Workplace Analytics: How To Mine Big Data To Add Organizational Value

For corporate real estate and facility management professionals, workplace analytics help identify the best use for space for the organization to operate effectively.

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These are complex times for corporate real estate and facility management professionals. Continually advancing technology produces a massive amount of data, but a nagging question remains: Is all of it being mined for the optimal benefit of the organization’s facilities? At a conceptual level, corporate real estate and facility management data focuses on the measurement of people activity within a workspace, but that function barely scratches the surface. The rise of workplace analytics provides corporate real estate and facility management professionals with an invaluable tool for calculating the best use of space for the business to operate at maximum effectiveness. The challenge is that many corporations are reluctant to commit to the use of sophisticated workplace analytics. While the reasons vary, they leave corporate real estate and facility management specialists on the sidelines and in a state of what some of them refer to as “intrigue.”

One reason is management’s apprehension about investing in applications that, in some cases, may be viewed by personnel as an invasion of privacy and a litigation threat. An example is the deployment of sensors throughout the workspace to provide data on how busy a particular area has been, who has worked there, for how long, and when the space is inactive. Management should be most concerned about the latter. Yet, unless corporate real estate and facility management personnel are provided with analytics to ferret out and apply the most relevant data, the corporation is wasting one of its valuable assets and, in some cases, losing money on workspace that could be used more effectively.

Emerging Technologies

The traditional role of the corporate real estate or facility management professional has been to manage the organization or corporation’s real estate portfolios because real estate was considered a fixed cost or, at best, a depreciating asset. Unwittingly, organizations acted on the inaccurate premise that physical space, once established, was unchangeable in terms of costs. One reason may have been the low-tech measurement of space usage — for example, clipboard-carrying individuals who counted people in and out of the space. Eventually, the counting process progressed somewhat with the use of badge swipes and infrared technology. Also, companies began relying on programs such as Outlook, which were an improvement but presented their own limitations. In this case, ease of use and capabilities were either unavailable or not updated. Outlook was also found to be time consuming — something technology is supposed to alleviate.

Technology in general and analytics, in particular, are playing a major role in the changing attitudes of corporate real estate and facility management professionals and their understanding optimal space use. Development of sophisticated analytical programs spurred a corporate real estate and facility management teams to put greater emphasis on crafting strategic planning for best use of the organization’s assets. Among the first to recognize the importance of analytical programs were logistics and banking organizations, which have access to enormous amounts of data. In these high-transaction environments, numbers crunching and the resulting data are applied to decision making, such as credit and risk management and cost analysis that includes operational efficiency and inventory control.

It did not take long for the power of analytics to be applied to the domain of corporate real estate and facility management and change the focus of workspace usage from perception to reality. Instead of low-tech measurement, corporate real estate and facility management professionals with access to workplace analytical platforms can tap into concrete data. This real-world information shows how each space or asset performs. In turn, it enables management to make sound programming decisions.

From Place-Based to People-Based Analytics

The development of place-based analytics is important in the corporate real estate and facility management environment. That’s because it clearly defines how space is utilized at a particular time. Just as important, the data provides corporate real estate and facility management with an accurate picture of where people are and when they use or require a particular space. Also, place-based becomes people-based when the analytics reveal patterns and trends in the way people meet with each other. Here, organizations can rely on integrated platforms with practically limitless potential. One example is the capability to promptly and efficiently facilitate meetings in terms of location, space availability, timeliness, and occupancy.

The unnecessary expense of time that had been required to allocate the proper space for the work to function is unacceptable. Workspace is a strategic asset that requires cost-efficiency for maximum functionality. A seemingly simple desire to select a suite of spaces to support meetings may be costing the company unnecessarily without data analytics to justify the decision. A better alternative is to focus on agile strategies that leverage the right amount of space for each purpose. It’s data-based analytical programming for the best usage of space as warranted.

Understanding the Benefits of Workplace Analytics

The advantage of a sophisticated analytical platform is its presentation of several approaches to collecting and analyzing data. One of the most effective in the context of maximizing the use of space is the placement of sensors throughout the office environment. The sensors collect data, which is transmitted to a network and subsequently to a massive database in the form of a veritable warehouse of information consisting of millions of data points. A second database performs calculations on, tabulates, and processes the data. From there, processed bits and bytes, in volumes too large for human comprehension, move to a web-based analytics platform.

The vital difference is immediacy. Instead of dealing with data usage that is compiled over a lengthy time period, sometimes several months, the sensors record and send data minute by minute, ensuring a decision-making process based on current information.

Key metrics, along with dynamic visualization tools, such as charts and graphs created through the software platform, take the volume of information and condense it. In this way a corporate real estate or facility management expert can either make or recommend decisions to management supported by the data.

Much of this data focus revolves around the Building Internet of Things (IoT), the collective terminology applied to sensors, software, and other items of connectivity for the exchange of data waiting to be harnessed. In a 2016 report, Deloitte Consulting noted that “the CRE industry is perhaps uniquely positioned to implement the technology using IoT-enabled building management systems to make building performance more efficient and … sensor-generated data to enhance building user experience.” In the same report, Deloitte projects the compound growth rate of nearly 79 percent in the use worldwide of IoT sensor deployments by CRE, amounting to 1.2 billion by the year 2020.

The value of CRE data is a “game-changer” in facilities management. Now organizations can optimize their portfolios through platforms unavailable only a few years ago. Previously inaccessible data helps organizations arrive at more informed conclusions — for example, when to consolidate and when to promote a different strategy for a specific site. It is a unique, if not revolutionary, way to analyze how work flows through a space and how usage of that space may impact operating costs and return on investment.

Another important benefit of place-based analytics is the positive impact on the workforce. Leveraging data from the sensors and other Building IoT components improves employee satisfaction and retention. Users report productivity improvement in the workplace environment.

One example is a large consumer-products company in the Southeast that was planning to invest in an addition to its global headquarters to complement a full-scale renovation of the existing space. The company focused on usage patterns of its collaboration spaces, believing that increasing and enhancing the experience of collaborating with colleagues would contribute to both increased employee engagement and enhanced business results. Following installation of remote monitoring devices in all of the dedicated collaboration spaces and collection of 16.5 million data points, an analytical software application determined that people were meeting in smaller groups and many of the larger spaces were never fully utilized. Ultimately, place-based analytics enabled right-sizing and rebalancing the facility for optimal interactions.

3 Concerns About Data Analytics

Data analytics are value drivers for efficient and cost-effective use of workspace and personnel on a daily basis. Yet some organizations are reluctant to adopt and leverage this technology, especially those with medium or smaller-sized companies as clients. Usually their apprehension is based on one or more of the following concerns:

Concern #1: Analytics are too expensive.

If there is one constant about technology, it is that costs decline with each advance or refinement regardless of the application. Business Insider, in an article on this very subject, concluded “as technology gets more advanced, prices drop and products get better.” The only exceptions according to the publication are “cable, satellite TV and radio service.”

Concern #2: Leadership will not buy in to the value proposition.

Here again, the data shows analytics are value drivers capable of significantly reducing operating costs and increasing ROI. To prove the point, corporate real estate and facility management professionals need only access their search engines for numerous case studies of successful corporate and commercial use of workplace analytics.

Concern #3: Employees fear an analytics-based Big Brother surveillance.

Of the three fears, this one requires the most up-front explanation prior to initiation. Nothing can be more damaging to morale and retention rates than a perception that the company uses analytics to spy on personnel. A clearly-defined system of data governance along with collaborative discussions with employees may help ease those concerns.

To achieve optimal results, corporate management needs to work closely with its corporate real estate and facility management specialists on the issue of costs versus ROI. Equally important is to ensure those professionals, whether in-house or outsourced, have the background and training to fully navigate and leverage the data. It is incumbent upon the company to develop comprehensive policies on usage and data management and to stay on point to accomplish desired outcomes.

Data analytics are a vital tool for assessing the value and best use of office space. Data-based results present a clear picture detailing cost-effectiveness, optimal use of workplace and personnel and, of course, the ROI for making these changes a reality.

Informed Decisions

Workplace analytics are the foundation for corporate real estate and facility management credibility with findings and analysis to help executive management make informed decisions on every aspect of office space. Maintaining and profiting from an agile office capable of adjusting with minimal cost and effort are no longer futuristic visionary possibilities. Thanks to sophisticated programs and their ability to leverage the data, they are realities that merit serious consideration.

It may not be accurate to simply conclude that analytics have changed the traditional office environment. Instead, it is more likely that analytics are bringing an end to the traditional workplace as we know it.

Originally published in FacilitiesNet.

Written by

Drew Suszko

Drew Suszko, Workplace Market Leader, Partner

Drew Suszko is the Workplace Market Leader for BHDP Architecture. As a visionary in the design of innovative workplaces, Drew brings a background rooted in economics, architecture, and design coupled with energy and enthusiasm to every assignment. By combining business strategy, analytics, and design thinking, Drew and his team support clients in the pursuit of inspirational workspaces that improve employee engagement and deliver enterprise results. Drew is an advocate for multi-disciplinary research and application, and he routinely partners with university programs to link theory and practice. Drew has a unique perspective on the broader strategic challenges confronting our clients, and this guides his development of creative, cost-effective solutions.

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