IFMA Workplace Conference in North Carolina, USA

With Hurricane Florence barrelling towards the Carolinas a matter of weeks before the big event, memories of the devastation left by Hurricane Harvey in Houston the year before must have flooded – no pun intended – into the minds of those organising the event. Coincidently, risk and security were key themes throughout the conference, with education sessions and keynote speakers covering topics ranging from operations and maintenance to human factors, leadership and strategy, technology, and business continuity.


Identifying risks

Scott Breor, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. National Protection and Programs Directorate’s Office of Infrastructure Protection, delivered the opening plenary session: “Securing Soft Targets and Crowded Spaces Against Evolving Threats”. Following the Paris terror attacks in 2015, there has been a shift in emphasis from protecting critical infrastructure to protecting ‘soft’ facilities such as those associated with retail, high education, recreation, and open spaces where uncontrolled and free-flowing access is actively encouraged. Scott described the strategy of providing individual organisations with the capabilities and tools to identify and assess the risk, connect with other similar organisations and local law enforcement agencies, and to train their employees and communities to identify threats and respond effectively. It is a massive challenge receiving significant focus and investment.

"Zones of trust"

While Scott Breor talked about security in physical environments, the closing keynote speaker talked about security in cyberspace. Theresa Payton served as White House Chief Information Officer during President Bush’s presidency and now runs a consultancy specialising in cybersecurity. She spoke about emerging technologies and trends; of quantum computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchains. She talked about the increasingly interconnected facility spaces, and the critical need to identify, understand, and address vulnerabilities. “Zones of trust”, technology segmentation strategies, and technology “kill-switches” all featured in her toolkit of potential responses. As you can imagine, Theresa’s home network is segmented into zones of trust, and so she has no problems encouraging her husband to mow the lawn or her children to tidy their rooms.


Driving workplace performance

Education sessions covered topics from global technology trends in facility management, application of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and information as-builts to optimising space utilisation, and the consequence of underfunding preventative maintenance. As with previous conferences, the underlying theme was the application and integration of technologies to drive workplace performance, including the use of IoT sensors, building information modelling, space utilisation, and cryptocurrency in facility management. This year seemed to be one of maturing technologies rather than quantum steps forward, although it was exciting to see ServiceNow partner applications represented at the IFMA conference for the first time.  

BIM remained a key topic of discussion, with several of the education sessions exploring the process, benefits, and employment within the context of facility management. As before, the challenge remains accessing the right information in the right form at the right time. One session presented the results of a survey looking at the use of BIM within the US health sector. It found organisations are developing their own BIM strategies, standards, and process documents. COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange) data exchange standard has existed for some time but the survey showed a low level of implementation and limited management of asset attribute information. Where a BIM approach had been implemented, the majority of respondents considered inventory identification as the most important benefit and preventative maintenance as the least. The additional costs, capacity and training requirements, and need for specialist systems all seem to explain the low implementation rates.

The cost of underfunding

CBRE presented one of the most anticipated education sessions: exploring the long-term cost of underfunding preventative maintenance. Using a propriety analytics tool called CostLab, it used simulations to estimate the total cost of ownership for a 50,000 sqft commercial building under two scenarios – one with fully funded preventative maintenance and one with preventative maintenance underfunded by 50%. Based on broad assumptions, the analysis reflected increased reactive maintenance and reduced equipment service lives with underfunded preventative maintenance, resulting in an increased total cost of ownership of 32% over 50 years. On reflection, the analysis would have benefited from the selective application of asset management policies and standards and consideration of asset criticality and risk when allocating preventative maintenance funding. Those SPM Assets users with access to the Scenarios function might like to explore this question.

Heritage New Zealand ( uses SPM Assets software for the management of significant heritage buildings and structures, and so a presentation on the restoration of the Harvard Medical School Gordon Hall building was of particular interest. Built in 1906 with a marble façade on brick exterior, a condition inspection identified what initially appeared to be simply minor cracks in the marble. A specialist assessment confirmed significant problems affecting the façade and underlying structure and the need for a $9m and six-month restoration. The project combined marble extracted from the original quarry with modern construction techniques to ensure strength and long-term weathertightness. It also combined artisan hand carving with modern manufacturing technologies such as laser scanning, 3D printing, and CNC milling to shape the ornate replacement components. For those interested, the following link provides access to photographs and more information on the restoration.

For facilities management professionals, the conference once again reinforced the need for good data, robust analytics, and effective business processes. There is a clear commitment towards the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning in a facility environment with a view to providing increased insights, integrate disparate data, improve decision making, and ultimately to reduce the total cost of facility ownership. As in previous years, it confirmed the validity and strengths of the broad approaches and solutions already being delivered in New Zealand to meet current and evolving business needs; particularly around BIM, lifecycle modelling, and decision making. 

Next year, SPM Assets could be represented with, Lifecycles by SPM Assets, on the ServiceNow platform.