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Diving Deep into FM Technology

The ConnexFM 2023 Mid-Year Conference will offer insightful presentations on the most pertinent technological advancements in facilities management.

By Jason Henninger

Technology is always top of mind for facilities professionals, and the ability to adapt to new breakthroughs to make the industry more effective and efficient is an absolute must for ConnexFM members. Understanding this, the association is dedicating its 2023 Mid-Year Conference in Schaumburg, IL, to three days of informative sessions and panel discussions surrounding the theme of technology. Here’s a preview of two thought-provoking presentations.

Artificial Intelligence

Glen Schrank, Phoenix Energy Technologies
Glen Schrank, Phoenix Energy Technologies

Glenn Schrank, CEO of Phoenix Energy Technologies, will clear up some common misunderstandings surrounding artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning in his Tech Talk, “Demystifying Artificial Intelligence and Best Practices Use Cases in Facilities Management,” on Tuesday, Oct. 10.

Schrank grew up in the multi-site retail world, helping with his family’s business since he was 12 years old, and he’s been on the technology side of the business for more than 30 years. This experience and an educational background in mathematics make him a natural choice to discuss AI. He will talk about what it is, what it isn’t and how it can be a useful tool for facilities managers.

AI is not necessarily a new term, though it has certainly rushed to the forefront of conversations across many disciplines and industries in recent years. As interest and use grows, so too do misunderstandings. “The objective of this Tech Talk is to help with these questions,” Schrank said. “What does AI mean? How does it apply specifically to facilities management? In particular, the word demystifying to me asks us to look behind the curtain as to what these terms mean and what is really going on.”

Despite its sci-fi-sounding name, AI is essentially an umbrella term for a kind of computer programming. Computer programming is, at the foundational level, based on algorithms. Schrank shared that those algorithms are used to efficiently create and fulfill various functions. These algorithms can then be collated into machine learning, and then, ultimately, to artificial intelligence. So, the first point of demystifying is understanding that AI is not new or something beyond the scope of programming but rather represents new ways of using and analyzing data.

“What's important for facilities managers is to focus on the fact that AI is a tool,” Schrank said. “It's another piece of technology. We must start with that lens, to demystify it and educate multi-site FMs about what it is in the context of historical analogies of new technologies that have come along and how those technologies have been adopted.”

What’s the most pervasive misunderstanding about AI? Schrank said it’s like the “Wizard of Oz.” The “man behind the curtain” in this analogy is the truth of AI, and the misunderstanding is that it’s a wizard. “AI needs intelligence to learn, which comes from people,” he said. “The more domain expertise and people you have involved in the process, the better. AI needs data. The more data you have, the more AI can learn from the data.”

Where facilities managers come into the picture is in domain expertise. “They're the ones doing the work,” Schrank said, so they are the source and ultimately the greatest beneficiaries. They will be the best source for the data that AI can utilize, from which come better applications specific to that domain.

Computerized Maintenance and Energy Management Systems

In the Oct. 11 panel discussion, “Leveraging CMMS/EMS to Drive ESG Compliance & Data Reporting,” experts in the computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) and energy management systems (EMS) world share their experience and insight on managing and reporting sustainability efforts, as well as the evolution and future of CMMS.

Omar Tabba, BrainBox AI
Omar Tabba, BrainBox AI

Omar Tabba has 20 years of experience in energy management, system integration and HVAC and lighting controls. Tabba is Chief Product Officer at BrainBox AI, a cloud and AI-driven building optimization and decarbonization services provider. “In plain terms, we plug into your building and reduce its energy consumption,” he explained. “This has two simultaneous outcomes: reducing carbon emissions and reducing utility costs.”

Raj Subramanian, Facilio
Raj Subramanian, Facilio

Joining him is Raj Subramanian, CPO and Co-Founder of Facilio. Subramanian and his team brought prior software as a service (SaaS) experience in the telecom space and applied it more broadly to multi-site facilities management. “We have a suite of applications,” he said, “spanning across CMMS, energy management, remote monitoring, refrigeration management and compliance management but offered as part of a single SaaS platform.”

During their discussion, Subramaniann and Tabba will explore the important aspects and advantages of CMMS and EMS, covering the capability of this tech to track and monitor sustainability metrics such as energy usage, emissions and waste. They will also examine how these systems can be seamlessly integrated with other data sources, like building automation systems and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, to give a holistic view of sustainability performance.

“CMMS is the software that would be used to manage work orders and assets within a portfolio,” Tabba explained. “Broadly, this is the suite of tools — software and hardware — that are used to monitor and control the HVAC and lighting subsystems in a facility. Many of the energy management systems deployed in the retail environment are kind of ‘set it and forget it.’ There's a lot of energy inefficiency in these systems.”

Tabba plans on sharing in the panel how BrainBox AI connects to EMS systems worldwide and sorts through data pertaining to these inefficiencies, utilizing predictive models to maximize efficiency in HVAC and other operations. Using the data gathered allows managers to be more proactive, strategic and efficient in terms of cost and energy usage.

CMMS is a quickly developing field. Subramanian feels that the change is primarily one of CMMS going from a system of records to a system of action. CMMS has become a strategic tool for both the field service and the board-level audience, which can help provide a better tenant experience and maintenance, improving the asset's life cycle and energy efficiency,” he said. “CMMS as a category is taking center stage. In the last six or seven years, many industrial companies, like Honeywell, Johnson Controls or Siemens, who have traditionally sold sensors and hardware, have increasingly acquired CMMS companies because the market sees CMMS as the center of action. Combining IoT-led monitoring with operations and maintenance in a single platform, facility managers can realize untapped value of energy efficiency and accelerate their journey towards net zero.”

Learn more about the education sessions planned for this year’s ConnexFM Mid-Year Conference!

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