Balancing AI and Human Expertise in Facilities Management

For artificial intelligence to have a place in the facilities management industry, it will need to collaborate with human workers.

By Mackenna Moralez, Associate Editor  

Artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a bit of a buzzword as developments for the technology become more accessible to the everyday user.  With widespread usage of AI platforms like ChatGPT, Google Bard AI, Amazon Codewhisperer and more, employees from various industries – facilities management included — have become concerned about their job security.  

A study by the American Staffing Association found that 74 percent of U.S. adults believe that AI and automation will take jobs from humans, with 47 percent reporting that they believe that automation could easily replace their positions. However, workers still remain split on how emerging technology will impact their jobs in the coming years, with 27 percent saying that it will help it, while 26 percent of respondents said that the technology would disrupt their career.  

Nearly half of the companies surveyed in a Lucidworks report regarding AI said that they have seen positive remarks about the impact of the technology. Because of this, 92 percent of U.S. respondents are planning to increase AI investments over the next 12 months. 

The overwhelming goal when using AI is to make jobs easier for employees. New technologies allow facility managers and technicians to perform daily tasks more easily and with less strain. This opens up the opportunity to focus on more relevant tasks rather than tending to clean up or spills. Emerging technologies provide a low operations burden and accessibility to a fast-paced team that require solutions in a moment’s notice. 

Still, automation needs to be able to work in tandem with employees. The only way that AI can succeed is if a human is behind the scenes monitoring it. For example, popular AI platforms like ChatGPT are only updated with information through September 2021, leaving two years' worth of industry advancements unaccounted for. The future of technology relies on collaboration. Whoever can tie the two fields together will be able to set a new standard of facilities management for the future.  

To show how important human collaboration is with AI, FacilitiesNet recently asked Charles Thomas, a consultant for LACE Management and Building Operating Management facility influencer and ChatGPT the same intro-level questions about facilities management. 

FacilitiesNet: What are the key components of a successful facilities management program? 

Charles Thomas: One of the first things to narrow in on is the people that are a part of the program. A goal should be to have all facilities personnel in one accord about what they are there to do, what the mission is as the facilities team and what role they play within the mission. In all aspects of the program,  every decision that gets made needs to be conducive with the organization’s mission. The overall business that gets conducted and how it gets conducted outweighs other aspects way more than most people think. From what we do, how we do it and who we do it with, the facilities program and the people in it are key leaders that lie in the background for the organization. So, the people, how they carry themselves and how committed to excellence they are regarding their job, are key components. Some things and certain people may be a great idea to have, but it may not fit into what the overall mission is. Yes, the technical side is a huge part but it’s much less about the technical side of things than the productive and beneficial forward movement of the organization, and that should always be everyone’s concern. If there is a focus solely on the technical side of things, then you’ll just have a team full of technical geniuses that cannot walk the walk and talk the talk in multiple areas of facilities management. The people that have chosen to be a part of this, who they are on a deeper level, is greater than what they learned and know from traditional schooling, so it’s great when leadership can identify great people and have the patience to fulfill a vision. The program should have a clear structure, clear and realistic goals, outstanding vendors that share a very similar mindset, employees that are eager to get in and do great work, but also eager to learn as much as they can every day. With this clear mission, structure, and having great people to do it, all other details can be implemented with ease by intentional thinking and keeping focus. 

ChatGPT: A successful facilities management program relies on several key components to effectively oversee and maintain physical assets. First and foremost, a comprehensive strategy is essential, encompassing long-term planning, budgeting, and asset lifecycle management. Efficient and responsive communication channels must be established to address tenant and stakeholder needs promptly. Skilled and well-trained personnel are crucial for the effective operation and maintenance of facilities, as their expertise ensures the safety and functionality of the physical environment. Finally, technology plays a pivotal role, with the implementation of modern software systems for asset tracking, maintenance scheduling, and data analytics, aiding in informed decision-making and optimizing resource allocation. In combination, these components form the foundation for a successful facilities management program. 

FacilitiesNet: How can a facilities manager prioritize repair & maintenance (R&M) tasks in a facility? 

Thomas: You have a plan, you track this plan as it is put into place, and you be ready for Murphy’s law because what can happen will happen at some point. The better the preparation, the less the team will be caught off guard, and this creates a better chance of the facility having little downtime when unforeseen circumstances arise. From the beginning of a fiscal year, this plan must be well thought out and discussed with key major stakeholders. There are some things that can be planned for, and others that just can’t, so again, the preparation for what may happen is imperative. From there, all of what has been discussed should be measured into categories of importance. Making the preventive maintenance program a priority needs to be squared away because that is somewhat a main source of sustainability and continuity of all major equipment. The choice of vendor, when the routine visits would happen, how frequent, and what the scope of work is should be a main priority. On the repair side, always keeping the big picture in mind regarding these decisions is key. There may be something that needed to be tended to, and it makes sense in the immediate to spend the time and money on making the repair. But in the big picture, sometimes it’s not the best decision to make if the initial repair of the equipment can be solved in another way, especially if the life cycle is at its end. A team would only be able to know key information like this and know how to act by staying on track with the R&M plan for that specific year so the 3 to 5-year plan can have a chance at success. If the big picture is made a priority, all decisions and efforts can be made with ease and confidence. 

ChatGPT: A facilities manager can prioritize repair and maintenance (R&M) tasks in a facility by implementing a systematic approach that considers several factors. First, they should assess the criticality of each asset or system within the facility. Assets that are essential to the core operations or safety of the facility should receive the highest priority. Next, the manager should evaluate the urgency of each repair or maintenance task. Tasks that, if delayed, could result in safety hazards, equipment failure or operational disruptions should be addressed immediately. 

Additionally, the manager should consider the available resources, including budget, manpower, and materials, to ensure that tasks can be completed effectively and efficiently. Lastly, a well-structured preventive maintenance program should be in place to proactively address routine tasks and reduce the likelihood of emergency repairs. By combining these considerations, a facilities manager can create a prioritized R&M plan that minimizes downtime, reduces costs and ensures the facility's continued functionality and safety. 

FacilitiesNet: How can facilities managers stay updated with industry best practices and emerging trends in facilities management? 

Thomas: Every facilities manager and other facilities personnel should always keep their ears to the information that surrounds this industry. Even though there may be a shortage of individuals interested in the work, there is never a shortage in the information that is produced on a daily basis. From books, magazines, seminars, conferences, mentors and exclusive memberships on facilities related websites, theinformation is there for the taking, and whichever method works best is completely up to the individual and how they like to learn and stay on the up and up. 

I first came into this industry not knowing much of anything and books and magazines were my first ticket toward gaining knowledge that wasn’t hands-on training. Through something like programs and classes hosted by your nearest community college, the class itself and the instructor who is teaching the class is paramount, but the books that are needed to be successful in the class are even more paramount. The class will end at a certain point, but that book will be forever yours, to guide your career as a reference point on whatever the subject that book is about. Magazines are equally as great because the articles of information that get pushed out on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis can build hard knowledge and contribute tremendously to any FM’s growth. There’s plenty to choose from. There’s Building Operating Management magazine or Facility Maintenance Decisions magazine. There is no shortage of valuable information coming from the world’s top industry professionals. 

There are also many industry conferences and seminars that are conducted throughout the entire year and all it takes is doing a little research on what is going to suit your needs as an FM looking to expand their knowledge. Whatever the case, attend what is going to be the best opportunity to suit your needs as an FM. A best practice I’ve found while attending these seminars and conferences comes down to a couple of things. Intentionality being one of them, is a very large part of success while attending the shows. Every attendee should know their intention for being at the show. Knowing what you’re trying to learn so you can choose the best fitting classes, knowing who you need to get in front of and talk to, and overall, just not wasting valuable time wandering about for however long the conference or seminar is. Have your purpose, know your intentions, act on that purpose, and don't treat it as if you’re going to summer camp. This is about handling business. 

In my opinion, the best way is to keep your ears close to actual people who are thriving in this industry, exclusive memberships like the FN Prime Membership through www.facilitiesnet.com, or finding a facilities management mentor that has been there and done that with more things you can think of. The great thing about these options is the personal connection that is able to be made through a webinar, chat over coffee, or an outing with other members of the organization. The nuances that are involved with the facilities management industry, even though they’re great tools to use, you cannot learn solely from Google or an artificial intelligence platform. Talking with others, sharing experiences, exchanging knowledge and producing solutions is the way to go. Using anything other than people can just be another tool in your toolbox that is used when the main way isn’t always possible. 

ChatGPT: Facilities managers can stay updated with industry best practices and emerging trends in facilities management through a variety of strategies. Firstly, they can join professional organizations and associations dedicated to facilities management. These organizations often offer resources, conferences, and networking opportunities that provide insights into the latest industry developments. 

Secondly, subscribing to industry publications, journals, and newsletters is a valuable way to access up-to-date information and case studies. Thirdly, attending conferences, seminars, and workshops related to facilities management allows managers to interact with experts and learn about innovative practices and technologies. Lastly, leveraging online resources, webinars, and social media platforms focused on facilities management can provide real-time updates on emerging trends and best practices, fostering continuous professional development in the field. By utilizing these methods, facilities managers can remain well-informed and adaptable in an ever-evolving industry. 

Mackenna Moralez is the associate editor for the facilities market.  

Contact FacilitiesNet Editorial Staff »

  posted on 10/4/2023   Article Use Policy

Related Topics: