When a newspaper erroneously reported his demise, Mark Twain famously said, “The report of my death is an exaggeration.” Paper documents could say the same. Paper is a remarkably persistent medium in this modern digital age, and it seems our brains are to blame.
Using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), researchers at the U.K.’s Bangor University compared people’s responses to paper documents and digital documents. They found that tangible materials (i.e., paper) created a deeper emotional response in subjects’ brains, and the emotional response in turn made the information more memorable and created more positive associations. While subjects were able to understand and absorb text presented in a digital medium, they retained the information from paper documents better, and they made deeper connections to the information.
When the Paper and Packaging Board conducted a survey on paper usage among students, they found that 61% of middle school and high school students studied with flash cards, and 70% prepared for tests using handwritten notes. College students too used paper in their studies; 81% stated they always or often used paper tools to prep for exams.
Perhaps, after so many centuries of reading and writing on paper, our brains have become well-adapted to the medium. It may just take the human brain a few more generations to fully adapt to the digital world.
This is not to say that today’s digitally-delivered information is less valuable than paper-based information. Digital information has the great advantage of reach – it can be instantly available everywhere in the world. It also can convert information into formats that can communicate with people who have special needs. A Sec. 508-compliant “smart” document can be delivered as spoken text or as enhanced images for the visually impaired, for example. And lower paper consumption boosts a business’s green rating.
Digitally-converted documents have other advantages as well: They are a secure backup for paper documents (vulnerable to fire, insects, theft, and a host of other threats). Record retention can be monitored and managed automatically. And digital documents, unlike paper, take up almost no room. Paper is bulky; 250 filing cabinets take up 2,500 square feet of space. That space has a direct effect on overhead. When you factor in the near-instantaneous retrieval time of digital documents compared to the time needed to locate a paper document, the cost of paper really starts to add up.
Nevertheless, paper does seem to aid in the retention of information, and businesses and educational institutions are understandably reluctant to eliminate it all together. Each enterprise, and each department within it, must find a balance between paper and digital documents. Marketing departments may rely more heavily on paper, with its emotional appeal and message retention, while accounting departments may be nearly 100% digital. A top-to-bottom assessment of information workflow and archiving will help determine what part of your business will benefit from digital conversion, and what part will do well to keep using the old familiar medium of paper – stored in a space-saving high density shelving system, of course.
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The brave new world of AI and IoT is changing the face of facilities management. Smart buildings notify the authorities when there’s an emergency like a water leak or a security breach. They send out reminders when maintenance should be scheduled. They use energy monitors to accumulate usage data and identify conservation opportunities. They know where every furniture asset is at any moment. They even monitor the bathroom soap dispensers and automatically restock the break room refrigerator. With all this automation, do we still need people to manage facilities?
Surprisingly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts job growth for FM professionals. AI and IoT eliminate a great deal of inefficiency in facilities management, but they cannot provide context for all the data they amass. Only a human brain can look at a collection of facts and figures, and interpret the meaning of the data in the real world.
Just as a building is connected to sensors and servers, an experienced FM professional is connected to people. When a building’s IoT system says it’s time to replace the roof, it can’t request three competitive bids from local vendors, or know that one of the vendors is going to offer good terms because they’re hungry for the work. But an FM pro knows that kind of information, because of people connections. When it’s time to staff up, AI software can’t chat with a candidate and learn that she helped out at her father’s HVAC company as a teenager. But a facilities manager can make that sort of people connection.
There’s simply no substitute for human insight.
True, the FM professional’s skill set is expanding beyond the traditional construction, engineering, and management arenas. Knowledge of IT is essential nowadays. Leadership ability is more important than ever, and according to Facilities.net, strategic business skills are a must-have.
Automation is an invaluable tool in modern facilities management, with a doubt. Energy efficiency, timely maintenance, RFID equipment tracking, or reducing a bulky storage footprint through automation will all yield positive results for the bottom line. But despite changes in the nature and medium of FM tasks, the need for a skilled professional manager still remains.
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A recent poll found that the public considers museums to be “the guardians of factual information” – a valuable function in the era of fake news and lack of trust in traditional organizations. Poll respondents felt that the care and preservation of heritage, and the expansion of social knowledge, are two vital primary purposes for museums. Equally important, respondents also indicated their belief that museums are operating under a continuous budgetary threat. To fulfill their mission of knowledge and heritage preservation, museums are called upon to continue collecting and storing culturally relevant materials. At the same time, museums have to preserve and curate these materials with less and less financial support. Museum facilities are faced with a conundrum: how to do more with less. Museum directors never like to turn down any art or artifacts that might be important to future researchers or visitors, with the result that their collections outgrow their available storage. And with budgets stretched thin, it’s not practical to expand the size of the museum’s existing building, particularly in a crowded urban environment. One museum just off the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was routinely taking in half a dozen new artifacts each day. The rapid rate of acquisition was quickly filling its storage shelves. With no room to expand outward and no budget to move to a bigger building, the mushrooming collections were overwhelming the museum’s storage, jeopardizing the mission to collect and preserve these unique historical materials. The museum’s facilities manager tried an innovative solution suggested by a storage consultant, taking advantage of the storage room’s volume by adding a second level of storage racks with a mezzanine walkway. This solution in effect doubled the size of the museum’s storage without altering its footprint or forcing it to move to a larger building. This sort of outside-the-box thinking enables institutions and businesses of every kind to continue their mission even when faced with budget challenges. Sometimes all that’s needed is another point of view.
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