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How Sensors, Machine Learning, And AI Are Transforming Work Orders

by James McDonald on July 29, 2021
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It may not be glamorous, but responding to work orders efficiently is an essential part of facilities management — especially at a time when employees' expectations for cleanliness and service are higher than ever. 

Fortunately, technology allows today's facilities management leaders to anticipate work requests and manage them easily. Here are three examples of how new facilities management solutions are transforming work orders and how to streamline yours.

Emerging work order solutions

IoT sensors enable demand-based cleaning and predictive maintenance

As companies return to the office following the coronavirus pandemic, cleaning and sanitizing shared surfaces is one of their top priorities. Of course, all this additional cleaning comes at a cost, so facilities leaders are looking for ways to handle it without significantly increasing their budgets. 

Adding to the challenge is the fact that many employees no longer have assigned seats and work remotely more often, so janitorial teams can't simply look at a seating chart to determine which areas to clean. 

Internet of Things (IoT) sensors detect activity and generate daily occupancy reports facilities leaders can use to prioritize cleaning. The best sensors integrate directly with service request software to relay occupancy data in real time, helping your team manage cleaning more efficiently. 

Sensors are also a powerful tool for predictive maintenance. Instead of scheduling routine preventive maintenance for every building system at regular intervals, sensors can detect abnormal conditions that indicate potential failure.

For instance, temperatures or vibration that falls outside the normal range could indicate impending failure in your HVAC system. With automation, you could use sensor data to trigger a work order within your service request or facility maintenance software. Your technicians can inspect it and replace any failing parts before they lead to more expensive problems and frustrating downtime. 

Predictive maintenance is especially helpful if your company relies on heavy equipment for manufacturing, transportation, construction, or other purposes. While industrial sensors require some upfront investment, they can save you considerable time and money by reducing the need for routine inspections and maintenance. They can also improve safety in your buildings, especially if you have technicians who work alone or in potentially dangerous conditions, such as in an environment where exposure to certain chemicals could be deadly. 

In an office, sensors can help your team be more proactive by recognizing when a system has failed before an employee submits a service request. Why wait until the air conditioning has stopped working for hours and employees are uncomfortably hot to address the problem when you could receive an instant work order on your smartphone?

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Machine learning creates intelligent, energy-efficient buildings

With sensors that connect to the Internet of Things and machine learning, facilities leaders can analyze large volumes of data in seconds. They can use these real-time insights to generate better predictive analytic models.

This helps them understand how every aspect of a building impacts the whole system so they can respond accordingly. For instance, if you typically have 25% fewer people in the office on Fridays, you can reduce your utility bills by adjusting your cooling and lighting systems. With building automation systems, you can standardize these settings based on anticipated occupancy. 

Intelligent buildings equipped with sensors and machine learning also improve the occupant experience. One example is the Duke Energy Center in Charlotte, N.C., which has blinds that move with the angle of the sun to reflect more natural light. 

In addition to improving sustainability and comfort, machine learning makes facilities managers more efficient. Predictive models can analyze data quickly and make recommendations, such as suggesting maintenance recommendations for a specific type of machine based on failure rates.

Machine learning can also monitor inventory trends and generate alerts when certain items are running low. This improves operations and optimizes purchasing. 

Artificial intelligence powers robotic technicians

Facility management teams are already beginning to use robotics to handle some routine work orders. Commercial cleaning robots reduce workloads at a time when companies have more real estate space to manage and a harder time finding janitors to do the job. The Whiz, a commercial vacuum by SoftBank Robotics,  reduces cleaning workloads by 30% while improving cleanliness and reducing costs. Currently, these solutions are used most often for performing routine tasks after hours. 

As technology becomes more advanced, we can expect to see more AI-powered facility management solutions that can maneuver in occupied offices and even dangerous environments. 

One example is a robot that travels inside heating ducts or machinery and performs specific maintenance tasks. These remote-controlled solutions are equipped with cameras so they can relay images facilities leaders can use to troubleshoot without having to navigate these solutions themselves. Machine learning and artificial intelligence can help these solutions store information and respond to certain conditions based on data. 

How to improve your work order process

The workplace of the future is creating visibility that yesterday’s facilities managers only dreamed of having. As machines become more intelligent and able to better communicate with us, FMs will have even more insight into their facilities. However, your employees will still remain an important source of work orders. They are often the first to notice when something goes wrong and they feel the impact immediately. 

If you want your workplace to be clean, comfortable, and create a great first impression, you need to have an efficient work order process. Moving to a single, robust system will streamline all your company’s work requests so you can easily assign them to your team, check the status, and keep track of the total costs.

Employees should be able to easily submit requests anywhere from a mobile app. The app should connect to a cloud-based platform that allows you to dispatch requests to your team and alert the appropriate technician instantly. 

Your team should also be able to attach instructions, contracts, and images to every work order for easy communication. The work order system you choose should also integrate easily with the technology you already use, including sensors and software that manages your assets, inventory, and space. 

Look for a system that makes it easy to see the big picture of your maintenance efforts too. You should be able to glance at a facility management dashboard and see how your work orders break down across different types, buildings and departments. And you should be able to easily see the impact it had on your bottom line.

Get ready for the future of facility maintenance by investing in a mobile work order system that streamline's your team's efficiency and gives you valuable insights. 

Watch this short demo video to learn more about our service request software.

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