How Technology and IoT are Transforming Facilities Management

WRITTEN BY: Bruce Alperin

Is Your Campus Ready for the Data-Driven Revolution?


Diagnosing service requests remotely. Directing technicians to the exact spot of a cooling or heating problem with the necessary tools and supplies. Knowing the exact square footage and utilization of every building and space on campus. Visualizing cleaning schedules and areas supplied by mechanical or electrical systems for the technicians.

These are not visions of a college campus in the distant future. These are examples of automated intelligence in action today. They are scenes from campuses leveraging today’s convergence of Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS), Building Information Modeling (BIM) and the vast quantities of data being produced by the “Internet of Things” (IoT)—including everything from light bulbs to HVAC systems.

If your campus is not yet plugged into this data-driven world, it will be soon. Colleges and universities no longer can afford the financial drain of inefficient maintenance, poor space management, lack of data integrity/access and intuition-based decision making. A growing number of campuses have already embraced the automated intelligence of IoT to optimize their operations.

Smarter Campuses—Internet of Things 101

IoT is the latest catchphrase for the technology that connects people and business with all of the digital objects in their lives and workplaces. While the term was introduced in 1999, IoT really gained momentum in 2014. Research firm Gartner recently reported that there will be 6.4 billion Internet-connected things in use worldwide in 2016. By 2020, that number will reach 20.8 billion.

This rapid acceleration of IoT is impacting the business world, people’s personal lives and the way college campuses manage, plan and execute their activities. IoT “is where much of the buzz is,” said E. Lander Medlin, executive vice president of APPA: Leadership in Educational Facilities.

Thanks to IoT, facilities personnel can now virtually monitor the physical condition of their entire campus. Environmental sensors, energy meters and building automation can relay information on their performance, condition and environment in real time to managers and technicians. With this data, facilities teams can efficiently and proactively manage campus buildings, mechanical and electrical systems, energy consumption, custodial equipment, and evaluate space occupancy and utilization. The technology helps facility management quickly process service requests, monitor and optimize utility consumption, and schedule assets to improve the quality of each learning space—all of which helps minimize risks.

In fact, the potential for smarter technology on campuses is infinite. Campuses adopting IoT technology now are gaining considerable benefits—including increases in productivity, greater cost savings and lower risks. Here are just a few examples of how this technology is creating transformation:

  • Trashcans electronically communicate when they’re full, so you don’t have to waste staff hours manually checking on them every day.
  • Irrigation systems report when grounds need to be watered based on soil and weather conditions, and also send back information on how much water is being consumed, so you can save money today and plan for future water needs.
  • HVAC systems regularly report room temperatures along with any mechanical problems, and measure consumption and costs, allowing for continuous commissioning and reducing the risk of energy waste and of system failures.
  • Custodial equipment that reports usage, location and percentage of days batteries are charged correctly.

In fact, campuses can tap into IoT’s data and analytics to optimize daily maintenance, space utilization and risk management in uncountable ways.

IoT and Daily Maintenance

On a typical campus, daily operations consists of a team of custodians, maintenance and grounds staff traversing campus to address routine tasks, like emptying trashcans, changing light bulbs and repairing sprinkler systems. Campus technicians spend their days completing service requests and responding to emergency issues. These reactive issues waste valuable time and effort.

IoT technology changes these processes significantly. Automated equipment, building systems, irrigation systems and more report when they need attention. Repair teams know exactly where to go and what to do before they leave the office. Facilities organizations can now use this technology, as well as predictive data analytics, to proactively identify and address maintenance items before they become costly failures or emergencies.

This intelligent maintenance occurs because every device reports back to a central hub. This central hub gives facility managers, complete insight into their entire operation. This eliminates wasted staff hours, freeing valuable resources for other critical budgetary expenditures. The advent of the IoT gives a whole new level of meaning to the adage “Work smarter, not harder.”

BIM and Space Utilization

Rarely do administrators and campus leaders agree on the total quantity and allocation of campus space. On most campuses, space allocation is as contentious an issue as tenure. Different departments track campus space and rarely do the quantities agree. Additionally, with building renovations, additions, repurposing and legacy reporting, it is not uncommon for an institution to have an inaccurate quantification of its actual space.

But how campuses manage their space has become one of the greatest issues and challenges facing higher education today. Space utilization, density, operating costs, staffing levels and deferred maintenance are just a few of the variables used to evaluate a building’s role in an institution’s educational effectiveness. Increasingly, campus leadership and boards need accurate space data to facilitate their decision making.

Until the introduction of Building Information Modeling (BIM), attaining this level of insight had been difficult and a manual process. However, BIM enables the creation and visualization of 3D space, based on 2D data, such as a floor plan or other information. The resulting database of information (space type, area type, gross square footage, net square footage, etc.) provides a treasure trove of information for data analysis and decision making.

By storing BIM floor plans in a smart cloud-based storage and utilizing a Web app data collection tool, as-built space conditions can be validated and updated continuously. Management teams can access BIM floor plans on wireless handheld devices tied to the models in the cloud. Once building space data is updated in the cloud, this data can be integrated into a CMMS.

Organizations can now link mechanical and electrical equipment with direct connection to cloud-based resources, such as operating models, training and maintenance videos, and warranty information. Imagine your maintenance staff having access to this information on-demand, when and where it is needed.

By embracing IoT automation, facilities organizations gain a whole new level of centralized control over every square inch of the campus. With this insight, facilities management staff can, for example, go directly to the source of heating, electrical and plumbing issues. This eliminates wasted time and ensures every problem is addressed before it escalates into an expensive disaster. Maintenance teams are finally becoming true “masters of their domains.”

IoT of Risk Management

Among the greatest concerns on a college campus is being confronted by a crisis, such as a fire, a flood or active shooter. Too often, first responders waste valuable time searching for the source of the crisis, assessing relevant space and mechanical data, and determining the solution. If facilities organizations can provide immediate information access to first responders, the risks of damage and loss can be significantly mitigated. New technology is closing this gap by providing real-time access at your fingertips. When your campus needs a hero, you’ll be there.

IoT Ready—When Will Your Campus Make the IoT Connection?

Clearly, technology is changing how facilities are managed. The more you understand the benefits and implications, the better you can prepare now for your automated, data-fueled future.

Embracing this technology doesn’t require radical change. Many newer mechanical systems, equipment purchases and upgrades are already “smart.” They are designed to produce the data and report back to a central management system. The challenge is for institutions to harness this information and understand how to mine the data for intelligence and better decisions.

You can start with a central repository for your data and a place the smart devices and IoT can connect. To further build out your automated intelligence, plan your future equipment purchases around IoT capabilities. Every step you take toward building your campus’s connected future will immediately begin paying back dividends in productivity, cost savings, lower risk and greater control of your campus.

Read more about the Future of Facilities Management and how technology advancements are affecting higher education's ability to manage facilities successfully, while still achieving its broader educational objectives. 

Bruce Alperin, LEED AP, is the Senior Director of Marketing for facility services in higher education at Aramark. He monitors industry trends and developments, and works closely with the Aramark innovation team to bring new solutions to market.

Topics: dining services, facilities services

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