Inaccurate and incomplete records of assets can cause indoor air quality problems in large buildings

Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, May 2022, Volume 5, #130

[Cite as: Fadeyi MO (2022). Inaccurate and incomplete records of assets can cause indoor air quality problems in large buildings. Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, May 2022, Volume 5, #130.]

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A large multinational real estate company with total assets worth hundreds of billion US dollars was sued by one of the tenants. The court case was due to evidence that poor indoor air quality caused poor health conditions and low business revenue for the tenant. The prosecution of the case became a huge challenge for the prosecution team led by a young lawyer. The stress of the case threatened the young lawyer’s mental health and personal life. The young lawyer’s journey in developing the problem-solving knowledge, understanding, and skills required to prosecute the case is the subject of this short fiction story.
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Greetings to you all. My name is Tracy Devon. Today, I want to share a personal story I have not shared publicly before with you. Fifty years ago, as I was coming from the school, walking toward our house, I saw so many people on the front porch of our house. Many of them were sad, and some were visibly crying. I knew a bad thing had happened to my family. However, the first explanation in mind for what I saw was that armed robbers had come to our house and taken many valuable things, and family and well-wishers were there to sympathise with us. I had no idea why such a thought came to my mind. Perhaps, it was because a friend in school had told me two days before how her house was robbed. I was in Primary 4 then.

As I got closer to the front porch, my mum rushed toward me upon seeing me and hugged me. “Mummy, what is going on? Did armed robbers come to our house?” I asked. “No! No!! No!!!” Mummy replied while wiping the tears on her face. “Daddy has gone to heaven to be beside your paternal grandmother.” This was the same thing she told me four years ago when I was 6 years old. However, this time around, I was 10 years old. I knew she meant my father had died and I will not see him again. I started crying. I could not imagine living without my father.

I loved my father and mother so much! I was their only child, and they doted a lot on me. They had me in their late thirties. They married late because they focused on their careers. My father and mother were professors at Charlton University. My father was a professor of asset and facility management at the real estate department, and my mother was a professor of astrophysics at the physics department. My mother’s mathematical skill was a thing out of this world. She was brilliant!

A day before the fateful day, my mother was with my father as he was writing a manuscript at the dining table, which was also our study table sometimes. I remember this because I was on my father’s back as he was typing on his laptop. I liked to do this a lot. My father and mother told me to go to bed at around 9.30 pm because I had to go to school the next day. Before I went to my room, my father said, “Sweetie! Daddy is travelling tomorrow. What do you want me to buy for you?” I told him to buy some toys I had been eyeing. I also told him to buy some storybooks for me. Don’t worry, baby. I got you! My father said with a big smile, and I can still remember his smiley face today. I kissed my father and mother before I headed for my room. They both said I love you to me simultaneously, as they usually do. They were really meant for each other. I turned back and said I love you too. That was the last time I saw my father alive.

My mother tried her very best to protect me from the details of my father’s death to protect me from trauma, and the effects the details could have on my mental health and academic performance. However, I got to know more about the details as I got older. My father was part of the expert committee advising the Ministry of Sustainable Housing and Environment on some issues relating to his expertise. He died in a plane crash on his way to the meeting to be held in the country’s capital.

My mother invested her life in me and her research. She went on to become a Distinguished Professor and one of the most highly respected professors in astrophysics in the world. I did well in my studies, became a lawyer, and married my husband, Dr. Benson Devon. We met when I was a final year law student at Charlton University, and he was a resident in the oncology department at the Charlton University Hospital. We got married immediately after my graduation at the age of 24. The same year I got a job at a top law firm in the country.

Eight years into our marriage, I gave birth to twins. My husband and I focused on our careers. We decided to have a child after seven years into our marriage. At that time, my mother had retired, and she was a professor emeritus at Charlton University. She moved in with us to help take care of the twins to help us focus on our careers. My boys looked like my father a lot. My mother doted on them a lot, and she really enjoyed spending time with them as she saw my father’s face in her grandchildren.

I was already a senior associate at the law firm I was working at that time. I specialised in property law. I was given a big case immediately after returning to the office from my maternity leave. Every case my law firm handled was typically a big case. Being a top law firm, the competition for promotion or maintaining a good status in my law firm was intense.

Our client, well-known tuition and lifelong learning centre, sued a building owner because of the claim that poor IAQ conditions compromised employees’ and students’ health and productivity, and business revenue. Many staff and students at the learning centre frequently experienced sick building syndrome (SBS) symptoms, which could not be attributed to a particular pollutant they were exposed to at the learning centre. These symptoms usually disappear, or their intensity reduces upon leaving the centre.

SBS symptoms experienced were headache, sneezing, dizziness, eye, nose, throat (ENT) irritations, cough, watery eyes, and runny nose. The symptoms caused stress resulting from the rate of adjustment a cell, tissue, organ, or organ system in the body undergoes to adapt to the environment. The occurrence of stress compromised the concentration level of staff and students, their cognitive ability for effective learning, and attendance rate at the learning centre. In no time performance and productivity of staff and students started to decrease. Staff and students started to leave my client’s learning centre for another one. My client’s business revenue and reputation took a deep dive.

My law firm was prosecuting the case. We were up against a real estate company (the defendant) with total assets worth hundreds of billion US dollars. The real estate company had enough resources to hire a team of very top lawyers in the country to quench the case because of the potential impact the loss of the case could have on their business and reputation. Many of their tenants followed the case and could also sue them if they lost the case against the learning centre. Thus, the stake was very high for the real estate company.

Unfortunately, I hit a roadblock. The case threatened to expose the inadequacy of my problem-solving knowledge, understanding, and skills. My law knowledge, understanding, and skills were not enough. The case given to me required me to define a problem and identify the root causes of a defined problem in a subject and complex situation I was not very familiar with within a limited period. I had to ask the right questions to guide my team, which included lawyers, the paralegals conducting research, and consultants with expertise in areas relevant to the case. I couldn’t figure out the questions to ask to guide the direction of solving our client’s problem.

There had been a simar case in which the same the real estate company won a lawsuit filed by another tenant for the same reason, the adverse impact of poor IAQ on staff health and business revenue. Another law firm prosecuted the previous case. The real estate company countersued the tenant for defamation and won the case. My case would head in that doomed direction for my client if I did not get enough evidence to show that the cause of the IAQ problem, which compromised the occupant’s health and business revenue was due to the fault of the real estate company. I was really stressed! The pressure from the senior management of my law firm to win the case, as you would typically expect in any law firm, did not help me reduce my stress either.

The stress caused by the need to win the case got to me. I could not tolerate jokes from my husband anymore. I could not control my anger and could not have a simple conversation with my husband and mother without shouting at them. I started blaming my husband for everything. One day, I came home looking very stressed as usual. My mother, who had been observing me for some time, knew firsthand what it means to be stressed at work. It was during this conversation that I opened up to her. Being a professor, she systematically asked me questions to identify what could cause my worries.

She said to me I have something to give to you. “I believe it will guide you on questions to ask to guide your team’s research and prosecution of the case.” She said to me in her typically calm and motherly voice. She stood and headed to her room. As she was in her room searching through her belongings, I wondered what it could be? How can an astrophysicist who knew very little about building or law have something that will be of use to me to prosecute my case?

She walked out of her room holding old, bonded papers that I had not seen before with her. “What could be in these bounded papers?” I wondered to myself. “Do you remember the last time you saw your father the night before the airplane crash?” “My father?” I asked in a questioning tone with a feeling of blood pressure rising. Discussion about that night was a very sensitive issue for me. As a child, I blamed myself for not refusing to go to bed to spend more time with my father. I blamed myself for not falling sick to prevent my father from travelling. My father loved me so much that he would cancel or delay his trip no matter how important it was if I fell sick. I told myself as a child if I had fallen sick, my father might have at least delayed his trip and not taken the doomed airplane.

“Yes, I remember that night, mum! I am not in the mood to have this discussion with you today. I just told you I have a lot in my mind.” I said in a disapproving voice. “Calm down, my daughter. What I am about to tell and show you are relevant to your case, at least based on what you have told me.” She said in her usual calm and motherly voice. “These are the printouts of the manuscript your father was writing that night. He planned to submit the manuscript for publication in a journal when he came back from the trip.” “The editor of a journal had invited your father to write an opinion article on the importance of asset management to indoor air quality and healthy living.” My mother said. I started to see the importance of the old, bonded papers.

She printed the documents from my father’s laptop and bound them. The papers were very sentimental to my mother. She had kept the papers for 22 years. The papers represented the last moment she shared with my father. My father left the house around 5 am for his 6.30 am flight. He told my mother not to worry about him or follow him to the airport because she had a whole busy day ahead of her at her physics department the next day. My mum helped my father prepare his travelling bags and put some food in the fridge for my father to warm up in the morning. She did all these before going to bed even though she had a hectic day ahead the next day. When my mother woke up the next day at 6 am, my father had already gone to the airport.

My father left a sticker note on the table beside my mother’s side of their bed. He wrote “I love you” on the sticker note. My mother kept the sticker note also. She gave the bounded papers to me. I read the papers several times. Each time I read the papers, it was as if my father was talking and guiding me directly, even though it was 22 years after his death. I will read part of the contents of the papers to you. Perhaps, many of you can also benefit from my father’s wisdom. My father emphasised the importance of knowledge management in defining and solving a problem for effective asset management. He contextualised the discussion to indoor air quality, a subject of interest to him.

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A building or facility is a whole unit that consists of interconnected systems with the potential to provide usefulness to its occupants. Building systems include envelope, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP), structural, and interior systems. The usefulness a building should provide to its occupants includes healthy, reliable, resilient, flexible, agile, resource-efficient, and adaptive indoor air quality (IAQ), thermal, acoustics, light or visual, and spatial conditions.

The usefulness of interest for discussion in this manuscript is the IAQ condition. The level of usefulness a building or facility provides will decrease if the level of usefulness provided by any of the systems decreases. As a whole unit, a building or facility is an asset for a building owner. Each system in a building is an asset. The focus of this discussion is on building system assets. Poor management of each asset in a building will lead to poor performance of the assets’ interconnection (forming a building or facility) performance. Thus, effective management of assets and their interconnections is a prerequisite to effective building or facility management.

An asset is something that can provide usefulness. Asset usefulness is the extent to which an asset solves its consumer’s (building or building occupants) problem. The level of usefulness an asset contributed to a building is determined by its quantity, quality, and safety condition. Quantity is the number of a particular asset required to solve the defined problem. Quality is the degree of excellence an asset required to solve the defined problem. Safety condition is the unharmful condition an asset required to solve a defined problem. The level of each usefulness determinant (quantity, quality, or safety condition) is determined by the level of comfort, convenience, and awareness (knowledge and understanding) each determinant provides to every consumer (building or building occupants) of the asset.

The amount of resources invested to achieve an asset’s usefulness will determine the level of value an asset delivers to a building and building occupants. Value delivery increases if the ratio of usefulness delivered to invested resources increases. When creating a solution to solve the end user’s or consumer’s problem, due consideration must be given to the process every end-user or consumer has to go through to use or consume the solution to solve the problem.

The resources invested will be related to financial costs, comfort, convenience, and awareness (knowledge and understanding) that have to be sacrificed to deliver usefulness. Thus, managing the value stream (process) to ensure prudent use of invested resources for managing assets in a building to maximise their usefulness is essential to enhance their value delivery. Such practice will also increase the value a building (the whole unit) delivers to building occupants/users and the building owner. More information about the computation of the ratio of usefulness to invested resources can be found in the published literature.

The value stream of asset management includes main stages such as developing or procuring, operating, maintaining, upgrading, disposing, and replacing assets (the building systems). People in charge of managing assets should monitor the usefulness, invested resources, and value that are expected from the assets. Monitoring what is expected will provide direction to what is expected to be done to achieve what is expected. What are the key things to do in monitoring assets? Collect detailed information about each asset, review records of each asset, and conduct walkthrough inspections to define a performance gap between the current asset or asset management practice performance and the set target performance. The performance gap is called a problem.

To achieve the task of collecting detailed information and reviewing existing records of assets, people in charge should (i) make an inventory of assets and their locations and review their procurement, maintenance, upgrading, and disposal and replacement records of all assets, including reasons for the actions taken on the assets to achieve reliable healthy indoor air, (ii) review asset information in the building design, construction, and management (operation and maintenance) documents to understand the reasons for any variations in asset information and the implications on indoor air quality, and (iii) review the defect records of all the assets to inform the knowledge and understanding needed for preventing or limiting the defects re-occurrence and the potential impacts defective assets could have on the delivery of healthy indoor air.

With the aid of walkthrough investigations, there should be the identification of how integrations within and among assets (building systems) could contribute to an increase and reduction in exposure to indoor air pollutants. The walkthrough investigation should explore the possibility that a poor design, construction, and management of the integrations within and among assets (building systems) could lead to sources of indoor air pollutants present in an indoor environment and increase exposure to indoor air pollutants.

The walkthrough investigation should explore how the poor practices could compromise assets meant to remove air pollutants from outdoor and indoor air. Explore how the poor practices could compromise assets’ ability to effectively distribute the adequate amount of filtered and cleaned outdoor and indoor air, reduce air pollutants concentrations at the source, and control pressure differences to limit or reduce exposure. The knowledge and understanding gained should be effectively managed to guide practice for defining and solving a problem.

The adoption of digital solutions augmented with artificial intelligence (AI) to create a digital twin of a real-life building and its systems (assets) can aid value-oriented monitoring of what is expected and guide the direction to do what is expected and deliver what is expected effectively. In its ideal state, a digital twin means an exact representation of real-life conditions in a digital version. A digital twin of a real-life building means that building assets, their integrations, and performance in a real-life building are the same as how they are represented in the digital version of the building.

Any variation in a real-life building is expected to be reflected in the digital version of the building and vice-versa. The ongoing advancement in AI, digital solutions, technologies, and materials suggests that the potential to make or assess the performance of assets in the digital version of a building to depict the true performance of assets in a real-life building is a possibility.

The ability of a digital twin to accurately simulate reality provides the opportunity to eliminate wastes, as defined in lean thinking, in the asset management value stream. Reducing wastes would facilitate prudent use of invested resources to have building assets in the right quantity, quality, and safety conditions to solve (correct or prevent) indoor air quality problems. Wastes, in absolute terms, are born from activities or tasks that consume resources with no usefulness delivered to the consumer of the outcome of the activities or tasks.

Many tasks in the asset management value stream do not lead to absolute waste. However, situations in which the usefulness level delivered does not correspond to the high level of resources invested in the asset management value stream due to some wasteful tasks in the value stream are prevalent. Sometimes, the usefulness delivered is not high enough as expected, albeit higher than invested resources, due to the wasteful tasks. The root causes of such wasteful tasks should be identified and eliminated.

When a healthy IAQ value delivery problem to be solved is defined, and possible causes or contributing factors to the defined problem are identified, officers in charge should ask 5M questions. The purpose of the 5M question is to probe the identified or possible causes/contributing factors to identify the root or underlying causes. Such practice will help prevent or, at least, reduce wasteful tasks in the asset management value stream. The 5M means method, measurement, material, machine, and man (human).

Method-related questions will try to understand the root causes of how assets are managed led to the defined problem. Measurement-related questions will try to understand the root causes of how what is being measured to do asset management led to the defined problem. Material-related questions will try to understand the root causes of how the substances or a mixture of substances that constitute the assets led to the defined problem. Machine-related questions will try to understand the root causes of how the assembly of an asset’s components and the integration of the components led to the defined problem. Man (Human) related questions will try to understand the root causes of how human behaviour and culture led to the defined problem.

Defining and probing how asset management practice can contribute to IAQ problems is a daunting task, especially in a large building. The magnitude of resources that have to be invested can be tremendous in a large building. The magnitude can discourage asset management officers or building owners do their due diligence to solve IAQ problems. The practice will worsen if there are many wasteful tasks in the asset management value stream of a large building. The use of digital solutions without making efforts to know and understand how the wastes in the value stream can be eliminated will be counterproductive. Digital solutions that are supposed to streamline the value stream will introduce more wasteful tasks into the value stream if knowledge generation and management guided by lean thinking are not used to guide the development and application of digital solutions.

The higher the wastes in the asset management value stream, the higher the risk of asset management not being done properly. When asset management is not done properly, inaccurate and incomplete records of assets and a lack of quality and safe assets will become prevalent. Such a situation will increase the risk of IAQ problems, and the impacts of poor IAQ problems on occupants become inevitable. Thus, adopting lean thinking to guide the development and protocol for adopting digital twin in removing wastes from asset management value-stream design for solving IAQ problems is essential.

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Keeping the papers for 22 years and passing them over to me by my mother is a good example of knowledge management. The knowledge and understanding I gained from reading the unpublished manuscript written by my father gave me the much-needed insight into the direction to overcome the roadblock preventing myself and my team from providing justice to our client. We engaged the services of a leading building performance forensic company to explore the possibility of poor asset management practices on poor IAQ conditions in the defendant’s building. The knowledge shared by my father helped me instruct the forensic company on what we specifically wanted from them. The investigations were not limited to the plaintiff’s rented spaces in the building. All spaces in the defendant’s building were investigated. We secured a court order to make the investigation possible.

The investigation revealed that the defendant’s poor asset management practice, which included poor procurement, operation, management, upgrading, disposal, and replacement of building assets, led to IAQ problems that were not solved effectively. The investigation revealed that the wastes in the defendant’s asset management value stream forced the asset management staff to develop the practice of poorly defining IAQ problems and other layers of problems contributing to the main IAQ problem (polluted indoor air).

The next layer of observed IAQ problems to the main IAQ problem (polluted indoor air) includes (i) The rate at which pollutants are introduced into indoor air and surfaces, (ii) Insufficient or no replacement and mixing of clean outdoor air with indoor air, (iii) ineffective /no filtration or cleaning of outdoor and recirculated air, (iv) inadequate or no movement of an adequate volume of air either per volume of a microenvironment, person, or unit area of a microenvironment, and (v) uncontrolled introduction of sensible and latent heat into indoor air.

The investigation revealed that the causes of the above next layer of IAQ problems are assets and how they managed them. The investigators observed that asset managers, facility managers, and senior management of the real estate company did not always ask the 5M questions to determine the root causes of defined IAQ problems. It was observed that many times when tenants made IAQ complaints, the facility managers just provided solutions to IAQ problems instead of solving the problems. The poor practice became prevalent because asset and facility managers worked in a value stream where it was very difficult or required a high amount of resources to be invested in defining a problem and identifying root causes or contributing factors.

Sometimes, asset and facility managers at the real estate company would provide solutions to solve a problem that does not exist because they want to be seen doing something. Sometimes, poor knowledge management practices, even with the adoption of digital solutions by the defendant, to define a problem correctly were the reason for this poor practice. Moreso, asset and facility managers were rewarded or appraised based on solutions they developed. It did not matter to the supervisors or senior management if the solutions developed effectively solved problems reported by the tenants or introduced more problems or wasteful tasks into the value stream.

Such practice led to unsolved and re-occurrence of IAQ problems at a higher rate. The developed solutions were not used to prevent, eliminate or reduce the intensity of the root causes of compromised asset quantity, quality, and safety condition problems leading to a cascade of IAQ-related problems until the “main” IAQ problem (polluted indoor air) occurs. The “main” IAQ problem compromised the usefulness delivered to the consumers (building occupants) of the indoor air. The compromised IAQ usefulness led to compromised occupants’ health, performance and productivity, and revenue of companies that rented the plaintiff’s building. It was documented that while tenants invested a lot of resources, including money paid to the plaintiff in the form of rent, and sacrificed comfort, convenience, and awareness to correct IAQ problems themselves, the level of IAQ usefulness expected from the building was not delivered.

After extensive exchanges during the court proceedings, I asked the CEO of the real-estate company a question that turned out to be the blow that won the case for us. I said, “Mr. CEO! Imagine for a minute. All your large buildings do not have accurate and complete records of building system assets. How do you expect your asset and facility managers to manage what they do not know and understand or can’t see? Don’t you think poor IAQ condition is inevitable?” His response was, “Hem! Hem!! Hem!!! He could not find an answer to the question. We provided convincing evidence on how the company’s poor asset management practice caused poor IAQ conditions that compromised employees’ health and business productivity and the revenue of the tenant’s company.

We won the case for our client. The judge ordered the real estate company to pay a multi-million-dollar settlement to our client. My husband and mother were happy to see me in a joyous mood. They were also happy that I had developed the problem-solving knowledge, understanding, and skills I needed to reduce my work stress and improve my mental health. My mental health definitely improved! My mother was particularly happy that my father was able to care for my well-being even several years after his death.

I would attribute my team’s success in this case to the problem-solving knowledge and understanding I gained from my father 22 years after his death. The knowledge and understanding helped sharpen my problem-solving skills. The success led many tenants to sue the real estate company and win the lawsuits. My company also represented all the other tenants, and I was also charged with the responsibility of leading the prosecution of the cases.

The lawsuits against the real estate company and successes created a platform that propelled me to stardom in the law profession as a go-to real estate lawyer in the industry. I was involved in many cases over the years. Many clients would come to our law firm just because of me. They wanted me to handle their cases or at least be part of it. I won many awards, and my revenue increased. I became a senior advocate just 15 years into my law practice. I spent a total of 24 years practicing law before I went into politics to make an impact on human lives in another way.

The gift my father gave me through my mother during my first major case as a leading attorney changed who I am, how I see and interpret things in life, and intervene to lessen people’s pain. I was recruited to be the Chief of Staff to the newly elected Ferguson State Governor because of the problem-solving skills responsible for my career success as a lawyer. Many people outside the law profession got to know me when I joined politics. After four years of serving as Chief of Staff to the State Governor, I later ran for the governorship position and won when the incumbent governor decided not to run for a second term due to health reasons. I got the endorsement of the incumbent governor to run for the governorship position. I became the very first female governor in the country’s history. The success of my administration in making life better for the residents of Ferguson State contributed to me serving two 4-year terms as the Governor of Fergurson State.

I told you this story of my father’s gift to me to let you know that I will not provide a solution to your problem or provide a solution to solve a problem that does not exist because I just want you all to see me doing something. I will develop solutions to solve your problems. Like I always do, I will monitor the value required by you to define the problem that may arise. I will make it a duty to see, know and understand the root causes or contributing factors to any problem that may surface. I will always be there for you and continue serving people’s interests. I ask for your votes to be your Senator at the federal government level. I will not let you down. Thank you all!

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The election campaign video made by Governor Tracy Devon went viral on YouTube. It was a perfect strategy for getting to people in a very competitive Senate seat. People resonated with her story. The message got to young and old people in the constituency she hoped to represent in the senate. She went on to win the senate seat. She won several re-elections to retain her senate seat until she retired from politics at 80. She spent unprecedented 20 years as a senator because of her outstanding problem-solving knowledge, understanding, skills, and performance as a senator in improving people’s life. She wrote a bestselling book titled “The gift from my father during her retirement life.” She enjoyed her retirement life with her husband, children, and grandchildren. THE END!

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