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Digital implications for the FM industry

16 October 2017

Given the high level of publicity devoted to the Internet of Things (IoT) and all aspects of smart technology within our industry, a casual observer could easily be convinced that the FM sector is leading the charge within this area.

However, a recent discussion by the members of the PFM Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) revealed that in many areas the impact is unlikely to be seen within the next few years.

To gain more insight of the situation, we asked industry experts for their views on the most persuasive arguments to drive the digitising of FM.

Among the first to respond, Salisbury Group managing director, operations Andrew Lunt refers to the falling costs as encouraging more uptake.

“Having reliable, real-time data and control of assets from remote locations provides a host of benefits for service providers and clients.

“As initial installation costs fall, the cost-benefit analysis of these technologies will only improve. Further developments, such as 5G mobile networks, will push such technologies into the mainstream.”

Remote sensors and controls enable FM providers to proactively fix issues, reduce travel time through remote fixes and provide a better first time fix rate by diagnosing faults more accurately before dispatching an operative, Mr Lunt continues.

Building and estate modelling, when combined with these technologies, can provide powerful data sets to enable optimisation and enhance productivity.

“Being able to make workforces even 1% more effective is a compelling business case for clients, particularly those in high cost environments. The challenge for FM providers is ensuring we stay at the forefront of these trends.

“If we do not, we will see asset manufacturers, data integrators and other industry ‘disruptors’ jump ahead of us, managing services directly with clients and leaving existing companies as commoditised manpower providers.”

Mr Lunt believes it is vital the industry invests in these new capabilities to lead the way: “New technologies are already with us; we must be the ones to identify how to best use them for the benefit of our clients,” he says.

Reference to the ambition to improve value through greater efficiency and productivity was provided by Engie RPA programme director Martin Ruane.

Describing robotic process automation (RPA) software that automates repetitive, office based processes, he says this area has doubled in size each year for the last three years.

“In a sector full of existing legacy applications, RPA can provide the technological glue to enable integration through the user interface. Or it can be used to kill off manual workarounds where existing applications are simply not functionally rich enough for the organisation.

"The software is relatively simple to use and places ICT in the hands of the business, delivering agile, low cost automation,” says Mr Ruane.

RPA can support back office support functions by reducing manual effort, reducing cost and allowing time to be re-purposed to more value-added activities.

This results in greater worker satisfaction through job enrichment, he continues. Robots can increase customer satisfaction by improving two key drivers that enhance the customer experience: speed and quality.

They work 24/7/365 and much faster than a human and they never make mistakes, which also improves compliance.

“RPA is allowing organisations in the FM sector to focus human effort on areas where true value is created and consign basic administrative tasks to the robot bin whilst driving down costs,” says Mr Ruane.

FSI (FM Solutions) sales manager Jon Clark says FM must utilise digital technology “to earn itself a seat at the top decision-making table in any organisation”, as this is increasingly capable of “pulling its weight as an information source of tactical and strategic importance”.

He proposes five current key digitisation drivers:

1. Mobility and real time-reporting using devices, including most smartphones, which along with the Internet bring real time working, not just to a site or campus but a global portfolio.

2. The socialising of information via a fully connected workforce. CAFM has moved to exploit smartphones and the social media revolution to move FM beyond the traditional silo. Apps can now engage the entire workplace community directly with the FM team, improving delivering and a gain for the organisation as a whole.

3. The IoT: Digital intelligence within a building’s assets is growing rapidly. Data flow and control is no longer limited to a BMS system controller. Individual devices – technical and otherwise – will increasingly make a contribution to the FM ecosystem.

4. Building information modelling: FM data can play a vital part contributing to the digital information to be shared to ensure efficiency and sustainability throughout a building’s operating lifecycle.

5. The need to integrate with corporate financial and other digital resource planning technologies to contribute insights that assist with cost management, trends analysis and business process optimisation.

“It is imperative for FM to ‘go digital’,” Mr Clark concludes.

Wates Smartspace (FM) ACT manager Chey Godfrey says the future of FM is increasingly focused on better use of technology and digitisation offers a “fantastic opportunity” to achieve greater connectivity and a more robust and efficient delivery model.

Using digital solutions to draw data together can improve monitoring, analysis and control of environments in real-time, with digital tools having the ability to provide a one-stop-shop for all compliance tasks and documentation via a web-based application.

Ms Godfrey says using this technology “has become a major differentiator for us and has been a huge support for our clients, many of whom are overwhelmed by the volume and pace of on-going changes to workplace legislation.

“On top of maintaining ever changing compliance standards, FMs are also expected to maximise their asset performance and retain control over their costs.

So, when scaling these demands up to clients, it is easy to see how this delicate balance can easily be upset by a traditional paper based system.

“Digitising compliance also provides greater visibility across entire estates, either at a regional, national or international level. When coupled with the ability for all key stakeholders to log in and access or share information in real-time through a digital portal, we are able to reach the ideal of transparency, greater efficiency and comprehensive trend analysis.

“For our business and our clients, digitisation of compliance provides unrivalled peace of mind at the click of a button,” says Ms Godfrey.

Ezitracker managing director Christian Berenger says decreasing margins have meant FM service providers have had to adapt to deliver enhanced efficiencies, as clients seek suppliers that offer better value for money, digital innovations and accurate management information and analytics.

Evolving customer demand is motivating FM providers to evaluate, adapt and improve their proposition to meet new procurement criteria centred around ‘value’.

“Progression in technology is the driver of innovation that is facilitating a shift for FM providers to deliver better value by managing contracts and mobile workforces more efficiently.

"The prevalence of new, cloud-based technologies such as workforce management software has made it significantly easier to manage teams of staff across multiple sites remotely, whilst bringing cost savingss and adding to the bottom line.

"Coupled with smart phones and mobile technology, these deliver added value with more in-app communication tools becoming available for mobile workforces to log completed tasks, contract compliance checks remotely in real-time, with clients benefiting from real-time analytics and vital contract compliance verification.

“FM service providers using the latest workforce management technology are driving the sector forward by streamlining processes, encouraging higher levels of productivity and boosting long-term profitability in a way that most aggressive lowest bid/cost-cutting strategies simply can’t match,” says Mr Berenger.

Calbarrie Compliance Services commercial director Tim Beardsmore says digital service automation has revolutionised workflows using online platforms and mobile devices, giving FMs greater visibility over their legislative compliance.

“Innovative service providers are building software solutions with apps and cloud-based facilities that are accessible via multiple platform operating systems,” he says.

These are speeding up processes through greater accuracy, transparency of regulatory mobile data and control over performance, all in a paperless workplace.

Overarching systems using application programming interface (API) enable secure and effective data communication between client, contractor and sub-contractor with data uploading directly into shared software.

All parties have visibility with no need for FMs to manually close an order or keep their own records.

Automated monitoring and seamless transfer of real-time data between multiple platforms also removes the need for manual checking.

Digitisation allows proactive management by identifying potential issues or programme variances before a problem can escalate. FMs can collaborate with partners across multiple locations, with greater connectivity allowing high levels of service delivery from almost anywhere, whilst their location and performance can still be monitored.

“FMs who partner with a service provider that differentiates through technology and experience, and that can lead the way, will be more agile and remain competitive,” says Mr Beardsmore.

Digitising the FM sector will significantly reduce the environmental impact that new and refurbished buildings will have and will also reduce the costs for the required internal infrastructure, says eyevis UK managing director Steve Murphy.

“As an example, video wall technology is used extensively within a wide range of new and refurbished buildings.

"These include control and command centre applications and the increasing use of high level audio visual display technology for corporate communications within all types of company premises,” he says.

The latest digital display technologies have led to significant reduction in power usage and heat output, he continues. Compared to previous UHP lamp illuminated displays, the power reduction is on average 30-40% and the annual recurring maintenance/spares cost has been reduced by over 50%.

Using digital technology signal extenders to distribute the required audio visual signal transmission via the building’s standard CAT6 cabling has significantly reduced the costs associated with the installation of bespoke specialist cabling previously required.

“The digital video wall technology itself is often used to monitor key operational building data and provides early indication of potential problems which can be dealt with more efficiently, therefore saving money.

“And the display technology itself allows multiple information feeds to be shown in one place at the same time, with multiple key personnel given access to it, so decisions based on that information can be discussed and made quickly and efficiently,” says Mr Murphy.

Bellrock Group chief operating officer Greg Davies compares the abundance of technology available at home that is changing expectations about technology in the workplace.

“If it is possible to remotely change the temperature at home, then why is the same degree of personalisation not available at work? For FMs it is frustrating that data aggregation across different sources is still difficult to compile.”

Compliance, lease information and asset maintenance often has to be pulled together manually from multiple sources, which are challenges that technology solutions should be able to address, he continues.

Mr Davies provides three predictions where FM will follow the trend of intuitive, web-based technology:

Ubiquitous use of IoT. Allowing devices to communicate across a global network feeding information to various systems, such as automatic monitoring of water temperature fluctuations using inline sensors that broadcast data to CAFM systems to raise tasks for engineers.

Augmented reality allowings engineers to visualise documentation, or see live telemetry data whilst servicing or fixing equipment.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) integration in the workplace providing by employing machine learning to automate routine tasks.

“The next decade will see a quantum leap in these technologies. Undoubtedly facilities and estates managers will benefit from more transparent and easily accessible information, as well as streamlining and building more robust processes,” says Mr Davies.

Further thoughts are provided by SmartTask chief executive officer Paul Ridden who says that despite the proliferation of BIM and CAFM launches, digital workforce management solutions have only seen versions for soft services teams more recently.

“With wages rising and a continued demand for more diverse services it is imperative that FMs have management information at their fingertips. Whether it is a monthly review to look back at performance or real-time access to deal with reactive issues, this is the only way to have complete visibility and control over a workforce,” he continues.

Workforce management software can be quickly deployed at costs not previously achievable, which immediately opens up a vast array of opportunities to improve service management and diversify the offering delivered.

Using low-cost, NFC-enabled smartphones along with an innovative workforce management app provides a simple-to-use way of capturing attendance and other performance data, while electronic smart forms can enable staff to quickly report issues, complete audits or even undertake inspections.

“As a result, facilities managers can be assured that their teams or subcontractors are delivering the service that occupants require in the most efficient manner.

"The laborious task of producing management reports regarding incidents and performance can now be achieved at the push of a button.

“In fact, these workforce management solutions not only help prove where employees are they can significantly reduce the need for paper-based systems, providing a consistent and simple-to-use tool for capturing, communicating and storing data, so it can then be processed into meaningful operation insight and business intelligence,” says Mr Ridden.

Although mobile communications is an example of technology commonplace in other areas is largely unexploited in buildings, says MyTAG director and founder Mike George, with paper-based processes still used in many key areas.

“FM can realise many benefits from using easy to use, intuitive cloud-based systems which can be accessed from the office, the field or when travelling, with real-time information presented in a flexible format.

"Exception reporting makes issues instantly visible 24/7, whether they relate to building maintenance, security or assets,” he says.

Time and money are saved and complete transparency ensured between FMs and contractors, with simple dashboards providing management insight whenever it is required.

Increased regulation requires proof of compliance in many parts of FM and a combination of NFC, GPS and Trusted HID Tags can be used to prove time and location based events.

A simple tap of a tag fixed at the asset location can provide access to the servicing instructions with details about information to be added by the engineer, including any additional work required to achieve compliance.

Cloud-based authentication means that the technology cannot be copied or cloned, providing a secure, auditable record.

“Importantly, this type of technology can be installed in a matter of hours, and is simple to use, delivering instructions to contractors and employees, and reducing the need for training. There is no impact on legacy systems and all information is available whenever you need it,” says Mr George.

Contract Sentinel chief technology officer Richard Savage says software suppliers are realising that service performance is key to winning business and optimising service profits.

“But measuring SLAs is not the only aspect of providing good service. To truly deliver contracts successfully in the modern age, supplier partnerships need a new multi-faceted approach that provides a transparent, cost effective and quality service.”

The trouble is, that effective supplier and contract management takes time — time that no longer exists, and resources that are far beyond the human brain alone.

Managers therefore need digital tools and automated systems that can seamlessly link contract data to delivered performance, with trigger alerts and management dashboards.

“They need systems which provide appropriate management information, metrics and alerts to determine where key business value and risk lies in contracts,” says Mr Savage.

Most contract management systems are merely repositories for information, but there is clear demand now for a dynamic, intuitive, intelligent system that is able to bring all these elements together, continuously capture and analyse performance and cost, show how multiple contracts are linked, and provide real-time data throughout the entire contract lifecycle.

“It’s the missing piece of the jigsaw. In the modern world of work many people work out of the office, remotely, and often in the field.

"So they need to be able to access hard data wherever they are, presented in real time in a flexible one-view format, such as a computer screen, laptop or smart phone,” Mr Savage concludes.

Locale founder and chief executive officer Guy Windsor-Lewis says embracing digital technology allows asset managers to become self-sufficient and ensure that staff make the most efficient use of their time.

“For instance, a concierge can notify a tenant that they have received a delivery by text or email rather than hand deliver a note; a regional manager’s dashboard will show how many outstanding helpdesk issues there are across the region,” he continues.

“All calls are logged in the system and the requisite action is triggered and as workflows are managed, nothing is left to chance or memory. Every job gets done – on time, all with minimum administrative effort.”

Data collection which will become increasingly important as patterns emerge providing the information to make changes to practices and processes.

Transparency and visibility are also strong motivators to embracing digital technology.

“With the onset of hierarchical, permission-based systems, building managers can post information to different user groups across large portfolios, whilst managing individual issues in each building.

"Whilst tenants benefit from greater levels of service, many agents are also benefiting from greater visibility via branded portals and emails that highlight their ‘activity’ and tenant engagement.

“Although many of the newer asset managers and FM executives have had that ‘light-bulb moment’ and become early adopters of this emerging technology, there are many who are yet to see the value. But with so many tangible benefits, surely it’s a no-brainer,” says Mr Windsor-Lewis.


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