We experience first-hand how the pandemic became a catalyst to digitalize businesses and social life. The shift from offline to online, from office to remote and mobile working, seems to have happened almost overnight. Will new technologies continue to emerge and spread at this unprecedented speed in the FM sector?
In the latest report from Swiss-based Drees & Sommer AG on European FM providers, Ivo Angehrn, Manager and Digitalization Expert shared his thoughts on the digitalization of the FM sector.
Of course, digitalization is not new to real estate and, in particular, the FM industry. From the development of the first CAFM systems in the 1980s, the building automation in the 1990s, the Building Information Modelling in the 2000s and the PropTech wave in the 2010s, the digitalization and automation of FM processes have progressed steadily. Still, these technological advances have had only a moderate impact on the way core FM services are delivered. The main job profiles in the FM industry have remained surprisingly stable – Angehrn writes.
Different surveys and everyday experiences also confirm that the available technologies are still used only to a rather small extent. So, can we expect real change in this field? Angehrn lists three reasons backing up change over a decade.
1. Shift from a few large players to countless start-ups
Unlike the first waves of digitalization, the latest technological advances have not been created by a few large industry players, but by an abundance of start-ups, financed by private, corporate and institutional sources. This leads to a much wider range of ideas and innovations thus the chance that several disruptive ideas will break through is higher than ever.
2. Next-generation: digital natives
As in all fields, the next generation of professionals and customers entering the FM market are also digital natives. They have grown up accessing the Internet, mobile and digital solutions. Not only will this generation encourage innovation, but they will expect and support it in the FM sector as well.
3. Chain reaction
Technological advances once accepted and in use, generate further breakthrough practices in many (if not all) different categories of FM services. As FM is a collection of many different service types, the impact on FM in general can only be significant if multiple sub-services are radically changed – argues Angehrn.
We should not forget that services like FM deal with physical things and not just data. It brings a special challenge for the sector: to link the physical and the digital on a platform that supports productivity. The term „digital twin” is often used to describe this link, but so far the content only moderately meets the real demands of everyday reality.
The so-called “digital twins” of today are far from being 1:1 images of real buildings. They may be either very basic representations, or detailed but outdated, sometimes chaotic, consisting of different representations (drawings, models, images, real-time videos, various IoT systems, etc.) – as Angehrn outlines.
Basic, outdated or chaotic
According to the expert, while basic representations have very little value for digitalization, outdated „digital twins” raise the question of whether the specialist work required to update and maintain a BIM model, so that low-wage manual work of operation and maintenance can be replaced by automation, really pays off?
The chaotic scenario is quite commonly experienced with recently built buildings, and a source of major disappointment regarding the added value that can be achieved from digitalization – as Angehrn writes. The digitalization manager also adds: Many suppliers of the different systems and representations claim that they are providing “the” digital twin. But they do not recognize that their representations are close to worthless if they are not linked to each other, if they do not share common terminology standards or if they require specialist manual intervention to keep their data up to date.
So, how long will digitalization remain a promise?
However the availability and the acceptance of new technologies are real, the fundamental problem of creating and maintaining a good data representation of buildings is largely unsolved.
For existing buildings, the question is how to create this data with minimal effort? For newer buildings, even if most of the data is available, the problem is that the information is spread over too many individual systems that do not speak the same language, do not talk to each other, and do not update themselves.
There is still a lot of hard work ahead for the industry to capture the promise of digitalization, and it’s definitely not achieved by installing yet more sensors in every building – summarizes Ivo Angehrn.