Building Controls, Energy Management and Lighting, Heating and Cooling, Human Resources, Maintenance and Operations

AI Empowering FM: Conquering Challenges with Innovation and Collaboration

Artificial intelligence (AI), particularly generative AI (GenAI), is quickly and quietly revolutionizing facilities management. More and more, facilities managers are harnessing AI for rapid, informed building operations decisions and leveraging GenAI to boost operational efficiency. Rooted in automation, AI’s potential to save thousands of working hours across an entire workforce has mass appeal, helping to prioritize work orders, generate actionable insights, and enable managers to respond swiftly to emerging issues.

More Challenges Meet Shrinking Resources

In our industry, in buildings big and small, facilities managers and building operators are fire fighters. They are constantly running around dealing with so many problems day-to-day and are often forced to set aside the larger, more impactful projects.

Many of the pain points experienced at this level include:

  • The need for real-time data and control. This is a critical issue as it relates to building performance and the ability to act on it swiftly.
  • A lack of prescriptive insights. FMs are growing increasingly frustrated over not being pre-emptively informed about potential failures or issues within the building systems.
  • Alarm management and overload. FMs are often inundated with too many alerts, which can lead to critical issues being put on the backburner with little to no time allotted to address these more critical issues properly.

Add to this mix the significant shortage in staff within the industry. In fact, according to a 2023 JLL Technologies report, a whopping 48.1% of FM teams find themselves understaffed while their work orders have increased by 61.6% between 2022 and 2023. At the same time, 66% of FMs are halfway out the door due to layoffs and retirement, and an estimated 40% of the existing FM workforce will permanently exit the workforce by 2026, thereby creating a knowledge vacuum in the industry. The issue of knowledge transfer from facilities maintenance professionals that have accumulated 30 or 40 years’ worth of knowledge is also one of the major challenges that the industry faces. Ultimately, these figures paint a grim outlook as facilities managers grapple with increasing demands and a shrinking workforce, while the call for AI-powered solutions grows increasingly louder. 

AI-Driven EMS to the Rescue

AI is rising to the task of supporting FMs in their ever-growing number of roles and tasks. With respect to alarm overload, AI can significantly reduce the clutter of non-critical alarms, ensuring that only the relevant ones reach the forefront. This precision in filtering helps prevent critical warnings from being lost in the noise, which mitigates the risk of overlooking important alarms. Other additional benefits of an AI-powered energy management system (EMS) include predictive maintenance, which can be used to monitor the performance and condition of a building’s systems to warn FM teams of any potential issues or failures before these problems escalate. It also allows these teams to schedule preventative maintenance, avoiding emergency repairs, saving time and money in the long run.

Furthermore, its transformative effects are empowering FMs to unlock new levels of efficiency, sustainability, and resilience in their buildings. The rise of GenAI virtual building assistants has seen virtual co-pilots helping FMs take charge of their buildings by transforming data into precise insights and strategic actions in real time. These virtual assistants can learn, analyze, and act on an FM’s behalf. It’s the type of autonomous and interactive technology that will unlock the power of GenAI to better serve the industry worldwide.

Lastly, AI-driven EMSs are increasingly being adopted on a portfolio-wide basis. These products provide a single pane of glass, enabling FMs to leverage machine learning algorithms to analyze data from various sources—such as sensors, meters, weather forecasts, and occupancy patterns—providing them with accurate, actionable insights and recommendations for optimal energy management.

One success story of a company using an AI-driven EMS to ensure smoother building operations is Sleep Country, a major omnichannel mattress and bedding retailer in Canada. After fitting 215 of its stores with cloud-connected, AI-enabled thermostats and advanced AI for HVAC technology, the company was able to gain access to its data on an easy-to-navigate dashboard, enabling it to monitor and visualize each store’s real-time emissions, energy performance, and more. This led the company to make more informed equipment and energy reduction decisions, leading to a 23% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 22% average decrease in HVAC gas usage, and an 11% decrease in overall energy bills.

Facilities Managers and AI: The Ultimate Match

It’s clear that while AI is changing the game for facilities management, it’s not about to replace facilities managers. Instead, it’s serving the role of a supercharged assistant, helping them tackle their growing lists of challenges. With fewer hands on deck and more issues to deal with, the relationship between virtual building assistants and FMs mirrors Batman and Robin or Iron Man and J.A.R.V.I.S. That is a symbiotic one where FMs and AI team up to tackle challenges together, and like Iron Man and J.A.R.V.I.S., AI and FMs are the kind of dynamic duo set to redefine the industry.

Omar Tabba is chief product officer at building solutions provider BrainBox AI.

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