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Building Technology Trends of 2019: The Total Geek's Guide

Facility management technology is thriving and more exciting than ever before. Virtual reality headsets allow users to view a building’s layout before construction even begins. Biometric technology can boost building security and authenticate a person’s identity with the scan of a finger, palm or face. Drones can be flown over buildings to not only collect aerial images, but also gather thermal imaging and automate rooftop inspections.

The best part? We’ve only just scratched the surface of today’s building technology options.

This guide will prove that the opportunities are endless for facility managers who want to incorporate technology into everyday operations. We’ll explore seven cutting-edge technology trends of today and how they can be used to make your job easier. We’ll also cover innovative tech companies that are impacting the industry, future tech predictions and challenges of implementation. You might be surprised — some of the tech we cover may just be the solution you’re looking for to increase overall efficiency and accuracy when it comes to managing your buildings. Keep reading to find out!

Topics Covered in this Guide

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What is building technology and why does it matter?

Technology has the power to change the way we approach building management and design. There are endless tools on the market today that can aid in the success of facilities professionals like architects, engineers, building managers, construction workers, designers and others.

Looking for reasons to justify why tech matters? Look no further. There are many ways that technology can benefit facilities personnel and their teams. It can:

  • Connect facilities personnel and help them collaborate

  • Facilitate strong communication practices between team members

  • Give users instant access to building information via electronic networks

  • Expedite the building design process through visual information modeling

  • Improve the efficiency and accuracy of everyday workflows

  • Calculate useful building data that proves productivity and supports growth

  • Protect people and property against violence, active threats and security breaches

  • Improve the return on investment (ROI) by highlighting areas of weakness

  • Optimize energy efficiency and eco-friendly design in facilities

  • Inform cost-effective decisions made to benefit a facility department’s budget

Technology, when used correctly, can save you significant time, money and resources. It can also be used to help you better manage your team, maintain the integrity of your buildings and protect occupants from harm. For that reason, it’s a good idea to stay informed on emerging tools, systems and technology trends in the facilities industry. 

Choosing new technology for your facilities can be intimidating, but we hope this guide will give you the knowledge and resources you need to make confident tech decisions for your organization. Let’s start by digging into the latest technological advances that have taken hold in the facility management industry. Here’s an inside look at how these options can positively impact your team. 

Download - Technology Trends in Facility Management Report

7 Facility Management Technology Trends You Should Know About

Recent building technology has made great strides. It is for this reason that building managers must stay on top of today’s latest trends and research which emerging technologies will make the biggest impact on their department’s operations. For your convenience, we’ve gone ahead and done the work for you. We’ve assembled a list of seven awesome tech advances in the industry this year. So go ahead, relax, grab a cup of coffee and get out a pen and some paper. You’ll want to write these innovations down for later!

1. Biometric Technology

Facial recognition, voice activation and eye sensors used to be for science fiction, but biology-based security systems are no longer just for the movies. They’re now the reality of maintaining cutting-edge security in many of today’s buildings. Between employees, occupants and visitors, building managers may find it difficult to confirm who is authorized to enter a facility and who is not. Biometric technology can help mitigate these concerns by verifying a person’s identity based on his or her unique characteristics (such as his or her fingerprints, handprints or facial structure).

Are biometrics more reliable than traditional security measures? In most cases, yes. Biometrics are difficult to duplicate and nearly impossible to share with outsiders. When paired with a “smart” identification card, biometrics can significantly boost security in your facility. It is for these reasons that biometrics continue to gain acceptance as an accurate way to confirm a person’s identity. 

an iris scan used as a biometric security measure

Wearable Technology

Hands-free, wearable technology has officially entered the facilities market and is making a big impact on safety and security in buildings. Like biometric technology, which can be used to boost your security measures, authenticate identity and grant access to restricted areas, wearable technology also has the potential for data gathering and analysis within the built environment. Wearable devices currently include a wide variety of options, including cutting-edge smartwatches, headsets and Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) wristbands. 

Wearable Technology Fun Fact: Wearable technology can eliminate many barriers that come with the use of biometrics. For example, facilities personnel may wear personal protection equipment (PPE) like gloves, eye protection and full-body suits while in the field. Wearable technology eliminates the need to remove this equipment to present a hand, eye or face for scanning. Instead, wearables grant access to restricted areas with a simple scan of a sensor or signal. RFID technology can also be paired with a smartphone to automatically relay desired information to sensors tied to building automation systems.

a building manager on construction site wearing smart watch

Building Information Modeling (BIM)

Building information modeling (BIM) is changing the way today’s buildings are planned, designed and built. BIM involves creating a three-dimensional, interactive model of a building and placing easily-editable “smart objects” upon it to represent HVAC components, electrical systems, lighting, mechanical assets and other types of machinery. In essence, BIM creates virtual libraries of useful equipment data and information, including product specifications, electrical connections, clearance requirements and more.

What’s so cool about BIM? Perhaps the greatest benefit of BIM is the ability to gather sophisticated data about how a building will function before it’s even built. Integrated with existing work order programs or facility management software, BIM can help facilities teams learn more about their buildings, retrieve O&M manuals, understand floor plans and gather asset information and building data. If you’re interested in exploring BIM programs, AutoDesk® Revit® software is a trusted program within the industry.

Pop Quiz on BIM: Do you know the difference between BIM and CAD? 

Download - BIM vs. Old File Systems

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) 

In recent years, virtual reality (VR) has become incredibly popular, even making appearances in movies and video games. It’s no wonder why many people love the futuristic feel of VR. When immersed in virtual reality, people get the opportunity to have fun and explore their imaginations. But what’s cooler is that virtual reality isn’t just for the entertainment industry; VR can also be used in facility management and design.  VR uses computer technology to create realistic, three-dimensional images of the built environment. Users can interact with these simulated environments as if they were real by using headsets, smartphones or desktop software. Unlike traditional user interfaces, VR buildings fully immerse users in an interactive experience.

True or False? “Virtual reality is the same as augmented reality.” The answer is false. Augmented reality differs from VR in that it superimposes a computer-generated image on top of a real-world environment. Facility managers can use AR to view a space and overlay virtual information on top of it using a smartphone, laptop, tablet or other mobile device with a camera. The main difference between VR and AR? VR provides an entirely virtual environment, whereas AR offers an enhanced physical one.

a virtual reality headset can be used to view a floor plan before it exists

Autonomous Systems and Smart Sensors

The Internet of Things (IoT), smart buildings, building management systems and other building automation technology are all starting to connect and communicate with each other as part of the fourth industrial revolution. Today’s smart buildings are utilizing autonomous systems and smart sensors to increase efficiency, save energy and collect data on space usage.

What in the world are IoT sensors? There are two major types of IoT sensors in facility management. The first is temperature and humidity control sensors. These devices track environmental changes to keep occupants comfortable without giving them total control of a room’s thermostat. The second type of sensor is machine listening and vibration detection sensors. These sensors are placed on larger mechanical assets and alert facility managers of equipment failures or performance changes. As a bonus, these sensors can record data for later review. 

LIDAR Technology

Looking to expedite the building modeling process? If so, look no further. Light Detection and Ranging (“LIDAR”) technology is here to make your job quicker and easier. Through a specialized remote sensing method, LIDAR equipment uses photons (i.e. light particles) to measure distances within and around buildings. Photons are scattered within a space and bounce back to the instrument’s receiver. The final result are high-resolution models of a building’s surfaces, terrain and elevation, collected at record speeds.

Let’s Get Nerdy: One of the most obvious benefits of LIDAR is the ability to collect precise, 3D information about the built environment and its surface characteristics. But LIDAR can also be used for a variety of other facilities-related tasks including land surveying, aerial mapping, facility compliance mapping and subsurface utility engineering (SUE). Space surveys can be performed by a single person with little-to-no setup, in as much time as it takes to walk through a building.

LIDAR is used by AkitaBox to obtain precise, 3D building information

Drones and Aerial Imaging

Drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are no longer just a tool for military reconnaissance, nor a for-fun flying toy used for aerial imaging. In fact, drone technology is quickly becoming the number one tool that facility managers are using to transform the way they view their buildings, assets and grounds. These increasingly popular flying machines come in a variety of sizes, capabilities and price tags and have become more readily available for commercial use than ever before. 

Drones are a building manager’s best friend for two reasons. First, drones can automate data collection via 2D mapping, 3D mapping, area measurements, thermal imaging and even volumetrics in construction scenarios. Aerial imagery can be useful for recording how heavy equipment, temporary structures and assets are stored and maintained on-site for insurance regulation requirements.

Second, drones can be used to expedite inspections of rooftops and grounds. These inspections can be risky, as they traditionally require a technician to physically walk an area to gather data. Drones eliminate the need to climb hazardous sections of roofing. The final result is detailed square footage measurements of roof sections, fields or pavement, which can be used to assist in facility capital planning. Drones are also used on construction sites to streamline data collection, provide education and help crews meet certain benchmarks.

drones used in facility management automate data collection and expedite inspections

3 Innovative Technology Companies That Are Impacting the Industry

All signs point towards an exciting and innovative year for the facility management technology sector. Countless researchers, innovators and tech startups today have already harnessed the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning to create smarter ways to manage buildings.

Here are three innovative facility management technology companies that are making headway in the industry and challenging the traditional way we think about and approach building management.

IrisVR

If your facilities team has ever dreamt of using virtual reality software to bring design concepts to life, IrisVR is here to make that dream a reality. This innovative New York-based software company offers fully-immersive VR products that take facility management and design to the next level. According to IrisVR, virtual reality is an invaluable tool that demonstrates design concepts in a true-to-scale environment.

“With VR, individuals can view and explore a building exactly the way it is intended to be built. One benefit of VR is that it is more effective at communicating design intent than 2D or 3D models alone. The efficiency of VR can be especially useful to construction teams with varying skill sets.”
-Shane Scranton, CEO of IrisVR

IrisVR says that VR tools have become more affordable, powerful and useful than ever before, and can be an effective tool for construction teams, building designers, engineers, and virtual design and construction (VDC) teams. When paired with computer software, VR can be used to visualize what a building will look like before it is even built and can even be used to mitigate risk to occupants.  

IrisVR specializes in a desktop software called Prospect, which brings 3D models into VR for collaboration and design review in a 1:1 scale. Prospect is able to integrate with various 3D modeling computer programs, including SketchUp, Navisworks, Revit and Rhino, which allows users to bring complex BIM files into virtual reality. Prospect can also be used to expedite design review and foster collaboration within the built environment. 

IrisVR can be used to view the interior of a building before it's built

IrisVR projects that VR products will make a significant impact on the future of building design. Visit IrisVR’s website to learn more about the capabilities of virtual reality in the buildings industry and don’t forget to take advantage of a 14-day free VR trial, courtesy of IrisVR.

Adesto Technologies Corporation

Internet of things (IoT) has been a hot topic in facility management in recent years. IoT devices and other building management technology can notify building managers of equipment performance and potential problems before they occur. Devices can also measure operational data including vibrations, temperature, air-flow, electricity usage (kWh), noise levels and revolutions per Minute (RPM). Used correctly, IoT systems can reduce energy bills and provide insightful data to improve occupant happiness and productivity in a business.

Adesto Technologies Corporation is already taking IoT technology to the next level by revolutionizing field integration for building automation and industrial control. Specializing in semiconductors and embedded systems, Adesto serves numerous IoT segments and operates across a broad range of connected products, from smart utility meters, wearable fitness trackers and medical monitors to home automation, building control systems, fleet management systems and satellite communications applications. 

Adesto Technologies says that wearable technologies, such as AR glasses, can be used to enable greater awareness for operations and maintenance staff, especially in terms of equipment failures and abnormalities. They say that wearable technology can also contribute to safer work environments, increased security and higher productivity.

“For wearables such as AR glasses to be truly useful, they must be built on a foundation of smart silicon design that lets them quickly receive data from a facility’s myriad IoT systems, and perform some level of local processing, which enables that data to be displayed reliably and with ultra-low latency.

These wearables must also be interoperable with and integrate seamlessly with the facility’s Building Management Systems and Building Information Models. Unless a facility is completely new – and most aren’t – it’s important to augment systems with solutions like smart edge gateways that can facilitate this integration and also easily drive data to cloud platforms for advanced analytics.”
-Apurba Pradhan, VP of Products and Marketing, Adesto Technologies

With its growing portfolio of high-value technologies, Adesto Technologies Corporation is helping building managers usher in the era of the Internet of Things. To stay up-to-date on the latest innovations in the IoT, visit Adesto’s website or follow their technology blog.

Firmatek

The drone industry is booming and a record number of drones have already hit the skies in recent years. In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says that as of late 2019, over 1,450,000 drones have already been registered in the United States. The FAA also predicts that combined sales of hobbyist and commercial drones will reach as much as 7 million dollars in 2020.

Looking at the numbers, it’s no secret that drones are rapidly growing in popularity in the United States. Drone usage has even taken hold in the facility management and construction industries. Although drone adoption is still in its infancy when it comes to building management, Texas-based drone company Firmatek is already impacting and supporting the way building professionals are using drones to achieve greater operational efficiency.

In 1988, Firmatek established itself as a pioneer in the use of hand-held lasers for stockpiles. Through the use of LIDAR technology, they revolutionized the way 3D imaging, volumetric calculations and inventory numbers were captured. Firmatek continues to use LIDAR today to collect data for services like 3D underground scanning and mine mapping, but they also specialize in cutting-edge drone solutions. The company’s goal is to help their clients improve efficiency and their bottom line.

“Construction environments are ever-changing. This can make decision-making difficult. Drones provide a way for construction professionals to more frequently gather information about what is going on., which allows them to increase their business intelligence, and ultimately, make better decisions.” 
-Lauren Elmore, President of Firmatek 

But how exactly can building managers and construction professionals use drones to their advantage? Firmatek says there are a wide variety of projects types that can utilize drone data, a few of which include: 

  • Site measurements

  • Plan overlay

  • Site & subcontractor coordination

  • Schedule verification

  • Mapping & modeling

  • Earthwork quality control

  • MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) coordination

  • Site safety

  • Inspections

  • Pay application verification

Drone usage doesn’t just stop there. In the property management space, Firmatek President Lauren Elmore says that drone data can help facility managers assess and prioritize facade improvements, window repairs and similar projects. Drones can also be used by Virtual Design & Construction (VDC) personnel, who can take advantage of drone data during the construction lifecycle. Drones can be especially useful in project progress documentation, aerial photography and topographical mapping for engineering studies, from the pre-bid stage through as-built documentation.

While drones are typically flown outdoors, Firmatek says their drones are able to fly in GPS-denied environments, such as in tunnels, warehouses, multi-story buildings and even underground. 

“Drones and the data we can obtain through them are the way of the future. The construction and building management industries can use drones to increase their level of business intelligence and improve their operations. Drone technology can also enable these industries to make better and more informed business decisions. In a competitive business environment, I believe that those who use drones will be at an advantage, which I believe will ultimately lead to widespread adoption of the technology in these industries.”
-Lauren Elmore, President of Firmatek 

To learn more about the latest drone solutions on the market, visit Firmatek’s website or stay up to date on drone technology on Firmatek’s industry blog.

Statistics Show that Facility Managers are Already Using Building Tech

Integrated technology is becoming increasingly prevalent in the facilities management scene. Building managers are using technology to increase business, save on costs, improve safety and security, boost productivity and track important information about departmental performance. But what specific types of technology are facility managers using today to accomplish these goals?  

a tablet being used on a construction site by a building manager

As a facility management software company, we at AkitaBox conducted a recent survey of facility management professionals to find out. Results indicated that smartphones and tablets were among the most popular types of technology that they utilize, with 96.5% of facilities personnel using an internet-connected mobile device in the last two years. Beyond smartphones and tablets, survey participants indicated several other types of technology they frequently use in their facilities:

  • 42.5% use heat and/or humidity sensors in their buildings

  • 30% use QR codes to track asset information

  • 30% use laser scanners

  • 26.5% use three-dimensional (3D) printers to create parts they need

  • 24% use wearable devices, like smartwatches and RFID wristbands

  • 23% use 360 degree cameras to take photos of buildings and spaces

  • 14% use drones to conduct inspections and collect aerial footage

Many facility management technology options are still in their beginning stages, but this study indicates that facility managers today are utilizing the benefits of technology to impact the success of their organizations.  AkitaBox found that 68% of facilities personnel identify as “very comfortable” with using technology in their positions. The study also indicated that 72.5% of facilities personnel agree that it is important to experiment with emerging technologies.

Building Technology Comes with Implementation Challenges

The same study from AkitaBox also indicated that there may be room for improvement when it comes to technology implementation in facilities. Some of the various barriers that facility managers face when it comes to the adoption of technology include:

  • 60% of facilities personnel say that cost hinders them from adopting new technologies.

  • 24% of facilities personnel say that uncertain ROI hinders them from adopting new technologies.

  • 85% of facilities personnel agreed that it is “difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to convince organizational leadership that new facilities technology is a worthwhile investment.

  • 68% of facilities personnel rely on a combination of paper and technology to manage FM processes.

  • Only 35% of facility managers use digital technology and/or software to help with emergency preparedness.

This data proves that three of the greatest challenges to technology implementation are high cost/tight budgets, uncertain return on investment (ROI) and lack of stakeholder buy-in.  The good news is that solutions do exist to help facility managers overcome these challenges and implement the technologies they need to be more successful. Keep reading and we’ll show you the way!

The Key to Overcoming Technological Barriers

The key to obtaining the tech tools you need is to maintain transparency with leadership. These individuals want to see data-driven proof that investments in technology will positively benefit your organization and continue to provide results.

Your first step towards supporting transparency is to gather data on your department’s performance. 

  1. Has software or technology in your department proven positive results? 

  2. Could technology ease your facility team’s workload?

  3. Would software or technology increase occupant safety and security?

  4. Would technology help expedite employee onboarding processes? 

If you’re unsure of how to gather this data, let a software program do the work for you. Start by investing in a cutting-edge facility management software. Some software solutions offer a statistics dashboard that highlights important departmental data including hours logged per employee, service request response times and deferred maintenance. Facility management software can also integrate with other programs, like building information modeling (BIM) software and smart sensors throughout your building. Not only will you automate preventive maintenance and work order management, you’ll also armor up with the numbers you need to prove technological return on investment.

Try state-of-the-art facility management software for free

AkitaBox stands behind the hard work that facility managers do. To help you boost productivity and prove return on investment in your department, AkitaBox is offering one year of free facility management software with purchase of data collection services. Learn more about this limited time offer here. This offer won’t last long - so check it out while it’s still available!   

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Want more building technology resources? We’ve got you covered!

Building technology is an expansive topic and cannot be covered in a single article, so we’ve included four must-read resources on past, present and future trends in building tech.

  • Facility Software Comparison Guide
    What is the best software to manage your facility? This all-inclusive guide will help you decide. Here are the key features you need in a software, shortcomings of alternative software solutions, and short- and long-term use benefits of implementing facility management software.

  • Consumer Technology FM Impact Analysis
    Stay informed on which popular consumer technologies will hit the FM industry and affect you in the near future with this guide, which includes a breakdown on future consumer technologies.

The Future of Facility Management Technology is Now

The integration of technology into the facility management space is still relatively new, but in coming years, facility managers can continue to expect massive advancements in available software and tech products. They can look forward to the adoption of drones to monitor buildings and grounds, and “smart” furniture that can optimize employee focus and performance. They may even be able to look forward to innovations in nanotechnology, utilized in equipment that can repair itself. The opportunities are endless. 

As technology continues to improve, it’s important to start integrating technology into your current workplace to lay the foundation for a successful future. Small changes can lead to big results, and you'll feel prepared for whatever high-tech solutions emerge.

Start off on the right foot by downloading the Facility Manager’s Guide to Technology. Learn how to implement exciting new technologies with this comprehensive ebook, which features an in-depth look at technologies that will help manage your team, maintain your facility and make your buildings and grounds safer for everyone.

Download - Facility Manager's Guide to Technology

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