Digitisation in Facilities Management is inevitable and people are key to its success.
However, the industry has an obligation to be proactive about determining how people and technology can be married to achieve benefits to society. To successfully digitise, humanise.
Industry 4.0, AI, machine learning (ML), Internet of Things (IoT), smart devices and smarter software, the industry is seeing multiple advances in technology providing many options for digitisation. After cybersecurity, one of the next drivers is the consideration how technologies enhance individuals’ abilities to be more productive and effective in their jobs.
Clearly advances in technology bring plenty of benefits especially where it provides people with the opportunity to focus on more fulfilling and rewarding tasks rather than having to spend their time on menial activities. Risk reduction and improvements in safety are other obvious examples of benefits that technology advances can bring through all kinds of early warning and monitoring technologies.
So, if we consider digitisation as inevitable; what role will people play?
Recent times have demonstrated that whilst many of us have the ability to work remotely and in isolation, social distancing has shown that humans are social beings who need meaningful interactions with others.
Facilities management has often been referred to as a ‘people business’; referring to both the large number of people employed within it and in recognition of the ultimate beneficiaries of the services provided. Facilities management as a discipline is about operating and maintaining the built environment as custodians. As such, people are highly dependent on these activities, as they ensure facilities remain fit for purpose when needed.
A number of myths surrounding technology need to be debunked before the humanisation in this digitisation era can be understood.
Myth: Technology is a threat to the way we work
Technology is an enabler to make people more productive and efficient in their jobs. It allows them to focus on the more interesting and human elements of their roles rather than being absorbed by menial tasks that could be automated. In addition, technology advances also create many new jobs, as many research studies confirm.
Myth: Offices will become obsolete
“Work anywhere anytime” leads people to think that offices will no longer be needed as places to gather to conduct business. A contrarian view is discussed in Deloitte’s ‘The path to prosperity - Why the future of work is human’ (Deloitte Report). As people’s jobs move away from routine and repetitive to bespoke and creative, their need to collaborate increases. Furthermore, the office environment not only provides a place to collaborate it also provides easy access to infrastructure and wider support. Of course, a return to the office may be delayed with the current crisis, but that does not diminish the need for face-to-face collobration over time.
Myth: Frequent job changes will occur
A common misconception is that people will be required to change their job frequently in their career due to technology advances. The same Deloitte Report also cites research confirming that people stay in jobs longer, that the proportion of casual jobs is reducing and self-employment is declining. These are all indicators that people are less likely to be required to change jobs frequently, according to the report.
Another Deloitte report with DeakinCo - ‘Soft skills for business success’, indicates that soft skills are going to dominate job requirements. By 2030, they predict that soft skill intensive occupations will make up almost two thirds of the workforce. Soft skills refer to non-technical interpersonal or intrapersonal qualities necessary for individuals to succeed in the business environment. Soft skills cannot be replaced by technology; they are inherently human skills closely linked to communication, empathy, and creativity.
Soft skills are associated with customer service which lies at the heart of facilities management. Facilities management as a service industry will therefore continue to need human beings to work alongside technology.
The facilities management industry also has an abundance of technical skills. Whilst the technical skills will be dependent on technology, they will also continue to be provided by people and not technology since technical skills are associated with problem solving, relying on human creativity.
Technology - people - process
The presence and impact of technology will undoubtedly increase in facilities management. Despite all the technology advances, society’s reliance on the built environment is increasing. A revitilised understanding of the need for people to interact socially means that workplaces will remain critical in society. Facilitating the built environment cements a continued need for facilities management. Processes and procedures will be enhanced as technology is embraced. Automating routine repetitive tasks allows facilities management personnel to focus on the more rewarding human aspects of delivering the services.
Success in facilities management remains within service efficiency and effectiveness to be achieved by balancing technology, people and process. Therefore, in order to benefit from digitisation, facilities management has to also humanise.