The Missing Piece in Facility Management Systems

It seems that the “smart building” of tomorrow has become a reality today. With an ever-expanding array of sensors and intelligent devices, modern buildings are able to automate everything from heating and lighting to security with nothing more than software. The occupants of the building are no longer required to manually adjust these systems by flipping a switch or turning a thermostat. These sensors and devices can share this information with each other, and make decisions based on predetermined schedules or conditions.

Oh, the wonders of the modern age and the promise of the Internet of Things!

There may be a problem, though. Some of a building’s most essential assets – and incidentally some of the most reliable sources of relevant information about the building – are the building’s occupants. However, all too often this essential data source is ignored or at least marginalized in a facility management system.

Employees who work in these “smart” buildings often report that they have limited options to report and resolve obstacles they encounter in the workplace, whether it’s a broken printer, a slip hazard, or a flickering light.  They can call facilities, deal with it themselves, or report it using an overly complex, web-based software that doesn’t communicate with the facility management system. In all situations, the outcome of their efforts is uncertain and feedback is limited.

For all of the convenience and efficiency offered by today’s automation systems, this seems to be a significant oversight.

Is it possible to create a system that incorporates the benefits of machine-to-machine communication and the benefits of real-time user input? If a building is going to make decisions about what temperature a room should be and whether or not to turn the lights on, wouldn’t we want to know something about how the people in that room feel about it? After all, sensors can fail and data can be corrupted. And what about incidents that occur outside of the perception of the sensors?

While it is certainly very nice that buildings can be aware of their conditions and make decisions based on information they learn from themselves, it may be time to allow the building’s occupants to teach it as well. While there may be danger in allowing people to override a building’s systems, there is no reason that an occupant’s real-time feedback can’t be made available to the facility managers and maintenance technicians who will make decisions about it. After all, shouldn’t a building work for the benefit of the human beings who use it?

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