technology

Technology facilitates collaborative management

Mobile devices, bar code scanners improve operational efficiencies, tenant engagement
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
By Rick Rolston

Productivity within the real estate facilities industry has declined over the past 40 years, according to a 2010 study, New Data on U.S. Productivity by Industry. Of 70 industries, real estate ranked 68th in terms of industry contributions to productivity between 1960 and 2007. In first and second place were the wholesale and retail trades, both of which have adopted technology such as mobile devices and bar code scanners to integrate and streamline business processes.

For many experienced facility operators and managers, time sheets, work orders and “computerized” facilities management processes have been the norm for their entire careers. It is time to reassess overall facilities management processes and drive efficiency with some of the same technologies contributing to productivity gains in leading industries.

Mobile devices, cloud computing, collaboration platforms, social media and QR (quick response) codes are some of the technologies now available and able to transform facility management. The secret to improving operational efficiency is to integrate people and processes so that data is captured throughout the workflow, rather than recorded after the fact, in a centralized record-keeping system.

The transition from centralized, proprietary systems to open and collaborative facilities management does not need to be difficult, nor does it necessarily mean abandoning current systems. Integrating a collaborative platform into the legacy facilities management system allows the latter to continue to act as the system of record, while the collaborative platform provides broader shared access and a firewall between the two systems to protect and filter data.

Collaborative facilities management changes a facility manager’s focus from being process-based (tasks and work orders) to building-centric (spaces, assets and equipment). This subtle change allows people to collaborate on things rather than facility management actions.

Things are given a human and machine-readable address that uniquely identifies the asset for all stakeholders and systems. The machine-readable code could be a QR code, identifying a space or asset within the building. These codes are inexpensive to produce, easily replaceable and readable with any smartphone.

What does this mean for stakeholder engagement and efficiency?

Imagine walking into a washroom to find water spreading across the floor and a tank-less toilet overflowing. Contacting the facility’s operational staff quickly is imperative, and accurately reporting the location to the service desk is critical to taking emergency action, which will ultimately limit damage.

A quick scan of the nearby sign with a smartphone allows staff to clearly identify the time and exact location of the issue. Within seconds, a building occupant can report the issue. A brief typed or dictated message, with an urgent designation and an optional photo of the area, describes the issue. On transmission, the message is vetted and automatically routed to staff for immediate action.

Better quality information about the building spaces and assets (and people) affected, linked directly to the incoming service request, allows the responding crew to promptly react to the issue, identify emergency shut-off and evacuation procedures, locate possible replacement parts and resolve the problem.

Once fixed, maintenance personnel can then scan the same QR code and log the completion of their work. In turn, the system will automatically contact the tenants who reported the problem to thank them and let them know it is fixed.

Of course, not all service issues are as dramatic but improving tenant engagement can still have dramatic effects on occupant comfort and productivity, and ultimately tenant retention. Imagine using similar technology to manage issues of comfort, cleaning, safety and security, room scheduling, or a broad range of building occupant interactions. With each use, data about the issue is automatically captured and stored, allowing managers to measure occupant satisfaction and operational performance.

Giving tenants choices in how they report problems, as well as closing the loop quickly and efficiently, improves the view of how a building is being managed. Tenants are less likely to let problems fester, will see the building manager as being more responsive and will appreciate the increased transparency afforded by the system.

Rick Rolston is co-founder and CEO of Vancouver-based BuiltSpace Technologies Corp. BuiltSpace provides mobile, collaborative facilities management, as software-as-a-service, to commercial, institutional, industrial and multi-family buildings throughout North America. Rick can be reached at rick@builtspace.com.

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