larger organisations helping them become more competitive and gain an edge.

Key Trends

So what are the current and upcoming trends impacting on maintenance?

24x7 onsite/offsite data access

We now have access to a wider range of functionality in the office and on-site using smartphones and tablets. Mobile data management is more than simple form filling and can now provide functionality such as dynamic access to real time data.

Applications can now configure themselves to present features to users depending on their role and the device being used. This means mobile users can still retain access to all the features they need and not be restricted simply because they’re using a phone.

5G networks will drive innovation as the reliability and performance of network coverage improves. With always-on connectivity offline apps could become a relic of the past; except in specific circumstances.

Prevention is better than cure

Predictive analytics which includes the use of dashboards and reports through to machine learning and artificial intelligence enable maintenance to intervene earlier. This saves time and costs. The Internet of Things is also driving this change feeding data directly from an asset into management software. Be aware though that this creates security risks as these devices much be protected from remote, unauthorized access.

Joining the physical and virtual worlds

The ability to create virtual models of buildings and to manage data within them is leading to the creation of digital twins. These are extensions of the use of Building Information Management (BIM) which is now recognised as contributing to the operation and maintenance phases of the asset lifecycle and not just the design phase. The level of sophistication and the required ongoing and consistent updating of data though is still a challenge for many organisations.

However, other types of visualization technology, such as 360° imagery provide alternative ways of creating digital twins. This offers a different approach for those who don’t use BIM.

Seeing is believing

Managing data visually provides a high level of intuitive understanding. This partly explains the adoption of analytical dashboards which present data in easy to understand, meaningful ways.

Visualisation also extends into enabling maintenance tasks to be viewed on maps, site and floor plans, photographs and 360° imagery. Integrating these gives maintenance professionals a more holistic view of work e.g. where is that asset located? Are there any access limitations?

3D data collection devices are going through their own democratization process in terms of ease of use and price. Unless there is an explicit requirement for high end accuracy these devices can be used instead of more specialist services and equipment. This is important as staff can update data more frequently improving its reliability and quality.

Augmented Reality (AR) (overlaying data onto your view of the real world) and Virtual Reality (VR) (where you’re immersed in a virtual world) are coming to the fore. AR, for example, provides the ability to deliver hands free information on how to repair an asset to a maintenance engineer on site.

Looking outside the box

We should also keep an eye on technology being used in other sectors with a view to considering how that can be adapted to help maintain assets.

One good example is gamification. This is where the concepts of ease of use; visual presentation of information and user engagement are deployed into the commercial world. This isn’t to trivialise the tasks at hand but instead to use the lessons learned in a different environment and to take advantage of them in the world of maintenance.

Technology is the enabler

The work facilities and maintenance professionals do to keep our buildings safe and secure is vital. COVID has raised the profile of the profession and technology can help the industry capitalize on this new level of visibility and understanding.

Technology is the enabler helping professionals do their job more efficiently and effectively and also showing that FM can and should be appealing as a career for future generations.

 

Steve Voller is the founder of Altuity, a software company, helping facilities and maintenance professionals tackle the work and worry load of keeping buildings well maintained and compliant.

www.altuity.com