PFM 20 7 - Page 28

The Rise of the Machines – Yet the Role of the
FM is Certainly not Terminated!
M is part of a wave of
digitisation that is transforming
every industry but the experts
at GRITIT, which is pioneering the use
of technology in outdoor FM, argue
that skilled people will always be at
the heart of effective service delivery.
In virtually every industry, the inexorable
forces of digitisation are transforming the
nature of business and the nature of
work. From the mobile phones in our
pockets, to data centres virtualising
digital assets into the cloud, to the AI
systems that interpret and act faster than
the speed of human thought, we are now
encouraged to think of digital as the
default mode of doing business. As early
as 2011, years before the advent of Uber
or AirBnB, a report by consultancy EY
talked of the “Digitisation of Everything”
arguing that “in a world where
‘everything’ is digitised businesses need
to pursue innovation to disrupt their own
business model before the competition
does.” And while certain industries,
largely based on physical, real world
processes and manual labour, may have
seemed immune to these forces, a
second wave of change is underway. For
example, as red diesel prices soared,
farmers have increasingly employed
combine harvesters guided with cm
precision by GPS to avoid wasteful extra
mileage. Meanwhile, the future of truck
driving is looking increasingly bleak with
Elon Musk’s Tesla announcing the start
of trials of their autonomous semi in
If we follow the money, we can see that
facilities management is very firmly in
the midst of a second wave of
digitisation. In 2016, a study by MTW
Research forecast that the UK’s facilities
management industry would receive a
£200m boost in profitability significantly
driven by the adoption of leaner
operating models and the deployment of
technology. That study argued that
market forces in a challenging economy
would drive demand for technology that
enhances productivity, including Internet
of Things (IoT) connected devices,
automated monitoring and reporting,
robotic cleaning equipment and remote
servicing’ – all key areas of opportunity
for FM providers.
According to research by Sheffield
Hallam University commissioned by
GRITIT and Servest, one of the key
ongoing trends today in facilities
management is the ongoing outsourcing
of FM services, with 58% of FM
professionals surveyed stating that much
of this was being driven by a desire for
companies to access better technical
expertise. Over the next five years the
use of technology in relation to improving
the delivery services, transparency and
cutting costs is expected to be a game
changer: The impacts of this would be
changes in working practices and the
increasing use of big data or analytics to
inform decision making.
From our own vantage point in gritting
and grounds maintenance, these
changes are already well under way and
clearly are a change for the better. As a
service provider we can use data
technologies to reduce our management
overheads and time fussing over the
transactional side of doing business. At
the same time, these very same
technologies are a boon to clients who
can have real time visibility via a
smartphone app or client portal of the
services we’ve delivered - whether that’s
mowing lawns or gritting car parks.
Indeed, the winter gritting industry has
always been data-driven and reliant on
the ability to service sites in response to
weather data. Success in this particular
industry is very much predicated on
accuracy and responsiveness, with the
goal to utilise ever more accurate
sources of real time weather data with
ever greater precision. Doing so makes
a real difference: By gritting only when
required by actual conditions, it is
possible to ensure greater safety while
also avoiding over-servicing – a leaner
approach that reduces waste and cost
to the client over the course of a winter.
In this context, the dawn of the “Internet
of Things” is proving significant as this
offers the opportunity to enrich the data
that’s available to inform decisions. For
example, at GRITIT our in-house
technology team is rolling out a next
inexpensive, robust temperature sensors
that can deliver a real-time, live feed of
actual road surface temperature and
precipitation conditions on a client’s site
directly into our NIMBUS reporting
system. By getting a more granular, real
time view of local conditions on the
ground, more accurate forecasts and
automatic triggers enable the delivery of
ice and snow clearance on a just-in-time
basis. This helps further cut both risks
and waste as service can be provided
according to the real world conditions on
a site - even when that may differ from
the weather forecast (for example ice
that persists in shady areas even as the
day warms up).
So far, although we’ve discussed the
apparent inevitably of digitisation and
looked at a few benefits, like any
revolution it’s essential to avoid throwing
the baby out with the bathwater in the
pursuit of progress. Uber is a case in
point. While the ability to call and track
cheaper rides from a smartphone has
been great for consumers, the master
algorithm somehow forgot all about the
experience of the drivers themselves,
who ultimately found themselves
enjoying more of the insecurities of the
gig economy than the freedoms. This
isn’t only a digital issue of course, but
there is no denying that in moving
towards a digital first world, we can risk
seeing human labour as being
commoditised and interchangeable.
This would be a mistake. While sensors
and robotics will undoubtedly play an
ever growing role in both indoor and
outdoor FM, this is and will always will
be a people business: There will always
be some aspects that can’t be
automated easily or will still need to be
supervised for practical and safety
reasons. While technology is a way of
enhancing human effort, there’s no real
substitute for retaining good skilled
people - and especially in safety critical
For further information contact GRITIT
on 0800 0432 911 or email or
Reader Reply: 207034


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