The Future of Facilities Management in Australia: Robotic Cleaners and Concierge Services

Smart technologies powered by sensors, data and artificial intelligence are helping to transform the way organisations manage their facilities, as costs come down and the world of robotic cleaning and concierge services becomes a reality.

With terms like "deep cleaning" and "hybrid work" top of mind during the pandemic, facilities management is another key office sector undergoing accelerated change, says the CEO of GJK Facility Services, Elias Stamas.

Robot cleaners are no longer just science fiction supplied.

"The idea is about making the facility far more intelligent so that cleaners aren't responding to pre-programmed, uninformed and unproductive schedules," Stamas says. "They're responding to the data and that's really exciting."

Stamas, who is also Victorian president of the nation's peak building services body, the Building Service Contractors Association of Australia, says data from IoT devices can let cleaners know when it's time to clean frequently touched surfaces like lift buttons and handrails, improving efficiencies and results.

"What we've learned in this space is that with the introduction of any new technology, it's that to be effective staff must be a part of that program and have an understanding of how the technology will help and support their work," he says.

"We've deployed multiple sensors, including people counters, air quality sensors, spill sensors or capacity sensors in things like bins, soap dispensers and paper hand towel dispensers.

"There is increased touchpoint cleaning in the context of the pandemic - we concentrate on surface treatments or spend time improving the visual appeal of a facility."

Robotics is another area that is rapidly gaining traction as machines take over more mundane duties long performed by humans.

In Australia, for now, the main tasks robots are performing are simple cleaning of floors - a repetitive, low dexterity task - but in international facilities they are learning and performing other tasks like fetching supplies or delivering lab samples in hospitals, or taking warehouse inventory and doing security patrols.

But just as the robots are using AI to learn, the real revolution for humans is also one of improving skills, Stamas says.

"Cleaners' roles will change with the rise of robotics and automation in our industry and we're already seeing that now," he says.

"A lot of our cleaners, particularly in those spaces where the robots are freeing them up, have been trained in how to do maintenance and handyman work onsite as well.

"These are high-dexterity tasks right that a robot can't do, but the cleaners are onsite and they've now got the excess capacity, so they're able to offer our clients that additional service."

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