There has been quite a bit of “noise” in property and FM in the last year or so about “blockchain” and the potential benefits it may have for our industry. At RLB, more clients are asking us “what exactly is it? And why do they need to know about it?
Perhaps the easiest way to think of this in the FM context is related to how we service and maintain our buildings and structures. Today, most maintenance programs are either planned or reactive, or a combination of both. It is only recently that the industry is starting to investigate the potential benefits of predictive maintenance, where the operating conditions of various critical assets and components are monitored to predict their failure (or a lowering of performance output) in the near future, helping to prevent any unexpected downtime.
In order to create targeted predictive maintenance programs (with the ability to include inventory and procurement programs) we should consider incorporating an end-to-end “digital twin” operation that consolidates data from key systems/platforms throughout the design, build and operate process, e.g. BIM, CAFM/CMMS and BMS, onto a single platform – an approach very few have considered or are attempting. For those who are on that journey the introduction of blockchain to this ‘end-to-end’ process, from an asset/facility management perspective, will improve transparency and traceability, which can only be considered a positive outcome for the entire built environment, as well as for the asset/facility management sector.
It is important to remember that a blockchain is nothing more than a digital ledger or a sequence of data records, which is accessible and shared by multiple selected parties. The data stored can be anything from component purchase prices, specific details of assets or entire contracts. All information stored in a blockchain is encrypted which means the data can be itemised so unauthorised use or tampering is virtually impossible. And it is time stamped – it is not possible to alter this, so the blockchain process ensures an indelible record of something happening at a precise unalterable time.
As part of an end-to-end process blockchain could indicate to customers, and all those in the supply chain, such as maintenance teams and suppliers, what assets have failed or are about to fail. Work-orders can be triggered and associated spare parts ordered before outage incurred. This end-to-end ledger of accounts is automatically updated using blockchain which demonstrates transparency and removes doubt regarding the ordering of component(s), and ultimately leads to improvements in asset uptime, FM SLAs, supply chain outcomes, procurement and reductions in spares inventory.
As such, the applications of Blockchain will improve transparency and traceability of the asset and facility management supply chain. Taking the concept further, it could be utilised to reverse engineer and analyse the entire design, build and operate processes – elements of which are currently cloaked in secrecy or presented as a ‘dark art’ by the few in control.
Once the fundamental concepts are understood, it is not difficult to imagine the blockchain process being utilised to capture certification needs, insurance details and engineering compliance. Once again, this will offer asset and facility managers more transparency in contracts addressing the key aspects of time, cost, and quality, ultimately leading to improved performance.
The advantages of integrating blockchain into FM as well as areas such as e-procurement and insurance alongside more traditional asset and facility management processes are emphasised when you compare it to the current status-quo – blockchain places everything on one trusted platform. Blockchain uses a centralised, shared, single source of the truth, a secure record for storing data. When compared to the alternative, traditional systems that use multiple siloed databases that are difficult (sometimes impossible) to share information across, are inefficient, limited in functionality, and susceptible to unauthorised data tampering, it seems clear that blockchain has clear advantages that once experienced will be self-evident to adopt and develop.
The introduction of blockchain can help reduce uncertainty, improve clarity and transparency, and provide the basis for further improvements to the way in which data is understood and managed. The property and FM sector has struggled to take advantage of the huge quantities of data available to improve the quality of products and services it delivers to the UK economy, and whilst Blockchain will not solve all such challenges, it has the potential to re-set our approach to data management, enabling quicker, clearer, lower risk more effective decision making.
Rider Levett Bucknall
LinkedIn: Rider Levett Bucknall