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According to research by Sheffield Hallam University commissioned by GRITIT and Servest, one of the key ongoing trends today in facilities management is the outsourcing of FM services, with 58% of FM professionals surveyed stating that much of this was being driven by a desire for companies to access better technical expertise. Over the next five years the use of technology in relation to improving the delivery services, transparency and cutting costs is expected to be a game changer. The impacts of this would be changes in working practices and the increasing use of big data or analytics to inform decision making.

A leaner approach reduces waste and cost over winter.

From our own vantage point in gritting and grounds maintenance, these changes are already well under way and clearly are a change for the better. As a service provider we can use data technologies to reduce our management overheads and time fussing over the transactional side of doing business. At the same time, these very same technologies are a boon to clients who

can have real time visibility via a smartphone app or client portal of the services we’ve delivered - whether that’s mowing lawns or gritting car parks.

Indeed, the winter gritting industry has always been data-driven and reliant on the ability to service sites in response to weather data. Success in this particular industry is very much predicated on accuracy and responsiveness, with the goal to utilise more accurate sources of real time weather data with even greater precision. Doing so makes a real difference: By gritting only when required by actual conditions, it is possible to ensure greater safety whilst avoiding over-servicing – a leaner approach that reduces waste and cost to the client over the course of a winter.

In this context, the dawn of the “Internet of Things” is proving significant as this offers the opportunity to enrich the data that’s available to inform decisions. For example, at GRITIT our in-house technology team is rolling out a next generation offering based on inexpensive, robust temperature sensors that can deliver a real-time, live feed of actual road surface temperature and precipitation conditions on a client’s site directly into our NIMBUS reporting system. By getting a more granular, real-time view of local conditions on the ground, more accurate forecasts and automatic triggers enable the delivery of ice and snow clearance on a just-in-time basis. This helps further cut both risks and waste as service can be provided according to the real world conditions on a site - even when that may differ from the weather forecast (for example ice that persists in shady areas even as the day warms up).

So far, although we’ve discussed the apparent inevitably of digitisation and looked at a few benefits, like any revolution it’s essential to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater in the pursuit of progress; Uber is a case in point. While the ability to call and track cheaper rides from a smartphone has been great for consumers, the master algorithm somehow forgot all about the experience of the drivers themselves, who ultimately found themselves enjoying more of the insecurities of the gig economy than the freedoms. This isn’t only a digital issue of course, but there is no denying that in moving towards a digital first world, we can risk seeing human labour as being commoditised and interchangeable.

This would be a mistake. While sensors and robotics will undoubtedly play an ever growing role in both indoor and outdoor FM, this is and will always will be a people business. There will always be some aspects that can’t be automated easily or will still need to be supervised for practical and safety reasons. While technology is a way of enhancing human effort, there’s no real substitute for retaining good skilled people - and especially in safety critical contexts. While some sectors and roles have moved towards the gig economy, for a reliable quality service you need engaged people who feel part of the team and want to deliver the same high level of service - even where flexibility of available resources are needed for seasonal work. TOMORROW’S FM | 47

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