Just have a word with your chief information officer — and not about the parking space for his or her car but about IT management costs. Not the logical thing to do? But it may be more obvious than the CIO thinks. “And maybe more obvious than most facility managers think, too,” says Hans ten Hove, Managing Director of IPsoft in the Benelux, an expert in the management of technological innovations.
With the emergence of home automation, micro-electronics in facilities user equipment, wireless and tele-working, the facilities management function and ICT are becoming more and more closely interlinked. From object protection and access control systems to elevator installation, air-conditioning and lighting control systems. From the telephony infrastructure to photocopiers connected to networks and multimedia meeting rooms. From the vending machine in the staff cafeteria to track-and-trace systems in company cars. Server rooms. Data lines. Flexible workplaces. Ten Hove: “There is a good reason why facilities management has become a high tech affair in the average modern office building. The availability of the infrastructure has largely become dependent on facilities staff and managers being able to organize the tasks of physical management and technical maintenance properly and efficiently.”
Management drives up TCO
Until recently, any talk of ICT management in relation to facility management would usually be about what could go wrong and how best to stop that from happening. That is because non-availability (“downtime” in CIO-speak) is the Achilles heel of the automated workplace. Lost production time can mean not only the loss of sales but also a damaged reputation. However, the continuing integration of all kinds of systems will only make organizations even more vulnerable. But that is not where the majority of ICT-related costs tend to lie. However, precautionary measures, back-up systems and contingency plans tend to enable the damage caused by outages and interruptions to be kept within bounds - at least in most cases. In the normal daily course of business, management costs account for around 42% of the total IT budget. Hence management costs can drive up the total cost of ownership of the infrastructure, often without us noticing straight away. “This is an area where considerable savings can be made and we can also systematically reduce the number of incidents and increase the availability of the IT infrastructure at the same time,” explains Ten Hove.
India defeated by robots
Many a facility manager has come up against the phenomenon where he or she has found that a system provider’s IT helpdesk is no longer based in the Netherlands. For instance, faults which occur in equipment connected to a network suddenly have to be rectified by someone in India. For a long time, it was thought that considerable cost savings could be made by replacing costly IT staff in the Netherlands with a cheaper workforce abroad. The numbers stacked up but communication often did not go so smoothly. In addition, it has turned out to be more difficult than first thought to maintain the quality of service provided. The main reasons for this seem to be a relatively high staff turnover and cultural differences. However, a lot of companies and establishments have gone back to outsourcing their IT management to low-wage countries. Automated management is the logical next step. Ten Hove: “Due to the growth of the ICT infrastructure and the increasing complexity of interlinked systems, IT departments generally still spend 80% of their time managing incidents and solving problems. In the past, ICT infrastructures were fully managed by humans and of course, however clever, resourceful and diligent they may be, even the best IT people have their physical limitations. The logical solution is to develop systems for monitoring and managing other systems. Our expert system can solve most problems autonomously and also take preventive action in order to prevent faults.”
No need to pick up the phone any more
Expert systems — like virtual engineers that use artificial intelligence — work through the day and night and can monitor many thousands of measurement points at the same time, carry out numerous diagnostic tests, establish links and also “learn” from human engineers. However many people find it strange that machines are not only taking over routine tasks but are now also able to solve increasingly complex problems. Ten Hove: “Because expert systems are continuously monitoring what is going on, they can often intervene even before IT problems arise. Today’s technology is so advanced that the expert system that we have developed in-house is already capable of handling more than 60% of all the incidents that occur fully autonomously. In many cases, without users even noticing. They no longer need to call a helpdesk as the problem will have already been detected and solved straight away. And what is more, machines are able to do that on average around a thousand times faster than is humanly possible using the best trained engineers. That is why the research bureau Gartner estimates that by the end of 2014, around 90% of all US companies will be using expert systems to manage their ICT infrastructure.” And if we are to believe the experts, robots will not be far behind.
Putting talents to better use
We are seeing advanced equipment take over more and more tasks normally carried out by humans, not only during the manufacture of physical products but also in connection with the provision of services. Examples of this can even be found in facility management. Switchboard operators have been replaced by direct lines and instead of getting the reproduction department to run off copies, we send an e-mail to a group of colleagues. It is no longer coffee ladies who make the drinks — they have been replaced by drink machines where staff go to get refreshments. The technical management of more and more pieces of equipment is now being carried out remotely using ICT systems. And in the field of logistics support, we are seeing increasing use of automated systems for communication, administration and quality assurance. “Machines are the most loyal employees that we humans could ever wish for,” says Ten Hove. “Machines really can do a lot of things better, faster and cheaper. The good news is that the emergence of all kinds of automated systems has enabled us humans to focus more of our attention on more enjoyable, more challenging and perhaps also more important things. That certainly also applies to staff providing IT support within facility management. If these technical chaps start using expert systems to manage computers and computerised equipment, then that will free them up and allow them to focus their attention on areas where their talents and creativity can be put to better use.”
Ewold de Bruijne is the managing director and strategic communications adviser at Brightmen and Coolwords.