I was reading an article on Microsoft’s development of a smart building system for its headquarters in Redmond, Washington and was struck down by its potential. One has to wonder if the future of facilities and maintenance management has arrived or is it just a glimpse of what can be?

For there part, Microsoft engineers and software developers have put together an army of networked sensors that can collect information on thousands of assets. The information helps facilities and maintenance management determine problems and supposedly enables a super-fast response time.

According to their article, Microsoft’s smart campus has already resulting in maintenance and utility savings in the millions. They also claim to be able to fix many problems with just a few clicks of a mouse.

“It’s no small thing – whether a damper is stuck in Building 75 or a valve is leaky in Studio H – that engineers can now detect (and often fix with a few clicks) even the tiniest issues from their high-tech dashboard at their desks in the ROC rather than having to jump into a truck to go find and fix the problem in person…Smith’s team invented a solution that relies on data to find and fix problems instantly and remotely”

Source: Microsoft

Ahhh, it would be nice if this were true, but seriously, the article suggest that maintenance of the future can be handled reactively and often fixed remotely. My gut reaction to this is that it is short-sighted because it seems to undervalue the role of preventive maintenance, the experience of skilled engineers and may not allow for unplanned events.

I am going to go out on a limb and say the data collected by Microsoft includes the use of predictive technologies such as IFR, ultrasound or vibrations analysis etc. I would also hope that it is applying data results to predict maintenance and repairs using some form of reliability centered maintenance (RCM).

How to Avoid Being Overdependent on One Technology

Granted one short article cannot possible address all the issues that can surface. So here are some questions to think about before implementing a smart building/facility/city solution.

10 Facilities and Maintenance Technology Questions

  1. Does the technology solution depend too much on one maintenance methodology. Not all assets can be managed the same way, some require periodic preventive maintenance while other assets are best managed using CBM or RCM.
  2. How proactive will facilities and maintenance be? Fire-fighting maintenance (reactive maintenance) problems is never cost effective when the fires can be prevented with proactive maintenance such as inspections or preventive maintenance.
  3. Is wrench time being maximized? A good technology solution will reduce the amount of time maintenance staff is in the office filling out paperwork. Automation and mobility are very important to keeping engineers in the field.
  4. Is the technology integrated with other Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) tools? Other asset management tools include things such as document management, asset planning and work management.
  5. Will the technology also work with larger scale technology platforms if needed such as Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS)? IWMS includes real estate planning, project management, facilities management space management and environmental sustainability in addition to maintenance management.
  6. What happens when the power goes out? Every facility and city should have contingency plans for asset inspections and repairs to avoid a catastrophic accident?
  7. Who will fix the problems that cannot be fixed with the click of a mouse? Skilled engineers are becoming harder and harder to find.
  8. How will unexpected events be handled? No amount of data can predict with 100% accuracy when an asset will fail.
  9. How will Mother Nature strike? No amount of sensors and software is going to stop damage from wind, ice or flooding.

Don’t misunderstand me, I believe technology is the future of smart designs for facilities but I also believe that how it is applied is critical to avoid having catastrophic asset failures. Sensors and computers cannot fix everything and even a small army of nimble robots cannot replace the human element of facilities management.

Maintenance of the Here and Now

Maybe sophisticated sensor arrangements controlled by software are the future for facilities and cities but rolling out a solution across the nation is going to take years and a lot of money. In the meantime, facilities and city managers have to look at their asset management options today.

“Complete, accurate, and current documentation is essential to an effective maintenance program. Whether performing preventive, predictive, condition-based, or reliability-centered maintenance, keeping track of equipment condition and maintenance—performed and planned—is critical.”

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior (page 2)

With no end to the current fiscal crisis in sight, facility or city asset managers must look for realistic ways to make facilities last longer and operate at lower costs. One good tool to do this with is an EAM CMMS systemEAM CMMS technology already employs the use of system tools to:

  • Enable facilities to accomplish more with the same amount of staff using a combination of automation and maintenance planning.
  • Manage document handling to save hundreds if not thousands of hours wasted in the continual effort to file, retrieve or search for lost documents.
  • Increase maintenance staff mobility making them more efficient and effective thus increasing wrench time.
  • Capture all asset information including but not limited to:
    • Location
    • Description
    • Purchase date
    • Expected useful lifecycle
    • Current condition
    • Work history including who performed the work, the costs and the results
    • Expected date of asset replacement
  • Prepare for oncoming storms using inspections and storm checklist.
  • Be prepared for unexpected which can range from unplanned asset failure or the attack of rat-sized snails on exterior walls (this was a recent true story in the news. The snails eat stucco/ plaster and can damage concrete).
  • Lower energy costs by helping got keep equipment in optimal working condition.
  • Create a knowledge base that can be used for training and establishing standard operating procedures.

Essentially an EAM CMMS system provides the core tools that will be found in future technology solutions. The challenge in using an EAM CMMS system is the same as Microsoft’s smart campus. Simply stated, collecting mountains of data is only useful if you collect the right data and then do something constructive with it.