Workforce & Workplace
Why Big Data Offers a Million Little Opportunities to Increase Business Productivity
Mark Bickford
Mark Bickford
Corporate Services
Sodexo North America

Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone, according to IBM. This massive accumulation of information is commonly referred to as Big Data.  Predictive analytics or other advanced methods are used to extract value from Big Data that has the potential to help organizations make faster, more intelligent decisions.  And better decisions can mean greater operational efficiency, cost reductions and reduced risk.

Organizations today have an unprecedented ability to capture data about both their facilities and their workforce’s activities. However, while facility management (FM) professionals hear a great deal about smart buildings and how Big Data supports facilities management, there seems to be far less attention being paid to smart behaviors and almost nothing to smart management.

According to a recently published white paper entitled Enhancing Employee Productivity and Quality of Life with Big Data, the most exciting aspect of Big Data is the potential for remote sensors to capture and transmit useful information automatically (and at very low cost), enabling all kinds of predictive and preventive intelligence to enhance employees’ performance as well as their quality of life, and to reduce risks. For example, though not technically a workplace example, consider smart concrete that can warn drivers of ice patches on the road ahead. What could this technology, utilized in a smart building tell us about their physical condition that would help determine preventive maintenance, minimize costs, and reduce the risks of accidents and physical deterioration?

From a behavioral perspective, there are now smartphone apps that can monitor and report on the tone of voice that individuals use during phone conversations. That may seem a little unsettling and more than a bit invasive, but it is also possible to imagine that a group-based emotional assessment could alert management to a brewing controversy or lapse in employee engagement. The important management question, of course, is how this kind of data collection enhances individual and organizational productivity as well as positively impacts employee quality of life.

The promise of Big Data is powerful; it presents opportunities for deep learnings about how, where and why work gets accomplished – learnings that can lead to significant redesign of work flows, office layouts and dramatic improvements in office ergonomics. It also offers the ability to enhance the quality of the work experience and to mitigate workplace risks (e.g., liability insurance costs, health insurance costs, business continuity planning).

For facilities, there are also significantly more opportunities to closely monitor building data, producing more effective management of variables like air quality, temperature variations, energy costs, lighting impact, and a wide variety of safety and maintenance issues. These environmental factors can have a major impact on performance, productivity, satisfaction and engagement.

When organizations implement Big Data strategies, they must build commitment and understanding of its implications across the entire organization. Management must ensure that there are proper controls and comprehensive supervision policies and practices in place, both to leverage the data and to be certain it is interpreted and applied in a meaningful way.

FM’s incorporation of Big Data will ultimately leading to more complex questions about how to track organizational productivity – meaning the impact of facilities on people. It’s not just about cost per square foot or air temperature any more – It truly be impactful, FM must extend beyond how and what data to capture.

Communication with other functional areas is also becoming much more important. It’s not just a new skillset; we must develop a whole new mindset about FM’s role as well as its responsibilities. The most important skills and mindsets we need to explore include areas such as:

  • interpersonal communications and relationship-building;
  • knowledge of functional areas like marketing, finance, product design, and marketing;
  • understanding of organizational culture and how to influence attitudes and values;
  • knowing how to formulate organizational change programs and deal with resistance to change;
  • program and project leadership;
  • how to lead effective meetings that engage others and produce meaningful results

Big Data also presents an opportunity for FM to become much more forward- looking, offering strategic counsel and anticipatory leadership to the larger organization rather than simply reporting historical data. The past is far less important now because conditions are changing so rapidly. Research and benchmarking have taken on a different focus; the kind of research we do, and the things we benchmark, must be re-examined from the ground up.

Just as consumer product companies have learned to define and market to small market niches, Big Data is helping FM learn more about the connections between workplace design and individual work styles and their association to greater productivity. In the future FM may find itself under pressure to provide custom-fit (but cost-effective) workplaces for specific project teams and even individual knowledge workers. The exciting aspect is that data to inform those design decisions will be plentiful and readily available.

In the end we want to enable FM leaders to be more successful at ensuring that the built environment provides cost-effective support to their organizations and employees. FM will be judged on the outcomes it produces relative to the cost it takes to achieve those outcomes.


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