Microsoft advises facility managers to go digital

  • October 12, 2021
  • Steve Rogerson
David Williams

For property managers, the IoT is about the ability to get data securely out of a building, according to David Williams, Microsoft’s smart places industry lead in Emea, speaking at last week’s Smart Buildings Show in London.

Explaining common terms, he went onto to say that edge technology was about the balance between items that were on premises and those in the cloud.

“A lot of the small edge devices are very intelligent and can make real-time decisions without going to and back from the cloud,” he said.

The main area in the buildings industry for artificial intelligence (AI), he said was in predictive maintenance. And for digital twins, he said even though the technology had been around for years, it had developed to the point where it was now possible to produce a digital twin of a building, car or city relatively cheaply and quickly.

To explore more deeply what applying digital technology involved, he looked at three examples – first, an in-house facilities manager, secondly someone working for a facilities management provider and thirdly the founder of a small facilities management maintenance firm.

Tom Brookes

His colleague, Microsoft client executive Tom Brookes, took on the role of the first as a facilities manager at a large hospital, someone who doesn’t sit on the board but reports directly to the hospital’s finance director.

“He knows what is going on,” said Brookes. “He knows where the data are but finds it difficult to do anything useful with them. Yet he has to provide reports to the board, often at short notice.”

Williams said Microsoft was in the business of going in and helping people such as this for just a few thousand pounds.

“The value of cloud technology lets you start small because you are not putting new servers in your place, you are using ours,” said Williams. “He knows the business. We are not there to tell him what to do. It is all about bringing the data together.”

In the second case, you have someone working for an external facilities manager provider on the client side running an outsource team.

Brookes said the problem could be that, for example, the first time she hears about a leak on the third floor is after it happens and then she has to fix it. Most of the information she has about the building is in her head or on loads of spreadsheets and piles of paper. She is also under pressure from her boss to provide more service so the firm can move up the value chain.

“This is a very common situation,” said Williams. “They know the building better than the people who are in the building, but they are treated like vendors.”

Microsoft’s goal in this case is to help them get the data and apply them better.

“Getting the data is very easy,” said Williams. “You can deploy the sensors yourself, such as people sensors and infra-red sensors. These are about $10 whereas ten years ago they would have been $100. You can get the data out using something like LoRaWan. The cost to do all this is certainly very low.”

This means once she gets the data she can show the bosses what is going on.

“We can help you with this because we have done it hundreds of times,” said Williams.

In the third case, Brookes looked at the founder of a regional facilities management company who knows her clients very well. They supply cleaning, security, maintenance and so on. But are they doing this as efficiently as possible?

“She can sometimes send engineers to the same job multiple times,” explained Brookes. “Engineers have different skill sets so you need the right engineer at the right place with the correct parts. She wants to make all this more efficient.”

Often, this person will not be technically trained herself but is tech savvy. She knows what she wants to do.

“There are a lot of no-cost or low-cost methods out there that are very simple to build,” said Williams. “She can build the apps herself. You can learn to do this yourself. There are plenty of on-line training courses and forums available. The days when you have to go to a software company and say build me an app are over.”

Generally, Williams said that it was important to understand how to work more closely with digital technologies.

“The answer is probably through companies such as us as we have seen the problems many times,” he said.

As an example, he said hospitals have really big waiting rooms because they are not very efficient at getting people there and through the system. An answer would be to look at an airport, who have the best people at organising people flow, and applying that to the hospital.

He also said that going down the digital road would help a company attract new people.

“One of the things that appeals to younger people coming into an industry is adoption of technology,” he said. “So this helps you attract new talent.”