Site surveys: The biggest challenges I faced as a facility manager

Mr. Hitoshi Inaba talks about his biggest challenges when he was a facility manager for a telecom company and the solution he found to overcome them.

Mr. Hitoshi Inaba recounts his biggest challenges when conducting site surveys when he was still a facility manager for a major telecommunications company. He found the solution in digital twins that enabled them to perform virtual site visits.

Q: What were your biggest challenges during your time as a facility manager?

Mr. Inaba: I have been involved in the construction and operation of data centers and telecommunication buildings for many years, and I wasn’t satisfied with how site surveys were conducted. I felt that there was a lot of room for improvement. In addition, communicating and coordinating internally between relevant departments and externally with our business partners took a lot of time and effort. I was constantly searching for ideas and tools that could change our workflows and be more efficient.

Q: What about the site survey process was particularly challenging for you?

Mr. Inaba: When I do a site survey, the first thing I do is look up the plans the day before. Then, I go to the site, check it out with my own eyes, and take pictures of the site while writing down the details. After that, I edit the data I brought back and compile it into a report. The process of selecting, downloading, and processing such a large number of images taken at the site and including them in the report was extremely painstaking. Not to mention that it took so long to do, almost one or two full days. We used these reports to communicate across the different teams and stakeholders involved who were based in different locations, Japan or overseas. We needed to communicate effectively what we wanted to do to all related parties, and it’s difficult to do that just by text. We also had no system to organize the survey information we were capturing in a useful way. It’s as if we were starting from level 0 every time we’d do a site survey.

Q: What was your vision for site surveys?

Mr. Inaba: My vision was to create an indoor 3D street view of all our facilities. We were actually already creating a prototype in-house when we met 3i. It was exactly what we had envisioned. With the solution, it’slike you’re really visiting a facility and walking through the corridors, entering rooms, and checking out all the equipment. With that in place, we were able to significantly minimize our site visits and business trips which saved us a lot of time and costs. Creating reports and communicating with various teams also became so much easier and faster. We could do a “virtual site visit” together and just point out the issues and tasks to the other party. Not only that, the survey information we were capturing could now be stored and organized visually in one database. This was very helpful for succeeding site surveys because we could build on top of the information we’ve already captured in the past. This not only improved operational efficiency but was also very useful in distributing field survey information within the organization and passing it onto future generations of employees. In this age of Corona, we have also started using the solution as a tool to conduct sales activities remotely, and we are continuously looking at other ways to expand our use of it.

Expert Series - Hitoshi Inaba-min

Q: What do you think is the next big leap for facility operations?

Mr. Inaba: I think the next big leap would be for facilities to become truly and fully automated and digitized so that they’ll require minimal human resources to operate and maintain them. In order to realize that vision, the interaction between the digital twin and reality must be possible both ways. It should be possible to incorporate real-time relevant information of the physical facility into the digital twin and for teams to operate within the digital twin that will be fed back into reality, perhaps through the use of drones or robots. This will really make facility construction and operation (in the data center industry) more efficient. When that time comes, we can work completely remotely from our network of facilities no matter where they are in the world.

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