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Lessons From FM: What Can Other Industries Learn from Facilities Tech Innovation?

29/03/2019

The Singapore government’s big bang approach to innovation has been mapped out through various industry transformation blueprints and ambitious road maps in the pursuit of smart nation building. This is certainly welcome in a small nation like ours. But of equal value is the bottom-up approach towards innovation.

In many instances, innovative technology need not necessarily be expensive ventures. It certainly doesn’t require the acquisition of start-ups, or the development of proprietary solutions. Rather, huge value lies in the nimbleness made possible by harnessing whatever is available in the mass market to apply them in solving life’s daily problems.

This idea was reinforced when I recently facilitated a workshop on safety and innovation for a large healthcare institution. I was in fact rather surprised at first that C&W Services, a facilities management firm, was asked by a leading public healthcare institution to share how C&W Services uses technology to enhance safety and productivity at the facilities we manage.

Real World Technology Application

The C&W Services team presented how we leverage affordable technology applications to enhance safety at the facilities we manage. Licensed drone pilots skillfully navigate unmanned aerial vehicles to inspect gutters and other remote corners of the building that would otherwise be dangerous for technicians to inspect. The C&W Services team uses a fire safety app to track attendance at fire drills. In the thick of a fire, the app can swiftly identify missing persons. QR codes are used to monitor maintenance schedules and is able to alert facility managers to locations that have not been inspected.

In the long run, technology will be able to anticipate possible defects based on data collected, enabling service staff to carry out preventive maintenance before a real problem arises. This in turn enhances safety for the building occupants, contributing significantly to a quality experience for them. C&W Services also uses technology to enhance the safety of the people working in the facilities and technicians carrying out inspection works. Work sites are monitored remotely from a command centre. The centre has a good view of the technicians on site and any safety lapses are picked up by the facility manager at the command centre.

To raise the level of safety even further, the C&W Services team is currently piloting the use of Internet of Things at one of the public institutions it is managing. This essentially means machines monitor chillers, air conditioning systems, lights, and other mission critical systems. When usage patterns show a discrepancy, machines autocorrect these faults to set the systems right. This reduces the number of technicians deployed on site and in turn reduces the incidence of mishaps or accidents in the back room.

Crossing Industries

The healthcare professionals we presented these innovations to were able to very quickly make the connection with their sector. That is the beauty of technology. The doctors, nurses and medical staff at the workshop discussed how the remote supervisory system that we use at the work sites could very easily be applied to hospital wards and other medical facilities to monitor patients and track safety levels at the wards. In the future, these remote supervisory systems will be especially useful in ambulatory facilities, such as medical office surgery centres away from hospital campuses.

Telehealth initiatives bring the promise of locating care closest to the patient – quite literally to their fingertips on a mobile or wearable device – with no lease or asset purchase required. Here is where GPS trackers and mobile apps have tremendous potential in enabling medical staff to keep tabs on their patients, keep in touch with them, alert them to potential risks based on the data collected relating to their vitals, the same way that the mobile apps and remote supervisory systems keep the pulse on the daily activities at the facilities C&W Services manages.

The Technology Development Road Ahead

The workshop was a success. Even as I facilitated the session, I took away a few learning points from the discussions amongst the healthcare professionals. One, it reinforced the idea that technology will only work if it is experimented with from the ground up, by the people who use it every day. Second, it demonstrated to me the value of the cross fertilisation of ideas; for service providers like us to be able to innovate, we need to keep talking to users, to our stakeholders, to the people who are ultimately the beneficiaries of technology. Our goal as service providers is to provide a quality environment for our users and a critical part of that is to have our ears on the ground.

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