Building intelligence as the key to managing buildings

ALISON NICHOLL explores the interaction between factors driving the development of intelligent buildings and those driving the development of professional facilities management.Facilities managers are the intelligent clients for intelligent buildings. Facilities managers require intelligent buildings systems for management information, control systems, responsiveness, adaptability and professionalism. Building intelligence presents new challenges, opportunities and solutions for facilities managers. Intelligent infrastructures in buildings facilitate the provision of responsive, effective and supportive environments within which organisations can meet their objectives. Intelligent products and systems are the tools that enable this to happen. Building intelligence has progressed from an earlier, technology-based view to a position where the elements of the building are viewed as contributing factors towards the building’s, and organisation’s, improved performance. Intelligent systems allow the collection of operational data in a systematic, consistent, timely and accurate manner. Building intelligence enables facilities managers to transform raw operations data into information that can then be used as the basis for informed decision-making and action. It enables facilities management to deliver upon its traditional performance measures like productivity, adaptability, speed of response and performance resilience. These measures will always be the primary criteria against which the effectiveness of facilities management is judged. Correlation There is a high correlation between the factors driving the development of intelligent buildings and those driving the development of professional facilities management. Both industries have been characterised by intense competition, pressure on prices and margins, market globalisation, market liberalisation and falling real-estate values..Both industries are facing up to the challenges and opportunities offered by convergence with IT systems. The IT industry has already won its battle to convince senior management to view IT expenditure as a critical business investment — essential to adding value to the business and sustaining market leadership, rather than being seen as a begrudged overhead cost. Facilities management and building intelligence are just beginning to move away from being items of expenditure scrutinised for short-term return to being viewed as strategic investments with a real contribution to make to organisational performance. This shift from measuring inputs to measuring outputs represents a fundamental movement away from managing efficiency objectives toward delivering effectiveness objectives. This change in strategic thinking is coupled with an even greater challenge for facilities managers. We must recognise that for most organisations, buildings are increasingly seen to represent a problem rather than an opportunity. Given the choice, senior management will reduce or even eliminate their building stock — and they are rapidly being given that choice. The powerful impact of the ubiquitous Internet and new technologies such as wireless networking and mobile telephony are breaking the link between people and places. These technologies are rapidly making concepts such as hot-desking and home-working a reality. This is forcing organisations to rethink their traditional view of office buildings and presents unique challenges for facilities management. Facilities managers need to anticipate future shifts in the fundamental structuring of business operations and ensure they are enabled and certainly not inhibited by facilities strategies. For example, in financial services, factors such as globalisation and the networks-based delivery of services have made an impact. In retail, the Internet is having a profound impact on the way business is carried out. In health, the provision of home and locally-based service and advances in medical science are changing the requirement for the design of and utilisation of traditional hospital buildings. In education, remote learning and lifelong education is impacting on the way educational buildings are used and managed. Such issues clearly go well beyond the traditional remit of facilities management, but it is here that facilities management has an enormous opportunity to make an impact and to demonstrate leadership. Facilities managers need to seek out new ways to add value to business processes by proactively initiating change programmes to anticipate and reinforce trends being driven by IT and human resources. Performance measures for these deliverables will be directly related to organisational deliverables such as customer retention, service delivery, level of production or market share. Communicating Suppliers of intelligent-building solutions need to connect with the requirements and motivations of facilities managers. Communicating with the professionals who design and specify these buildings, the construction industry that builds them, the manufacturers who develop and produce the building systems and components and the financiers who fund them is a complex task. Such a communications network has been established within the Centre of Excellence for Intelligence in Buildings. A powerful voice for facilities management is critical to this process, since it dramatically shifts the focus away from buildings as real estate and investment vehicles, to buildings as dynamic systems to be managed for their performance over time. The Centre of Excellence for Intelligence in Buildings (ibexcellence, web site address below) is an open network promoting the development and delivery of intelligent-building solutions as an integral part of a sustainable built environment. ibexcellence provides a focal point for market development, disseminating best practice and supporting knowledge exchange in the successful application of intelligence in buildings. ibexcellence is funded and directed by sponsors from leading commercial, public sector and government organisations. Alison Nicholl is a business analyst with i&i Ltd, Building 9, Bucknalls Lane, Garston, Watford WD25 9XX. Tel. 01923 665950
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