Published in Tomorrow’s FM in November 2016
Facilities Management is evolving and the future has some big changes in store. Whilst the industry is constantly striving to provide the best service to clients, a greater focus is now being placed on creating the ideal building, whether this is a school, hospital, workplace or public facility.
Front of house is an essential service for businesses across the world as reception staff are tasked with creating a positive first impression as visitors arrive. Ensuring that front of house service delivery is as good as it can be is a top priority for facilities managers.
The conversation with clients, which focuses on improving the workplace, must continue, but we must also start stepping out of our comfort zones to discuss how best to embrace new technology to help businesses maximise productivity.
Robots, Actroids and AI
The arrival of hologram assistants in airports and multilingual ‘actroid’ robots at the ‘Henn-na’ Hotel in Japan signals the start of a new chapter in FM. Robots are capable of greeting you, checking you in, and carrying your luggage, deeming the company’s traditional hotel staff redundant. Microsoft has also recently announced that it has made a major breakthrough in its Artificial Intelligence (AI) efforts, developing a technology which can understand conversations as well as a human can.
These developments are the start of a facilities management industry which works in collaboration with technology, not against. Despite The World Economic Forum suggesting that more than 5.1 million jobs will be lost due to technological advancements over the period 2015–2020, so long as the FM industry plans for such changes, businesses can actually benefit from these technology improvements by freeing up workers to be reassigned to jobs which need a human touch.
AIinFM is an organisation which has been developed to help guide and prepare the industry for using this technology effectively and appropriately.
Katie King, co-founder of AIinFM, comments: “Technology is advancing at an astounding pace and we are now seeing increasing numbers of actroids in real life settings, interacting with real people. This is only the start and as technology continues to advance, I’m certain that artificial intelligence and actroids will become more commonplace in the Facilities Management sector very soon.
“Cognitive buildings are also becoming more commonplace in the built environment. This technology is aware of occupants and will understand your preferences if given permission. This will propel the workplace into the next generation – just imagine a building which knows which coffee you like and your preferred meeting room temperature.
“The development of this type of technology will not stop now it has begun. In addition to the business implications, it’s also important to consider the socio-economic impact of AI which has its pros and cons. Our latest survey results indicate that the ‘impact of artificial intelligence will be ‘transformational’ within next decade’. FM service providers will need to adapt more quickly than they have in the past.”
With such a vast uptake of AI and robots predicted, organisations must plan for the integration of new technology. Rather than simply installing a device, it is essential that these actroids represent your company in the same way a human would. Policies are important in this respect, helping to maintain your brand values and brand perception.
The type of actroid required will also vary depending on the sector in question. Technology companies for example are likely to want to be perceived as forward thinking and will therefore be drawn to actroids which show a large array of capabilities. On the other hand, a manufacturing plant may be more interested in actroids which can take on repetitive jobs to help increase productivity over long periods of time.
The benefits of actroids in the FM space are extensive, not only can they interact with visitors and carry out tasks, they can also work unsociable hours and can have a dual purpose – something a human cannot do. Evening shift robots can double up as security guards, monitoring the building and being the first line of defence should any security threats occur. This is especially beneficial in high-risk environments such as testing laboratories which may be targeted by activists. With the development of the Internet of Things, this will also enable such robots to be linked to CCTV allowing the robot to analyse any security issues much faster than a human.
Advancing technology has the aim of supporting humans’ development as a race – making people’s working lives easier. Despite being a labour saving device, for now at least, AI will still be developed, managed and programmed by people.
In addition to supporting humans in carrying out tasks, augmented reality is great for training front of house staff, especially when staff are based in locations which are difficult to reach. The software can train people how to sign in, health and safety procedures, and directions around a building.
For the time being, the human touch and ability to interact with visitors is irreplaceable, however organisations need to start preparing for a future filled with actroids, robots and AI as technology continues to develop rapidly.
There are still many unanswered questions. To what extent is AI allowed to have a free reign? Will there be cross country standards and regulations, or will these be global? If a country specific approach is taken, this could mean that actroids are able to provide certain tasks in some countries but not in others. Each of these scenarios will have a differing impact on FM providers, especially those operating across borders.
Before that time comes, the government must decide on how far we allow this to develop and who is responsible for turning the technology off. Is it the person working alongside the actroid, the facilities manager, the company CEO? And, will the actroid even allow itself to be turned off, as after all it wouldn’t be in its interest to do so?