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AI Insights: Why the Facilities Industry Needs to Give a Damn about AI

July 27, 2023

This is the first in an ongoing series of articles exploring the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI) and facilities management (FM). As AI plays an ever larger role in FM, this series will help facility industry professionals understand and leverage AI to build a brighter future.

We’re gonna skip the fluff you’ve already read elsewhere and jump into the reality that to some of you, AI in real life is exciting. “I can use ChatGPT to do all my homework? Cool!” To others, it’s scary. “Oh no – Skynet will take over and humans will be hunted to extinction by terminators!”

Both feelings are valid, because AI brings possibilities as well as perils. But if we let fear control us, we’ll miss out on the many exciting ways AI can improve facilities management. It’s ok to approach AI with a bit of caution and be thoughtful in how you choose to leverage it. Just don’t bury your head in the sand and hope AI passes you by – because it’s definitely here to stay.

What is Artificial Intelligence?
Why We Need AI in Facilities Management (and Everywhere)
3 Ways AI Supports Facilities Management

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Rather than reinvent the wheel and attempt to define AI on my own, I’m going to point to some experts who already have (and who did it much better than I ever could).

The term “artificial intelligence” was first coined by Stanford Emeritus Professor John McCarthy way back in 1955. He defined AI as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.”

IBM describes AI as “leveraging computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.”

The Cambridge Dictionary defines AI as “the study of how to produce machines that have some of the qualities that the human mind has, such as the ability to understand language, recognize pictures, solve problems, and learn.”

Another term you’ll probably run into as you explore AI is “machine learning” or ML. Machine learning is a branch of AI that has to do with how AI learns and gets smarter. It focuses on the use of data and algorithms to imitate the way that humans learn, gradually improving AI’s accuracy (according to IBM).

If you want to go more in-depth on what AI is and means, these links are a great place to start:

Why We Need AI in Facilities Management (and Everywhere)

In a nutshell, we need AI to help us navigate the enormous amount of information surrounding us.

This chart shows how quickly the amount of human knowledge is growing. Back in 1900, our knowledge was doubling every 100 years. In 1945, it was doubling every 25 years. By 1982, human knowledge was doubling every 12-13 months. Today, our knowledge is doubling every 11-12 HOURS. That’s insane.

Let me try to put that into perspective for you. Back in the 80s and 90s, we could boil down everything we knew into the Encyclopedia Britannica. Remember those? You could find whatever you needed to know by heading to the library, thumbing through the card catalog, and checking out a book.

However, the only reason that was possible was because, at the time, we were only doubling our knowledge every century – so we could fit everything we knew into books. A person could fairly easily find and read all of the available information on a specific topic.

Today, it’s a completely different story. We’re doubling our information every 11-12 hours. It’s expanding exponentially. There’s no way you could even begin to read all the available information about a topic – much less sort through what’s factual and what’s not.

How can we possibly use all this knowledge? The answer: AI. The human brain is incapable of handling this massive amount of information. The only way we’ll have even a chance of absorbing and using this knowledge is with AI’s help.

3 Ways AI Supports Facilities Management

AI enables efficiency in FM in ways we couldn’t even imagine a few years ago. Here are just 3 examples of how AI can help with real issues people in FM face every day.

Labor Shortages

Many facilities teams are understaffed and running skeleton crews. AI can take some of the strain off the team by doing repetitive, mundane tasks. It can optimize work order routing, grouping tickets by trade or grouping reactive and preventive maintenance tickets to the right technician. AI streamlines your team’s workloads and frees them up to focus on the work that actually requires their hands-on attention.

Capital Planning Challenges

This is definitely a situation where AI can shine. It can examine your historical data and current trends to identify the areas you most need to invest in. AI can analyze usage patterns and maintenance records to predict your facility’s future needs.

It’s a powerful tool for sifting through and organizing vast amounts of facilities data into cohesive results that you can apply to your budgeting process.

Supply Chain Squeezes

With how long it’s taking to receive new assets and replacement parts, facility teams have to plan pretty far ahead to ensure they have the materials they need when they need them. AI can help you time everything correctly.

It can help you map out your next 2 to 3 years of planned maintenance and major replacements and then determine what parts need to be ordered by what dates to ensure you have a replacement in hand before an asset fails.

AI can also identify situations where you may not get a replacement in time. Say you have a pump that needs replacing in 9 months, but the supply chain says you won’t get it for 15 months. Now you can focus your efforts on keeping that pump functioning until a replacement does arrive.

AI is Your Ally

One of the biggest fears I hear in the FM industry is that AI’s going to completely replace good, hard-working people. That’s not the case. If anything, it will enhance people’s ability to be excellent facilities professionals. Let me explain.

Say you’re doing a facility assessment. Instead of collecting data all day, painstakingly organizing it into some sort of sense, transferring it into Excel to visualize the data, and then copying and pasting all of it into a report doc, AI can do the bulk of the work for you. It can help speed up data entry, data visualization, and report generation. Instead of doing all that manual, time-consuming stuff, you can use your industry experience to analyze what the assessment has found and start resolving the issues it identified. You’re still in control of the entire process, but now you have a super fast, super accurate assistant by your side.

AI isn’t going to replace you. It’s going to free you to focus on the things that actually need your unique skill set, experience, and education.

Here at AkitaBox, we’re excited by all that AI can do and continue to seamlessly incorporate it into our software in ways that make sense. If you’d like to learn more or see AI in action in AkitaBox software, contact us. We’d love to hear what you think!

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Derek Blackmore

Derek Blackmore is president of AkitaBox. He combines his love of buildings and his software experience to drive AkitaBox to deliver creative facilities management tools. He believes technology is most valuable when it addresses long-standing, industry-wide challenges, while enabling closer alignment to and pursuit of the overall mission of the organization.

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