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J. Wickham Zimmerman

It’s everywhere these days; artificial intelligence (AI) technology, the use of data and algorithms that allow a machine to simulate human intelligence, seems to be a timely topic of discussion across all industries, including financial services, retail and real estate, to name a few. AI is already being used across many aspects of commercial real estate to increase efficiency—but can it also be utilized to improve the management, maintenance and operations of facilities?

A recent article from JLL noted that the facility management industry is increasingly valuing tech-savvy employees who are aware of and adept at using new tools and applications, and 56% of firms intend to adopt technology specifically for predictive maintenance. Advanced technology, such as AI, can help add value to properties in several ways, from streamlining existing processes to enhancing more elaborate amenities—and even a seamless integration of the two. Almost anything is possible with the help of AI.

Here are some simple and creative ways AI can be implemented to add value in a range of environments, including retail centers, mixed-use centers, office buildings and medical or educational campuses.

Adobe Stock/stnazkul

Creating Efficiencies In Facilities Management

While we may tend to think of high-tech robots and Hollywood science-fiction movies when picturing AI technology, it also has some very useful applications in day-to-day facilities management that can create cost-saving efficiencies.

AI technology can add tremendous value to various building systems, including power, heating and air conditioning. By gathering data and analyzing typical use patterns and peak usage hours, it can then optimize the timing and volume of these functions to avoid wasteful energy consumption.

AI technology can also be used to detect water leaks or measure air quality. With real-time accuracy, AI-enhanced systems can detect anomalies in typical usage patterns and send alerts to maintenance staff when attention is needed.

Similar technology can also be used to schedule preventative maintenance to ensure that updates and regular checks are performed in a timely manner. AI can also help with receiving and processing maintenance requests from tenants, creating work orders and even scheduling appointments.

These efficiencies in facilities management result in cost savings not just for the owners and operators of properties but for tenants too. A well-maintained property with updated amenities is desirable not only from an aesthetic standpoint but is also attractive for the cost savings it translates to a tenant’s bottom line. Satisfied tenants result in lower turnover and better cashflow.

AI Technology That Protects And Preserves

AI technology may also add a competitive edge to the attraction and retention of high-quality businesses as office or retail tenants.

Parking can be a sore spot for some properties, even creating a deterrent for both tenants and guests. But new technology is already being used in some high-traffic retail and mixed-use centers to help with parking efficiencies. With AI, real-time data is captured, analyzed and used to help customers find available parking spaces, either through physical markers and signage or via mobile apps. These parking improvements help reduce frustration as well as fuel consumption and emissions, creating a more seamless experience for all.

Likewise, AI technology can enhance existing security systems, providing an additional layer of safety precautions to prevent potential losses and damages. License plate recognition and other camera-based software can help alleviate congestion by sending alerts when a car is parked outside a designated area or debris is obstructing a throughway.

AI can even help with overall space utilization at properties. AI-powered systems can capture and analyze foot traffic data, providing insight into which areas experience the highest traffic volumes, at which times of day or night. AI-based design tools and augmented reality (AR) can also be used to reimagine existing spaces, improve traffic flow or make space for new amenities.

Attracting And Retaining With Technology

With the help of smart technology, enhanced amenities may also increase foot traffic, as well as dwell time and dollars spent in commercial spaces, making them a valuable investment for owners and operators that help attract and retain high-quality tenants.

For example, we installed an AI-enhanced show fountain called Illuvia at EpicCentral in Grand Prairie, TX, that interacts with guests. Illuvia’s AI technology first detects and locates visitors’ movements with cameras positioned throughout the fountain area, then uses that data to direct the water nozzles and lights to mimic their movements, all without the use of any external touchpads or wands. The fountain also puts on evening shows with music, lights and video, to the delight of visitors of all ages.

When the fountain debuted last summer, crowds of more than 30,000 people turned out each week to watch the show and shop at the center, where wait times at the center’s restaurants were often between three and four hours. We’re told that visitors don’t mind the wait because they get to see an entertaining show in the meantime.

The same technology that powers Illuvia could be used in any number of creative ways in the future. Imagine a pathway that lights up as you follow it, leading you to a display of featured items in a store, or an interactive maze for children that reacts to their movements in real time as they make their way to the end. The possibilities for entertainment and engagement are truly infinite.

Meeting Changing Demands

What makes AI such a smart, value-adding investment is that it is constantly learning and improving itself, proving AI to be a worthwhile investment that will continue to pay for itself over time. If, and when, facility owners and managers decide to implement more AI technology, they must bear in mind that it’s only as good as the data it receives. It’s crucial to keep technology updated and systems that support it maintained.

As the needs of office workers, consumers and other stakeholders continue to grow and change over the coming years, we must invest in technology like AI to help us evolve what the built environment can offer: unique, entertaining and valuable experiences that keep tenants in place.

J. Wickham HeadshotJ. Wickham Zimmerman is the CEO of Outside the Lines, Inc., a design-build themed construction company that specializes in creating one-of-a-kind rockwork, water features and themed environments for retail entertainment, hospitality, gaming and golf properties around the globe.



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Facility Executive Magazine