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Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for FM – Friends or Foes?

by Doug Ingraham   Sep 04, 2018

Technology, Machine Learning

This is an excerpt from our popular ebook, Facilities Management Survival Guide.  In addition to a wealth of information on FM best practices, innovations and trends impacting the facilities field, reports from facilities managers, and key industry data & statistics, we dove into one of the hottest topics in technology, AI & machine learning, and specifically, what the impact is for the facilities management world.

As with all emerging technologies, there seem to be a lot of misconceptions and even misgivings about the impact artificial intelligence (AI) and its variant technology, machine learning (ML), will have in the workplace.

Too often, AI and ML are portrayed in the media as a “job killer” with the idea that AI-driven robots or other devices will render humans irrelevant and replace them. Indeed, a recent Pew Research study indicated that the majority of Americans believe that robots will do most of the work currently done by human beings in less than five decades – just not the job that they’re doing, of course.

The facilities management (FM) profession is by no means immune to the impact of these technologies, good or bad. In the case of AI, this technology might have a greater impact on FMs than just about any other profession in the building & construction industries, according to a report published by RICS (the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors):

The workforce in the main carries out repetitive tasks to ensure the smooth operation of all kinds of facilities across all sectors of industry, commerce and social care. It is highly probable that within the built environment, the impact of AI will be felt the greatest in facility management.

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The question for FMs in light of this prediction is whether they should view this as a blessing or a curse. In other words, should they view AI and ML as friends or foes in their ability to do their jobs and accomplish their many tasks?

AI & Machine Learning for Facilities ManagementOur view is unequivocally in favor of FMs viewing these technologies as being for the good of FMs. Here’s why: if you’re using service automation for your FM responsibilities, then you’re already using many aspects of AI and ML.

At its heart, AI is an element of computer software that can make (or enable) intelligent decisions and problem solving through deduction and reasoning. This is made possible by collecting and analyzing vast repositories of relevant data that can inform decisions and provide insights – the fundamental requirements for any form of intelligence. ML is the application of those insights gained that provides the ability of intelligent systems to automatically learn and improve from experience without being programmed explicitly to do so.

An important benefit of this might be in being able to identify and eliminate routine and repetitive tasks that can be easily automated. FMs who use service automation already know about the benefits of automating tasks such as recurring planned maintenance and required inspections of critical equipment. AI and ML would take automation to the next level by determining the tasks to automate in the pursuit of efficiency.

In 2017, ServiceChannel became the first to bring AI-enabled offerings to a facilities management platform through its Decision Engine technology.  This integrated functionality is powerful enough to parse through more than 15+ years of historical data and a data set of more than 70 million maintenance transactions to enable FMs to use prescriptive analytics for deciding any course of action.

This includes the ability to automate routine facilities management decisions that can help streamline an FM’s daily processes and tasks. And true to AI form, this tool is self-learning and becomes smarter, through “machine learning” over time as the amount of data and decisions it analyzes grows.

While just at the start of embedding this technology, FMs are already benefiting from improved practical decision making when repairing or replacing an asset, reviewing contractor proposals, quickly accepting or rejecting an invoice based on the status of any work order, or updating price controls on a proactive basis.

Having the benefit of AI with supporting intelligence and data in aiding these decisions is critical for even a small FM team or department to scale its resources more efficiently, thereby operating more strategically. In this sense, AI and ML are “disruptive” but ultimately for the benefit of humans profoundly – think steam engines replacing horse-drawn carts.

So, for 2018 and beyond, we recommend that FMs embrace the AI and ML trends and evaluate technology deployments as important and useful advancements in their profession. Further, they can facilitate the use of these technologies by taking steps such as:

  1. Accelerating the use of FM analytics and reporting, if they have not done so already
  2. Partnering with key service providers to help them leverage AI and ML more effectively in their operations
  3. Collaborating with stakeholders in other corporate departments (e.g. Operations, IT, Procurement, Accounting) to extend the benefits of AI and ML-enabled decision making fully across their enterprise

AI and ML for facilities managers are here to stay. By viewing this technology trend positively, FMs have the opportunity to continually eliminate the non-value-add, repetitive tasks in their day, and distinguish themselves as top-notch in their field, and indispensable to their companies. That’s intelligent by all measures.

Learn more about incorporating FM technology like AI and machine learning into your facilities management processes.

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Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

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