New software technology to help facilities managers

Easy and Intuitive FM
Making FM easier by working smarter

Site and facilities managers face continual challenges maintaining and managing buildings, estates and assets. Typical core tasks focus on:

  • Inspections and compliance
  • Proactive and reactive maintenance processes
  • Asset management
  • Meeting audit requirements

These core tasks fit alongside other competing demands for staff time and resources.

One way to ease the pressure of managing these tasks is through the use of new technology. This can help to make data and information much more accessible and easily understood. In turn, this helps reduce your workload and enables you to remain focused on what’s important.

Let the technology help you – seeing is believing

Rather than display data in a heavily screen-based, text-focused way, facilities managers can now use maps, site and floor plans, 360° photospheres and augmented reality (AR). For the first time this puts leading-edge visualisation into your hands without you needing specialist knowledge or expensive equipment.

Using photospheres leads to more efficient and easier management of buildings, estates and assets. You’ll be familiar with photospheres as the visualisation behind services such as Google Street View. It seemed logical to bring this type of capability to facilities managers too – for inside and outside use.

Working in a 2D and 360° world

Adding data to plan-based views means you’ll have a high-level overall perspective of your assets and facilities data. Integrating this data into photospheres delivers intuitive understanding and visual comprehension about the data in a room or space in a way that simple photographs cannot achieve.

 Photospheres and integrated floor plans in FM
Integrated photospheres and floor plans in FM

In addition, by connecting 360° photospheres you can ‘walk’ the estate or building. This is ideal if you manage large estates or buildings which are spread out over an extensive area, and reduces or eliminates the time and cost in making personal site visits while improving the communication between on-site and office-based staff.

Imagine trying to get the buy-in from other managers, directors or stakeholders for new maintenance or refurbishment activities. Rather than simply presenting reports and photographs, you could walk them through key areas of the estate. They can see for themselves the scale of the issues you’re presenting.

The cloud-based photosphere technology also means your site teams can provide a better service to others. For example, it becomes much easier for users to report maintenance issues or facilities requests.

Photospheres and Roof Surveys
Photospheres and Roof Surveys

Photospheres also provide benefits when used for external views. For example, they provide a perfect way to visualise roofing issues and to virtually ‘walk’ a roof.

Increasing stakeholder engagement

You will also have a much better way of viewing and sharing information with colleagues than has been the case in the past. Equally, surveyors can provide you with an interactive view of their findings which increases your or your governors’ buy-in to recommendations that are being made for repairs or refurbishments. This is invaluable for explaining and communicating problems or issues and validating what was on site.

Augmented Reality in FM
Augmented Reality for FM

With AR, you’re able to take the benefits offered by photospheres to the next level. You can hold up a smartphone or tablet and pan around a space, meaning you can see asset or facilities information displayed in its correct real-world location. For example, information about a broken window would be overlaid on the window.

Better collaborative working drives efficiencies

Taking this capability a step further and augmenting data onto the photospheres as well means that off-site colleagues can also see the scene. This greatly improves collaborative working and means remote staff can assist with issues or questions. A contractor could verify easily and quickly lighting fittings, for example, and see whether there are any access issues which again a simple photograph may not show.

Software that cost-effectively adds value and saves time is a win-win situation for those of you who are familiar with having to wear multiple hats while working with on-site and off-site teams of contractors.

BIM Photospheres and Augmented Reality for Facilities Management

Visual data management using photospheres

In a previous post we described progress on our joint R&D project with the University of Bristol after six months.

The purpose of the project is to provide the education sector (schools, MATs etc.) and the commercial sector with access to affordable, leading edge, 360° technology to help maintain buildings, estates and assets.

The project has now successfully developed a 360° photosphere environment which school business managers, bursars, facilities managers and site teams can use to maintain their estates. This has been developed as a significant extension to Altuity’s AltoSites software which already uses maps, floor plans or site plans to provide a 2D perspective.

How does this tech benefit you?

By integrating a 2D view of the world via maps, floor plans and site plans with 360° photospheres maintenance and facilities staff now have a much better level of visualisation available to them.

Integrated photospheres and floor plans
Integrated photospheres and floor plans

Combining a 2D perspective with a 360° photosphere provides several benefits:

  1. A high level overall perspective of assets and facilities requests is provided via a plan based view. This data is also integrated into photospheres delivering intuitive understanding and visual comprehension about a location’s data.
  2. 360° photospheres can be connected together allowing you to ‘walk’ the estate or building. This is ideal for managing large estates or buildings which are spread out over an area such as a group of schools in a MAT. It reduces or eliminates the time and costs in making site visits.
  3. Using augmented reality (AR) enables a smartphone or tablet to be held up and panned around a space and the user will see asset or facilities information being displayed in its correct real world location. This provides real time, on site access to data in a visual environment.
  4. This AR capability can also be used off-site. The photospheres provide a means for a user in, for example, a central office to view a space in the same way that an on-site engineer is viewing it. This helps with communication and reduces the likelihood of mistakes or redundant on-site visits.
  5. This technology also makes it easier for users of a building, e.g. teachers in a school, to report issues or facilities requests enabling site teams to provide a better service to their stakeholders.
Photospheres and markers
Photospheres and markers

Photospheres also provide benefits when used for external views. For example, they provide a perfect way to visualise roofing issues and to virtually walk a roof. A facilities manager now has a much better way of viewing and sharing information with colleagues than has traditionally been the case. Equally surveyors can provide their clients with an interactive view of their findings which increases client buy-in to recommendations that are being made for repairs or refurbishments.

Photospheres and Roof Surveys
Photospheres and Roof Surveys

This level of internal and external visualisation benefits operations and longer term planning. For example, it makes the process of securing stakeholder buy-in to required works much easier because other directors, governors or trustees can more intuitively understand issues than might be the case with a typical report.

Augmented Reality – on and off site

Using meta-AR provides a better and more reliable user experience
Using meta-AR provides a better and more reliable user experience

Our approach to using augmented reality (AR) has been to ensure it’s reliable and integrated to the main AltoSites system. This ensures that while on site a user can augment their view of a space by overlaying information such as asset or facilities requests.

Off site access to an augmented view of a distant space or room is also possible. This means that when off site a smartphone or tablet can be used to pan and zoom around the photosphere and the user sees a view consistent with being on site. This can be invaluable for explaining and communicating problems or issues and validating what was on site.

During our discussions with business managers and facilities teams they’ve identified that as well as using the photospheres for operational asset and maintenance purposes they’re much better than photographs in providing stakeholders with an interactive visual perspective of a room or space.  Typical uses would be:

  • At school governor meetings to better visualise and provide a virtual experience of the condition of school buildings needing refurbishment or replacing;
  • To show new or refurbished facilities to help promote a school to prospective parents and students;
  • To promote a school’s facilities for use by external organisations to help generate income.

The P(hotosphere) Team!

Our thanks to the team members below for their active participation in the project and to the UK’s Innovation Agency (Innovate UK) for co-funding the R&D.

The R&D Team
The R&D Team

Read more about this project in the press

QA Magazine – “School’s out for Legacy Software” (page 26)

IE Today – “Manage School Premises Internationally with Altuity”

AECNext – “A step back from the cutting edge: AltoSites uses photospheres to bring FM Tech innovation to small facilities”

Innovate My School – “Visualise your school’s savings”

Innovate My School – “The whole school power of visualisation”

What’s next?

Well discussions are underway with the University of Bristol on our next project. Follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter to be the first to receive updates.

To find out how you can benefit from the use of photospheres and/or site plans and floor plans get in touch for a chat!

BIM, 3D Photospheres and AR R&D Project Update (2)

3D Photospheres
Altuity and the University of Bristol Democratizing BIM Project

In our previous post we described progress at the 3 month stage of our R&D project with the University of Bristol. This research project, which is co-funded by the UK Government Innovation Agency (Innovate UK), aims to democratise access to BIM within operations and maintenance by using 3D photorealistic environments and augmented reality.

Achieving this will provide the education sector (schools, MATs etc.) and the commercial sector with access to pragmatic, affordable and leading edge 3D technology to help maintain buildings, estates and assets which up until now has been unaffordable and/or required specialist skills.

Watch this short video (just over a minute long) to see the concepts explained below in action. It shows how you can:

  • capture 360º photospheres
  • calibrate the photospheres to floor plans within a browser (no CAD required)
  • mark up features of interest in the photosphere e.g. record a defect
  • access information in the office or on-site via augmented reality (AR)

After 6 months work we’re approaching the point where we’ll be making the software available to a limited number of early adopters for evaluation and feedback.

3D Photosphere project update
The R&D team reviews progress in Nov 2017

Capturing 3D Photospheres

Capturing a 3D photosphere is simple and cost effective which is why we’ve chosen to use this technology. However given that they’ll be used for asset and maintenance management purposes there’s a need for a best practice guide which we’ve now written. For example, there are two key areas to consider to get the most from the photospheres:

1. Distance and angle of the camera to the assets
Distance and camera angle are important considerations given the different sizes of assets that might need to be marked up in a photosphere. For example, there’s an optimum distance to visually recognise a fire alarm compared to a larger asset or feature such as a door or window.

Our testing showed that the optimal distance from asset to camera should be approximately 3m with an angle of 40º.

2. Room size and shape
The room size and shape determine how many photospheres are needed to get the required visual coverage of the space. A small rectangular or square shaped room will require fewer photospheres than a larger space such as a hall, gym or ‘L’ shaped space. With multiple photospheres in use they need to be linked together to facilitate virtual room walking as well as being able to virtually walk an entire building.

Calibrating Photospheres to 2D Floor Plans

While viewing and managing data related to assets or facilities requests in the photosphere is very beneficial it does not entirely replace the need for a 2D view in order to see it on, for example, a floor plan. Calibration is therefore required to integrate 3D photospheres to 2D floor plans.

The calibration process involves identifying the camera position on the 2D plan and then matching room features with the plan such as the room corners. Once the calibration has been completed markers can be positioned on the 2D plan and they appear in the right location in the 3D photosphere or alternatively added to the photosphere and then they’ll appear on the 2D plan.

Calibrating 3D photospheres and 2D floor plans
Calibrating 3D photospheres and 2D floor plans to provide a 3D and 2D immersive experience
Visual data management using photospheres
Visual data management using photospheres

The calibration process has been built into the software to make it quick and easy so that users can undertake this process themselves.

 

Photospheres and floor plans
Photospheres located on floor plan

 

Once calibrated data can be managed from both the floor plan and photosphere environments.

 

Delivering a Reliable Augmented Reality Experience

A reliable AR experience (AR) is essential in an operational environment. Although AR technology is advancing at a rapid pace we looked at what was required from the user perspective rather than purely from a technological one

This led us towards adopting a meta-AR approach. This involves using the photospheres on a mobile device with the photospheres automatically aligning themselves. We are then able to reliably overlay data onto the photosphere on-site rather than augmenting it via the camera view. The synchronisation of the photosphere and device is so good that it is often indistinguishable from the camera view as illustrated below.

Using meta-AR provides a better and more reliable user experience
Using meta-AR provides a better and more reliable user experience

Photospheres, Stakeholders and Income Generation

During our discussions with business managers and facilities teams they’ve identified that as well as using the photospheres for operational asset and maintenance purposes they’re much better than photographs in providing stakeholders with an interactive visual perspective of a room or space. Typical uses would be:

 At school governor meetings to better visualise and provide a virtual experience of the condition of school buildings needing refurbishment or replacing;
 To show new or refurbished facilities to help promote a school to prospective parents;
 To promote a school’s facilities for use by external organisations to help generate income.

They’ll be another final(!) update on the completion of the project in a couple of months’ time. At this point this functionality will be available in AltoSites.

Please check back regularly; complete the sign up form or use the contact us form to receive notifications of updates or to express interest in participating in our early adopter feedback programme. This gives you an opportunity to test and evaluate the technology for free in exchange for providing feedback and suggestions.

BIM, 3D Photospheres and AR R&D Project Update

In our previous post we announced the kick off of our R&D project with the University of Bristol. This research project, which is co-funded by the UK Government Innovation Agency (InnovateUK), aims to democratise access to BIM within operations and maintenance by using 3D photorealistic environments and augmented reality.

Achieving this will provide the education sector (schools and MATs etc.) and the commercial sector with access to pragmatic, affordable and leading edge technology to help maintain buildings and assets.

This post describes our progress so far with 5 months still to run.

Capturing 3D Photospheres

Our first activity was to visit several schools to collect a range of photospheres from rooms and spaces of differing sizes, shapes and lighting conditions.  We also gathered excellent ideas and feedback from school business managers on how the project could be used to assist with managing and maintaining school buildings and assets.

Collecting Photospheres
Fig 1 Collecting photospheres at The King’s School

From this work we’ve been able to assess the optimum number of photospheres needed in order to provide proper fields of view for an entire room which might not be a simple square or rectangular shape and also in many instances will have furniture or equipment obscuring the field of vision.

Importantly this process has also shown how quick, easy and cost-effective it is to collect the photospheres using a 3D camera with a connected smartphone. This is essential as we want our users to have the capability to do this work themselves without having to use external resources although this is a future service we’ll be providing for those that want it.

We’ve also shown that multiple, inter-connected photospheres will be required so that a user can fully explore a class room or office by virtually walking through it whether that’s a relatively small room or a larger space such as the assembly hall in figure 2.

Photosphere
Fig 2 Churchill Academy Assembly Hall photosphere

This is particularly important in order to provide the right level of coverage to ensure it’s possible to zoom into a feature or asset anywhere in the room e.g. a fire alarm or lighting switch.

This work also showed the need to assess the ability to read augmented reality markers in a room based on size, angle and distance from the smartphone’s camera. The results of these tests are currently being evaluated.

Integrating Photospheres and 2D Floor and Site Plans

Photospheres have been integrated into 2D plans within AltoSites. This means users can collect the photospheres and position them on a floor or site plan.

 

Photosphere marker integrated into a 2D floor plan
Fig 3 Photosphere marker integrated into a 2D floor plan

The extract below shows the ease of displaying a photosphere linked to a 2D plan.

With this integration in place we are now assessing how assets and maintenance/service request details located on the 2D plan can be augmented onto the photosphere for that room or space.

Stakeholder Engagement – Early project win!

During our discussions with business managers they’ve identified that as well as using the photospheres for operational asset and maintenance purposes they’re much better than photographs to provide stakeholders with an interactive visual perspective of a room or space.  Typical uses would be:

  • At school governor meetings to better visualise and provide a virtual experience of the condition of school buildings needing refurbishment or replacing.
  • To show new or refurbished facilities to help promote a school to prospective parents;
  • To promote the school’s facilities for use by external organisations to help generate income.

Given the interest in this we’re launching a service to provide:

  1. the capability for a school or organisation to take photospheres themselves (or we can do this as a service) and
  2. software which you can integrate into your website to display the photospheres

For more information on this new service please contact us.

If you’d like to receive notification of further project updates please register via the ‘Subscribe for email updates’ window, or provide your contact  details or simply check back in a couple of months’ time!

Democratising BIM through light weight on-site imaging

BIM, photospheres and augmented reality
Current 2D plan and map functionality extended to BIM, AR and photo-realism

In a previous post I described how we undertook a joint research project with the University of Bristol (UoB) to assess how various technologies, including Google Tango™, can help the education sector manage and maintain assets, buildings and estates. This has now led to a nine month R&D project with the UoB, co-funded by the UK Government Innovation Agency (InnovateUK).

This post is the first in a series of bi-monthly updates on our progress.

Why are we doing this R&D?

Currently the vast majority of education and smaller organisations managing buildings and assets do not use Building Information Modelling (BIM) in their day-to-day operations.  There are various reasons for this such as:

  • The need for specialised and expensive hardware/software, skills, expertise and software.
  • BIM data simply isn’t available because of the age of the buildings being maintained.
  • The complexity involved is off-putting to many.
  • Current BIM processes tend to be focused on design whereas our users’ interests are in the maintenance of assets and buildings.

This is why our strategy of ‘Bringing Simplicity from Complexity’ and applying this to asset and maintenance management is key to wider adoption. We achieve this simplicity by using a highly visual approach. For example, AltoSites our asset and maintenance software, uses maps and floor and site plans.

A class room showing augmented maintenance data
Prototype illustrating how augmented data can be overlaid onto a real world class room.

This project extends our existing mobile capability by offering users a more immersive experience – one that allows them to easily see and record data as illustrated to the left.

 

The Technology (Mobile, 3D Environments and Augmented Reality)

Using 2D plans, photospheres and augmented markers.
Using 2D plans, photospheres and augmented markers.

This R&D will bring a disruptive step change to mobile data collection and will also encourage wider adoption of BIM. Harnessing various technologies, combined with new software tools which are easy to use and affordable, will encourage widespread use within an organisation – the democratisation effect referred to in our project’s title. For example, this will help a building’s site maintenance staff and other stakeholders such as teaching staff in a school or university record and access information.

Our ambition is to leap frog existing state-of-the art mobile apps by providing suitably accurate onsite data capture and information access through the creation of interactive user environments that combine visually-realistic onsite imaging and BIM, asset and maintenance information. Innovations in augmented reality and mobile device innovations, such as the capture and display of 3D environments, allow us to explore how users can easily access and interact with combined digital and physical information.

What will it mean to you?

If you’re inspecting assets and buildings and need to record data and access information across the estate it’ll make your work easier. Augmented reality provides enhanced visualisation combined with locational context meaning you get to focus on the data that’s relevant to your position and you can also access other information e.g. from BIM, plans or internal reports.

This new software solution will lead to a step change in productivity. There will be improvements in operational efficiency such as staff utilization and productivity. No manual data collection nor re-keying of data will be required reducing inaccuracies, data redundancy and saving time. Better maintenance planning and works will lead to more productive and safer, fit-for-purpose workplace.

This R&D will also ensure that the solution is uniquely capable of being adopted by non-specialists. This means building users as well as site maintenance staff can use it. For example, school administration and teaching staff could report maintenance issues or make service requests. Putting this capability in the hands of front line staff improves overall quality and responsiveness and is consistent with the “uberisation” trend seen in many industries.

Want to participate or find out more?

We’re very interested in hearing from schools, colleges, universities and private sector organisations who’d like to participate in a short beta programme in October/November, 2017.  No technical experience necessary – simply an open mind and a willingness to provide feedback. To find out more contact us.

If you’d like to receive notification of further project updates please register via the ‘Subscribe for email updates’ window, or provide your contact  details or simply check back in a couple of months’ time!

University R&D Collaboration

We’re an SME with ambitious plans supported by on-going R&D in our software which helps managers responsible for maintaining built environment assets. We wanted to extend our R&D capability by collaborating with a university and maybe you’re an SME wondering if this might help your company – well here’s our experience so far.

Key Requirements

  • Undertake R&D while not compromising existing software development.
  • Connect to academics to take advantage of the expertise, experience and different perspectives they offer.
  • Provide an opportunity for a student to gain some useful work experience.
  • Deliver meaningful results to our business.

We initially considered Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme. However, this is suited to projects of 12 months or more and for our first foray into working with a university a shorter timescale was more appropriate. In addition this R&D project only required a period of about 3 months although it might then be extended.

The Work

We approached the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Bristol who explained the potential to work with a paid intern; supervised by the faculty, over a 3 month period. This was ideal from our perspective.

We jointly scoped an R&D project to investigate mobile localisation and visualisation techniques that could help, for example, facilities and school business managers, bursars and site teams responsible for looking after assets and buildings.

Harry Whiskard, an engineering student, expressed interest in the work and joined the project. Harry, supported by the Faculty, undertook proof-of-concept R&D into the use of:

  • Tango™ from Google
  • Photospheres
  • Image recognition.
Google Tango
Tango device

He then tested the outcomes at a school thanks to the support of Alan Neale, School Business Manager, at Churchill Academy and Sixth Form in North Somerset.

Photosphere at Churchill Academy
Photosphere of Design&Technology room at Churchill Academy and Sixth Form

The Result

Harry’s work was extremely valuable in helping to scope what was possible and in identifying the practical limitations of some of the technology.

Floor plan, photosphere augmented marker integration.
Prototype showing a floor plan linked to a photosphere of the gym at Churchill Academy accessible through a smartphone. Two simple markers have been augmented onto the real world view – note the use of perspective to indicate where the markers are in relation to the viewer.
Automatic visual recognition
Trialling automatic visual recognition between physical features and a visual image.

These outcomes have influenced the scope of a new R&D project which is due to start soon and which will see us working with the University of Bristol on a longer project.

As well as the direct outcomes from the R&D project there were other indirect benefits. Working with a university provides an opportunity to step outside the purely commercial world for a while and having open conversations at the university keeps us fresh and receptive to new ideas.

It was also good to offer a student the opportunity to develop their skills and to gain some practical experience which will hopefully help in the future. In Harry’s own words:

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with Altuity, it was a very rewarding experience. This project provided me with the opportunity to learn new skills such as software development which otherwise I would not have been able to experience in my degree. It also provided me with insight into the importance of research and how ideas can be developed in the commercial world.”

No matter what the size of your company if you need some assistance and access to wider knowledge then why not contact a university?

Explore what might be possible in terms of working together. There’s plenty of enthusiasm within universities to do this and properly managed it’ll be the classic ‘win-win’.

One final thought – if you do employ an intern do the right thing and pay them!

We’ll be posting an update shortly on the follow up R&D project Harry’s work helped set the scene for…

(Project Tango is a registered trademark of Google Inc.)

Are multi-year software subscriptions for schools value for money?

 

Are software subscriptions value for money?
Software subscriptions – value for money?

Over the years the software industry has undergone transformational change arising from new technology which has led to:

  • Enhanced software functionality
  • Reduced infrastructure costs for users e.g. via cloud delivery
  • Integrated in-office and mobile solutions

These technology changes are complemented by greater flexibility in how software is licensed. The earlier dominance of perpetual licensing has in many sectors given way to subscription based licensing. Subscription licensing is typically offered on a per user or per site basis and depending upon the application terms range from a month to a year with renewal reminders being issued in advance enabling subscribers to cancel if needed.

Subscription licensing enables a software vendor to adopt a more granular approach to licensing. It enables users to subscribe for the functionality they actually intend to use and benefit from rather than having to license an entire package while only using a limited set of functions.

This approach also allows users to start by only licensing the functionality initially required and then expand into other functions at a later date. Given the tremendous variety of need, experience and resources across schools this is an important ability – why should a school incur costs before it needs to? This flexibility provides value for money as licence expenditure is tied more closely with usage.

Multi-year Deals

Sometimes subscription licenses are bundled into multi-year deals for individual schools, federations or multi-academy trusts in exchange for a nominal discount for advance payment. While beneficial to the vendor this type of arrangement is only value for money if a school is operating in a stable and secure environment and the licence provides the flexibility to cope with future changes.

For example, the following could impact upon on your licence:

  • The school’s approach to managing data changes e.g. a school joins a multi-academy trust
  • Maintenance contract changes lead to a different approach to managing data e.g. a new contractor assumes responsibility for data management
  • Senior leadership changes lead to a re-think in systems which support a school

In the above examples can your licence (and any pre-paid subscription!) be novated or transferred without incurring additional charges or penalties?

You also need to be confident that in a long-term, multi-year contract the existing provider will continue to represent excellent value for money. Who can predict what impact future commercial and technological innovations will have in a market? If you want to change provider mid-way through a multi-year subscription in all likelihood the pre-paid license fees are not fully refundable.

As for Altuity – we offer subscriptions which typically renew on a three-month to one year cycle on a pay-by-use basis so that you license the functionality you’re going to be using.  In addition for smaller organisations such as primary schools, who may be using manual or spreadsheet processes, we’re introducing licensing calculated on data usage. This provides an entry-level licensing option tied to usage and not the number of users or pupils which in the past has excluded smaller schools from being able to take advantage of commercially supported and maintained software.

In summary, a headline discount offered as an incentive to commit to a multi-year deal will not always represent long-term value for money. The flexibility offered by shorter terms and different models based on the number of schools (e.g. in a multi-academy trust), users or data usage enables schools to license software according to their needs in a future-proofed way. These options are offered with Altuity’s AltoSites asset and maintenance system.

Spreadsheet assets and reusing site and floor plans

Many asset and maintenance managers have physical and intangible asset information in spreadsheets as illustrated below. This can provide a simple and effective way to manage this information but doesn’t intuitively help with locational context.  The blurring used to hide the data below is also a metaphor for how difficult it is to understand data in this purely textual form.

What if you could take this spreadsheet data and simply and easily manage it in a more visual and intuitive way on site and floor plans?

With increasing amounts of data to manage visualisation creates a picture of your assets helping you immediately and visually see what assets you have; where they’re located and, where relevant their status. These benefits apply to physical and intangible assets. This valuable insight improves day-to-day administration and helps with prioritisation and reporting.

To help users with spreadsheets we’ve enhanced the bulk data loading ability of AltoSites and AltoSUE to provide a number of new features:-

  • Automatically locate data on site and floor plans e.g. by room or asset identifier;
  • Automatically cluster data on plans e.g. where there is a lot of data for a room automatically cluster it for convenience and clarity;
  • Automatically cluster data in defined map locations such as estates, grounds and construction sites;
  • Automatically cluster data in locations defined by a user including by user-definable attribute information e.g. cluster all documents of a particular type together such as separating leases from insurances or by user-definable labels which do not exist in plans.

In addition, as an added feature users can assign their own icons to these clusters so that they can see the data presented in a way which is meaningful to them e.g. a document icon could represent a cluster of documents or a car icon could represent a cluster consisting of vehicle leases.

Example: Floor Plan with room based clusters

In the screen shot below asset data was loaded from a spreadsheet and automatically located to the correct room. The screen shot shows how it’s possible to click on a cluster to ‘explode’ it into its individual records. A user can then click on one of these records to see its information. In this example, the exploded icon contains documents and a filing cabinet style icon is used to denote this. A user can therefore immediately see what type of data this is before even accessing the record.

Spreadsheet assets located on a floor plan
Spreadsheet assets located on a floor plan

Example: Multiple types of records

In this example we can see how different types of data are easily categorised. At the top two markers represent gas connection points; a blue marker in the middle represents a water supply and the two red markers are outstanding defects (one for a window and one for a door).

Floor plan with point assets and a cluster

 

In the middle there is a cluster of four records and the user has chosen to use a customised green icon to represent the cluster rather than the circular icons used in the previous example.

 

 

Floor plan with point assets and an exploded cluster
Floor plan with point assets and an exploded cluster.

 

The screen shot to the right shows this cluster exploded.

The cluster in this example contains compliance documents.

 

 

Example: Clusters and Maps

Clusters can also be used on maps (icons representing single physical or intangible assets can also be used as shown below). This means it’s possible to locate information about features outside of buildings in their proper place. In the example below a cluster of 8 records are positioned in the estate. This could equally be a section of highway or construction site.

Cluster of assets on a map
Cluster of assets on a map

Using these features it becomes easier to understand, find and update data. Separate reporting and analytical capabilities provide further benefits.

To discover how easy it is for you to move into a visual approach to managing your spreadsheet data contact us for an informal discussion.

Maintenance and Multi-Academy Trusts

Multi-Academy Trust Collaboration
Multi-Academy Trust Collaboration

This week’s announcement that all schools in England will either have to convert to Academy status by 2020 or be committed to converting by 2022 has put academies into the spotlight again. Schools currently under local authority control potentially face increased costs as economies of scale available via the authority disappear.

6 out of 10 academies are forecasted to be running a deficit in the next two years placing continual pressures and challenges on school leaders and managers to maximise efficiency and cost savings. Collaborative working has a valuable role in meeting these challenges. Collaboration takes many forms such as Multi-Academy Trusts, federations, clusters or simply an informal working arrangement between schools. This blog for convenience refers to multi-academy trusts although the principles apply to any grouping of schools / academies.

Collaboration provides:

  • Opportunities to get access to services on a shared cost basis enabling schools to take advantage of services previously inaccessible or too expensive to utilise.
  • Income streams to schools offering these services. Typically, these are shared teaching, financial or administrative services.

Saving costs in Asset and Maintenance management

Asset and maintenance management collaboration offers several benefits:

  • Potential cost savings by pooling capital works through larger contracts.
  • Simpler project management and less costs by working with one contractor rather than several across a network of schools.
  • Co-ordinating routine maintenance activities. For example, identifying that several schools require re-painting or refurbishment offers the opportunity to co-ordinate work into higher value contracts. This may secure larger discounts than can be achieved individually.
  • Prioritisation of resources based on need e.g. assessing capital maintenance funding needs and the later allocation of these funds within a multi-academy trust or cluster.

A holistic view of a multi-academy trust’s asset and maintenance requirements is essential to support the above.

Delivering holistic multi-academy maintenance

Bursars and school business managers need to co-ordinate asset and maintenance management requirements.

One approach is to introduce a single maintenance system across the multi-academy trust. However, this may not be appropriate if systems are already in place given the investment a school or academy will have spent already.

An alternative is to integrate disparate

Federated multi-academy maintenance data
Figure 1: Federated multi-academy maintenance data

asset and maintenance data from these systems. This federated approach enables individual schools to continue to use their preferred systems while benefiting by pooling certain data.

 

 

Either approach ideally requires a system which can:

  1. Offer a maintenance capability on its own merits for those academies that wish to use it; and / or
  2. Collate data from other systems to act as a central analytics and reporting portal.

Systems such as Altuity’s AltoSites™ include their own maintenance capability and uses REST API’s to provide connectivity to other systems. Summary information such as planned capital works programmes and maintenance activities could then be shared. Pooled data could also be used for Key Performance Indicators highlighting different issues that maybe facing a MAT’s academies.

Information can be compared very easily using analytics and dashboards. Two example reports are illustrated below.

Comparing Maintenance data in a multi-academy trust
Figure 2: Comparing Maintenance data in a multi-academy trust
Figure 3: Comparing total estimated repair costs in a multi-academy trust

Conclusion

The benefits of collaborative working extend into asset and maintenance management processes. This is achievable via a single cross-academy maintenance solution in a multi-academy trust, federation or cluster or alternatively via a federated approach. This delivers a holistic view of the group’s needs and priorities.

Such capabilities are essential given the ever increasing financial challenges within the education sector.

This blog is an extract from our eBook – click the title to download it – ‘Reducing School Capital and Maintenance Costs

To assess how your multi-academy trust, federation or cluster can benefit in terms of collaborative asset and maintenance management please contact us.

PhysiCAD Research and CAD

Earlier this year, while in discussions with Bristol University, we were asked if we’d like to take part in a new research project called PhysiCAD. Being very focused on delivering highly visual user interfaces in AltoSites and AltoSUE (currently using maps and CAD plans) research in this space was definitely of interest.

CAD Limitations

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software is highly versatile and useful. It has, in fact, been instrumental in helping foster and maintain the United Kingdom’s reputation for innovation (currently ranked in the top ten countries in the world). However, to be used effectively it requires in-depth knowledge and the time and/or financial resources necessary to properly utilise it. It is, to put it simply, highly complex software and, accordingly, many good ideas are slow to progress or falter long before a commercially viable product is available; especially where advanced modelling, simulation and analysis (virtual prototyping) are involved. However, the limitations with CAD go far beyond a lack of expertise or resources – whether financial or temporal.

Physicality is a fundamental desire for humans; the deep-seated need to interact, shape, and impose order upon our surroundings. In order to fully interact with the design process a degree of physicality is necessary. The greater the physicality the greater the user engagement, their creative potential, and – importantly – the success of the project’s goals. However, traditional CAD systems are severely limited in these respects. They impose 2D (or 3D virtual) limits on a project which undermines the potential of a given idea or project – hence the increasing interest in 3D printing within prototyping.

The Role of PhysiCAD in Physicality

The purpose of PhysiCAD is to provide a platform which dramatically increases the level of physicality possible allowing the user to bypass the limitations noted above by not only simplifying – as well as increasing the speed and quality of – the design process but to also make CAD and other virtual prototyping tools more readily accessible. To achieve this the research is investigating a tangible interface for CAD, virtual prototyping and rapid prototyping.

An illustration of the PhysiCAD process is shown below:-

PhysiCAD Process
PhysiCAD Process

The PhysiCAD research programme consists of two interrelated research streams. The first addresses the technical and HCI challenges associated with the creation of real-time physical-to-digital model integration and user-in-the-loop digital-to-physical model integration. The second research stream concerns investigation of the affordances, complementarity (with Virtual Prototyping tools) and limitations of a Lego-inspired tangible interface for improving collaboration/co-creation, design performance and accessibility to virtual prototyping and rapid prototyping.

PhysiCAD has been given the go ahead and is due to start in November. Follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn to be notified of updates as the project progresses.

More information on PhysiCAD (renamed from LegoCAD which is referenced in the link) is available here