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Building intelligent facilities

Building intelligent facilities

Top FMs delve into the how, what, why and when of establishing successful facilities

As we transition to more complex, higher performing, and energy efficient buildings, it is apparent that traditional operation and management systems are not up to the task of monitoring and administering the evolving building functions. The evolution of smart buildings has been painfully slow over the past few decades. But, we are now on the threshold of realising intelligent systems that could control all the building services without the intervention of humans. However, the progressive development of this segment is still at a nascent stage in India. With an aim to deliberate and share the vision of transformation, the panel of ten experts reach out to wider paradigms, focusing on the realms of facility management and design that are leading the industry to a better future.

Illustrating the role and importance of facility managers through the complete lifecycle of a building, Rajat Malhotra, chief executive office, Jones Lang LaSalle states, “Design is creation, whereas management is operations. We as operators, manage buildings for more than 95% of their lifecycle, we also undo all the errors that have been committed during the design stage.” He explains that it’s imperative for facility managers to be involved in the design stage. Though, they do not approve of the designs, they provide varied insights that are otherwise overlooked, such as – janitor’s locker, changing room for housekeeping, etc.

One of the major components of an intelligent facility is the building management system – the mechanism helps managers understand how buildings are operating and allow them to control and adjust systems to optimise their performance; it also collates data and allows ease of control. By visualising data, BMS automatically generate reports and create alarms and alerts when parameters are exceeded, failures occur, or with prognostic systems, when failures are likely to occur. They can also allow comparison between spaces, buildings and benchmark data. Given the amplitude of its functions, first course of the discussion analyses the adoption of the system in the current industry.  Captain Ramakant Singru, vice-president, corporate services, Reliance Industries, believes BMS has still not deployed to its complete potential in India. “Most of the times, BMS is never fully commissioned. 

It remains a tool that is delegated to an IT operator, who does not realise the importance of integration of various equipments such as access control, fire alarm systems, pumps, chillers, temperatures, fans, etc. and neither are the graphs and reports analysed to derive optimum solutions. For successful administration of a smart office, as facility managers, one needs to first ensure that the system is fully put in place and integrated across various verticals. Thereafter, it is mandatory that engineers analyse it on regular basis, for example – the weather changes every day, hence, the BMS settings have to change every day or possibly twice or thrice in a day. This is the method that accounts for savings to the organisation.”

In conjunction to Captain Singru’s views, Ashish Poddar, director, asset services, CBRE South Asia Pvt Ltd, adds, “80% of the facilities don’t have a 100% functional BMS. Many a times, the facility manager ends up in a situation where they are actually asked to operate the building and are completely unaware of its goals and brief that was integrated at the time of its design. Thus, it’s necessary to involve the facility management team of the client during the design phase itself to provide a holistic solution, which helps vision for the entire operation to work seamlessly.”

Makarand Kulkarni, global head, administration and facilities, Compton & Greaves, explains the main cause for this is the disparity between the teams who have sold the equipments and the after-sales support. With a sizable amount of capital invested in the equipments, it fails when even the most minor faults take weeks to be set in place. Further to this, there is also a growing urgency to develop the skill sets required to handle such tools. Addressing this issue, CT Sadanand, vice-president, corporate services, TATA Communications, reveals, “There is an acute crisis of well-trained resources in the industry – starting from entry level to senior level management, many do not comprehend the tasks and goals of administering such systems and facilities. It is more severe at the ground level. There is a huge gap exiting in the skill levels available in the market today. Not every individual, who has been educated in the IT field, can be hired to manage such tools. We, as a fraternity, need to develop the skills at the operations level. We need to come together and establish methods to train resources, test their competency level and deploy them accordingly.”

Many buildings that are designed to achieve high-performance design goals fail to achieve them in actual practice due to lack of a holistic approach. Besides delivering building performance, a smart facility also addresses employee experience and productivity. Its control on the spatial ambience factors such as air pollution, temperatures, etc., all aim at making the entire work place more productive, thereby attuned to needs and requirements of an organisation at every level. Given this, cost acts as the ultimate measuring unit to assess the performance of a facility – be it optimising its real estate rental or energy consumption. Gary Grover, vice-president administration HDFC Life, believes that fusing a predictive component within the administration system help achieve immense cost savings. From queue management at the elevator to regulating air conditioners as per working hours of the office – it helps bring in a predictive angle to the recurring annual maintenance cost. This can then be eventually strategised further to obtain higher optimisation.

Emphasising on the need to bring in facility managers at an earlier stage, Abhijit Sarkar, country head corporate real estate, admin, facility and infrastructure, ShareKhan Limited, asserts that, “Involvement of FMs at the inception of the project itself, helps obtain insights on deciding whether the space management is efficient, wherein, if there is an element of outsourcing, one can reduce the office footprint. Thus, his contributions help at the stage of site selection itself. Many a times, similar design treatment is rendered for an office with the capacity of 500 and 150. Facility management team’s intervention helps understand the precedence of handling and managing offices of varying scales, thereby adapting the design accordingly. Hence, the result of an office’s post-occupancy refinement is predicted and strategised by facility managers at the conceptual stages itself, this helps the building deliver optimum energy performance and productivity that they were designed for.

Malhotra then puts forth another major element in facility management - test and commissioning. He states that, “It is an important aspect because building automation system is the last system to get commissioned. Most of the buildings one walks in to, find that the building automation system has never been completely commissioned. Hence, what’s left is a glorified monitoring mechanism, which involves fair bit of manual intervention as the integration has not been established between systems. Many a times, facilities are also equipped with systems, which are not scalable from point of view of upgradation. This leads to the facility management teams ripping off the complete system from the core for installing an upgraded version.”

Echoing this concern, Grover responds with a request to all facility managers to be well aware and educated on this subject. He adds, “You can’t predict the future. However, if you go back to how the trends are evolving you will see from a bigger scope what kinds of acquisitions are happening in industry. Almost all the UPS manufacturers are buying the technology companies because they want to go into a phase wherein the data can be transferred and observed from a remote location. Similarly, BMS systems today are equipped with in-built lux level controllers and monitors, air conditioners with thermometers, temperature monitoring, etc. They all work on something called a protocol, which transmits and moves the data between each other. One would often notice that even if it is manufactured by the same organisation it may not work, as they are made in different locations, batch or the mere connectivity between them. Thus, we need to be well versed with the basic elements and components of IT protocol.”

On a concluding note Shakti Chauhan, country head, facility management, Reliance Retail, expressed that, “Before being good facility manager, one needs to be a good salesman – to sell ideas and strategies to the stakeholders. Facility managers, more often than not, are considered as cost centres and are never taken seriously until its put to task. Once the business realises the difference and the impact that the vertical brings about to the bottom line and hence profitability of the company, then they are elevated as partners in the decision making process.”

The discussion thereby encompassed a broader aspect of intelligent facility management by not just addressing the evolving role of automation but also delving into the employee experience and the real estate performance.

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