Like many other industries, facilites management is on a path to digitisation and people hold the key to it being a success. However, this won’t just simply happen, the industry needs to work proactively to create cohesion between people and technology. At the root of the matter, the industry needs to be humanised to ensure successful digitisation.
The Digital Element
There are many technology influences pushing the industry towards digitisation including industry 4.0, AI, machine learning (ML), Internet of Things (IoT), smart devices and smarter software. Always keeping cybersecurity in mind, another key consideration around adoption of these technologies is how they will 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?
The human element
This year 2020 has shown that, despite our ability to work remotely and in isolation, humans are fundamentally social beings and we require 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.
Debunking the myths
Before humanisation can really be engrained in the era of digitisation, there are a few myths that need to be debunked.
Myth: Technology is a threat
Technology should always be an enabler. It should make people more productive and efficient in their jobs allowing them to focus on the more interesting, 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 confirm1.
Myth: Offices are a thing of the past
“Work anywhere anytime” often leads to the conclusion that offices will no longer be needed. A contrarian view is discussed in Deloitte’s ‘The path to prosperity - Why the future of work is human’2 (Deloitte Report). As people’s jobs move away from the routine and repetitive to bespoke and creative, their need to collaborate increases. Furthermore, the office 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 collaboration over time.
Myth: New jobs will be more frequent
A common misconception is that technology will mean people make career changes more frequently. 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.
The evolution of skills
There has been much discussion about the evolution of skills, often focused on working with the technology itself, however a Deloitte report with DeakinCo - ‘Soft skills for business success’3, indicates that soft skills are going to dominate job requirements. Soft skills refer to non-technical interpersonal or intrapersonal qualities necessary for individuals to succeed in the business environment.
By 2030, they predict that soft skill intensive occupations will make up almost two thirds of the workforce and they 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. This is a service industry and 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.
Bringing it all together
There is no denying that technology has already fundamentally changed the world of facilities management, and this is not going to slow down. Despite all the technology advances, society’s reliance on the built environment is increasing. The current crisis has revitalised the need for people to interact socially making workplaces critical in society. Facilitating the built environment cements a continued need for facilities management.
That does not mean that the industry does not need to continue to adapt. Technology must be adopted and its ability to enhance the work of people must be embraced.
Service efficiency and effectiveness will remain at the heart of facilities management but achieving this will look different. Finding a balance of technology, people and processes will make this happen. That is why in order to truly digitise, facilities management must also humanise.