Driving the Digital Transformation in Facilities
The challenge for facility managers is understanding the forces at work and ensuring technology delivers benefits. October 30, 2023
Facility managers generally do not have to look too hard to find a discussion on the digital transformation of facilities. From building information modeling (BIM) and digital twin technology to artificial intelligence (AI), digital topics are becoming higher priorities in many institutional and commercial facilities.
While it might be easy for managers to find such discussions these days, it is likely much harder to fully grasp the way the digital transformation taking place in facilities is going to play out, and that is the toughest challenge for managers, according to George Westerman with MIT Sloan School of Management and a speaker at the recent World Workplace 2023 in Denver.
The common thinking among managers might be that such transformations need to come from the top of organizations, but Westerman says that is not the case.
“Leaders don’t actually do anything in companies,” he says. “They get other people to do the right thing.” That approach to change includes not treating the issue as a top-down-only strategy.
“Change can happen from anywhere in the organization,” he says.
In order to lead the digital transformation in facilities, Westerman says managers need to accept that it will not happen quickly.
“Technology changes quickly, but organizations change much more slowly,” he says, adding change itself is the issue. “Digital is not hard. Transformation is.”
Westerman identified three forces driving the new era in facilities management:
- technology, which includes sensors everywhere, smarter devices, integration of such technologies as BIM, digital twins and AI
- new demands within organizations related to sustainability, occupancy and workforce challenges
- next-era humans, who are always connected, digitally savvy and have higher expectations.
Regarding the rapidly growing interest in AI and its possible benefits for facilities, Westerman reinforced the need for reliable data related to facility systems and technology that AI applications rely on.
“If you have clean data, then all of the benefits become possible,” he says.
To drive the transformation and overcome the inevitable issue of the fear of change, Westerman advises managers to embrace two ideas.
The first idea emphasizes the human element in the digital transformation. This new era is increasingly human, he says, and demands that managers increasingly need to inspire, engage and listen to employees and customers.
The second idea involves rethinking their pre-digital assumptions, among them that customers value human touch, something the pandemic called into question for many people.
“They don’t value human touch,” he says. “They value personal service.”
Dan Hounsell is senior editor for the facilities market. He has more than 30 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management.