Digital implications for the FM industry

PFM magazine asks industry experts, including Jon Clark, FSI's Sales Manager, for their thoughts on the most persuasive elements to drive the digitising of the FM sector.

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 costbenefit 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 cloudbased 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 further.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Augmented reality, allowing engineers to visualise documentation, or see live telemetry data whilst servicing or fixing equipment.
  3. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) integration in the workplace provided 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.