FMs in the Frontline
The Internet of Things revolution starts here says Keith Minster, product manager of Drax Technology
 
We are in the middle of a ‘new industrial revolution’. The Internet of Things, which describes a world where devices and objects increasingly have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data, is beginning to have real commercial impact. The analysts at Gartner estimate that 26 billion machine-to-machine (M2M) units will be installed by 2020 and will be connected to a revenue stream of around $300 billion.
 
For the facilities management sector, it’s a movement that brings an exciting range of challenges and opportunities, as the management of buildings is in the vanguard of this revolution, and facilities managers are already reaping the rewards of the shift from standalone point products to connected devices.
 
In some areas sensors are already being used to monitor buildings, their systems and their occupants, providing the data to make informed decisions around comfort, safety, security, resources and more. But this is just the start. The real potential is in the data produced by these applications and in making sense of this operational intelligence to enable far more proactive management and control.

The current challenge is to create a way for FMs to view, integrate and analyse this data as a whole, so they can carry around a real-time view of the current and accurate snapshot of their building or their entire global portfolio on their laptop, tablet or mobile phone.
 
However, this is still a little way off. Take for example, the sector I know best – fire alarm management. Invariably the monitoring and maintenance of systems is outsourced to specialist companies. However, an FM’s portfolio will typically include buildings with a complete spectrum of different systems – often with a variety within the same building. So when the fire alarm specialist issues the event log from the fire alarm control panel to demonstrate they have tested a system – if they  issue  anything at all – it’s almost  impossible to interpret  the data  in a meaningful way as the format varies considerably from one manufacturer’s equipment to another.
 
As a result, FMs are reliant on the honesty of their chosen alarm maintenance company, as to whether a system has been checked or not. In turn they depend on their individual engineers. When lives are at stake this could be a risk too far.
 
However, new smart solutions on the market such as Drax Technology’s SMaRT Web offer access to this information on almost every make of fire alarm systems via the internet; which means it can be viewed on mobiles, laptops or tablets from anywhere.
 
The system also generates consistent reports on which devices have been tested, producing data that can then be passed or even accessed directly by  the FM company – and this is where the added value lies. It means the FM can build up a picture of the reliability of the installed hardware and the efficiency of the maintenance company to ensure the fire alarm maintenance company is providing value for money.  
 
Importantly, this data can also be used for compliance purposes and for proof that the FM is doing everything within their power to keep a building safe.
 
These particular systems break down the barriers, irrespective of the make or brand of the fire alarm system installed. Perhaps soon we want to integrate this data with that from other monitoring and testing systems for an umbrella report covering an entire estate, for example.
 
This pioneering use of the technology will see FMs access real-time information on any or all of their buildings merely by tapping their wristband. It’s another compelling example of the vital role they are playing in driving this exciting technological and business revolution.