A shift is brewing in the way facilities teams manage buildings.
While paper documentation and manual processes have worked well for years, FMs are increasingly moving toward streamlined processes powered by the strategic deployment of technology, including Internet of Things (IoT) devices, according to a March 2021 survey by JLL in partnership with Forrester Consulting. In that survey, JLL found that 87% of respondents expected to invest in facilities or real estate management technology to help ensure employee and visitor health and safety, while 59% expected to invest in those technologies to improve the efficiency of their facilities operations.
IoT devices can do those things and more. They can help you manage facilities differently by delivering the data you need to act and making some tasks simpler.
“At the end of the day, IoT is making things smarter and being able to connect them to the internet,” said Pippa Boothman, vice president of marketing and communications for Disruptive Technologies, which offers a suite of sensors to help manage facilities more efficiently, including devices to measure temperature, humidity, proximity, water leaks and other building conditions. “We’ve gone from checklists and filing cabinets to the cloud, in terms of storing information and data.”
How the Technology Has Matured
Some facilities teams balked at installing early IoT devices due to cybersecurity concerns and a reluctance to take on a large capital investment, according to John Bouls, office and industry end user marketing lead for Signify, whose offerings include IoT-enabled lighting. “For a lot of companies, it was a hefty bill to start with,” he said. “You had to think twice about where your money had to go, because it was a big chunk of it.”
About 45% of the respondents to the March 2021 JLL survey said security is their primary hurdle to widespread IoT adoption, second only to a lack of knowledge about the subject (55%). FMs are concerned about protecting company and customer data, and IoT devices produce a generous amount of both given how many sensors could be introduced to a facility’s network during a deployment.
However, device manufacturers have gotten smarter about making sure device data is secure. At the same time, the price of these technologies has come down significantly.
“Cybersecurity has come a long way,” Bouls said, adding that new models of capital investment—such as systems as a service—have made IoT adoption financially feasible in applications where it wasn’t before.
IoT’s Potential Impacts
The potential applications for IoT devices in facilities are nearly limitless, but FMs are most likely to explore integrating the technology in five key areas, according to a JLL whitepaper:
- Building automation
- Energy management
- Security and physical access
“At the end of the day, you can’t really optimize without having data and information,” Boothman explained. “IoT allows you to collect more information in a cleaner, better and more sophisticated way, and remotely.”
The ability to monitor what’s happening in your building in real time can be a game-changer for facilities teams, adds Yaron Dycian, chief product and strategy officer for WINT Water Intelligence, which uses artificial intelligence to monitor water use, detect waste and provide detailed analytics about water consumption.
“Knowing in real time what’s happening and what to do can have fundamental changes in the efficiency of a building,” Dycian said. “Anywhere from quality of service for restrooms to energy efficiency, water sustainability and carbon emissions, all of these things are being monitored and analyzed so you can improve.”
How to Incorporate IoT
Implementing IoT technologies in your facility is easier than it used to be. Manufacturers have worked to make the user experience less complicated, Dycian said. “I think the misconception is that it’s difficult [to implement],” he added. “It’s not. Today, things are so usable and simple. The user experience is not difficult.”
The key to keeping IoT data from overwhelming your capabilities is to start small, Boothman advised.
“Try to start with a few use cases or get used to understanding how valuable the data can be and work from there,” Boothman said. “Start with proximity, for instance, to understand how many times people are coming and going. Then, on top of that, do temperature. Or you can start in one office and scale to more offices once you see how this works best for you.”
Many IoT products can be retrofitted onto assets and equipment that weren’t originally designed for it, so you don’t have to do major construction or replace equipment before you’re ready. Look for solutions that can scale as your team gains the capability to manage them, Boothman suggested.
“Remember to take it one step at a time,” Boothman said. “Do desk occupancy, for example, see how valuable that data is, and then more after that. Otherwise, it can become really overwhelming.”