Problem solve Get help with specific problems with your technologies, process and projects.

For IoT and facilities management, the destination matters as much as the journey

The phrase “data is the new oil” is a useful metaphor for understanding the challenges of putting data to work in a large enterprise. Like oil, data needs to be processed and refined to generate value. The problem is, there’s more of a data glut today than there ever was with oil, and processing and refining all that information is easier said than done.

Done successfully, data gives us a powerful tool for improving the customer experience — perhaps the ultimate KPI that separates great businesses from also-rans. This is especially true in the facilities world, where IoT data on the state of buildings and equipment helps facilities managers maintain the highest levels of brand uptime. This is a metric that directly equates the state of a facility — good or bad — with its business performance. If the building is well-maintained and all services are up and running, it has a high brand uptime and performance will be better. But converting that IoT data into actionable insights to achieve this is one of the great challenges of our time.

The data mandate for facilities managers

The best facilities managers are experts at managing a work order efficiently through the entire lifecycle to get the job done quickly and to a high standard. The process generally works like this: Facilities managers receive raw data when a piece of equipment reports its state or when someone opens a work order — i.e., where and what the issue is. They then determine how to get the pertinent information to the most capable contractors or internal technicians who are dispatched to resolve the issue. Finally, the facilities manager confirms the issue is properly resolved and the facility is operating the way it should. The lifecycle for that work order is complete.

However, a facilities manager in a multisite, distributed enterprise, like a retail, restaurant or banking chain, doesn’t manage just one work order at a time, but dozens. That’s why automation is key; the IoT data must be routed to a system that can react to events and even predict failures using a combination of historical and real-time data, then generate a work order and dispatch someone to fix it. This is how facilities managers must employ IoT data at scale to keep costs down while ensuring high levels of customer satisfaction.

In other words, what happens to the IoT data at its destination is equally, if not more, important than the process of generating and collecting that data in the first place. Our “oil” must be refined and put to work in useful ways. That’s more than just break and fix, too; it’s about scheduling preventative maintenance based on real-world usage patterns, as long as you have the expertise to interpret the data collected.

A universal challenge, not just an FM one

For all the hype and promise of IoT, solving the problem of how to best use the data is one that organizations across industries are struggling with. According to Wired, the ability for distributed systems to stay on top of the data deluge is critical to the success of any IoT application. Without this ability, much gets left on the table in terms of insights and efficiencies — an opportunity cost that undermines the reason for investing in IoT in the first place.

This issue is particularly acute in the facilities management industry, where some facilities managers view IoT as competition, which can delay investment and rollout. Companies that have taken the plunge, however, report significant benefits. The facilities department at Kimberly-Clark, for example, analyzes data from connected soap dispensers, air fresheners and other devices to gauge the state of its guest bathrooms and boost its brand uptime. As well as improving the experience for customers, the company says its use of supplies decreased by 20% since the deployment of its bathroom IoT system. These gains serve the business, but also reflect well on facilities managers — if they are willing to take the plunge.

One way to improve the ROI from IoT systems is to integrate them with other intelligent platforms as a tightly coupled solution, providing the data with a useful destination. For facilities managers, a logical pairing is to combine IoT systems at the edge with a service automation platform in the cloud as a way to accelerate response times and use cloud analytics. This way, the IoT data collected can trigger work orders and schedule technician visits when failures or abnormal results are detected.

Another use case is to optimize a facility’s environmental state — heating and lighting, etc. — by tracking foot traffic to determine busy periods and when buildings are unoccupied. Over time, the data generates insights that enable these systems to intelligently turn lights off and lower thermostats to reduce energy use.

Final thoughts

Thankfully, unlike oil, data is a low-cost commodity that can be mined in great volume for little expense; in the cloud, storage and processing are cheap. But it must still be refined and distributed in useful ways. Data is only as valuable as the insights that can be derived from it. With billions more IoT devices expected to come online in the next decade, building managers must learn not just to collect this data, but also act on it in a way that improves brand uptime and ultimately business results. That means routing it to intelligent systems that surface actions and automate those processes. The destination is just as important as the journey.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

Data Center
Data Management