FM Goes Mobile

According to the results of a Cisco study released in February this year, the Middle East and Africa region is set to see the world's fastest mobile data growth rate in the years leading up to 2018; an increase that is being driven by the region's fast adoption of smartphones and tablets that conform to Internet Protocol Version 6, the latest version of the Internet's communications protocol.

With the use of mobile devices thus set to become much more widespread in the Middle East in the near future, the region's FM industry cannot afford to turn a blind eye to these technology trends happening around them.  Advancements in information technology (IT) has brought forth a number of mobile solutions that can be put to good use in the FM sector, and decision makers in the industry would be wise to make use of these opportunities that have been presented to them.

For instance, take a look at the cloud-based procurement-to-pay mobile platform that is being offered by 36 Strategies, a global procurement solutions company that is based out of Dubai.  The application, which has already proved its worth in the construction, hospitality and education sectors, has been able to make quite an impact on the way FM companies do their business as well, by optimising and managing their procurement-to-pay and supply chain cycles.

Most procurement processes today are time-consuming activities that involve a lot of paperwork, which gets transmitted through various levels of company management for the requisite approvals that are needed from each of the sections.  According to Steven Speter, Managing Director, 36 Strategies, these procedures are often inefficient, causing not only increases expenses, but increased cycle times as well.

Speter says that these processes, starting from the moment one decides to buy something to the instant where the final, approved purchase order is created, take an average of 19 days to complete - which, he says, is an unnecessary waste of both time and resources.  "If you look carefully at the processes that you execute to buy a product for your business, it is actually 100% internal and, therefore, controllable," Speter says.  "There's no reason for it not to be efficient."

This is where 36 Strategies' mobile solution comes into play.  Speter explains that the company first sits down with clients to perform a 'health check' of their existing processes, so as to understand every step involved in creating a purchase order, including details about which of the staff actually needs to be a part of the approval process.  36 Strategies then uses all this information to tell the client how these cycles can be optimised, and create an end-to-end IT solution tailored according to the client's needs.

Once they start using this solution, Speter says that clients will see about 14-19% savings in total procurement costs, which comes from just understanding the procurement process a little better.  In addition, the process becomes paper-free, and cycle times get greatly reduced as well.  "By using our system to optimise the process, and then enabling it through our mobile platform, cycle times can come down from 19 days to just 36-38 minutes," Speter declares.

It's easy to see that one of the major drivers of the spike in efficiency is the fact that 36 Strategies' solution can be accessed through a mobile device.  "You don't need to be sitting at your desk to approve a purchase order," Speter explains.  "You hop on your phone, get on the app, and then accept or reject approval requests.  It's the same physical process you used to go through when it was on paper, except now, it is all on mobile."

The mobility that such tech solutions offer is thus a boon for FM professionals who are almost always on their toes when managing their respective facilities.  But FSI Middle East's Head of Professional Services, Rob Stringer, notes that mobility is not really a new concept for the FM industry.  It is, after all, fairly common to see Facility Managers going about their work straddling a bulky personal digital assistant (PDA) for the purpose of their jobs, while also carrying a smartphone for their communication needs.

According to Stringer, this separation between corporate and private devices in FM is unnecessary and redundant in Today's times.  "The bulky PDAs which have been used in FM are cumbersome, expensive and restricted to one operation system," he says.  "The merging of corporate and personal devices, encouraged by Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, provided the catalyst for FSI to develop a brand new mobility platform, FSI GO Workforce Mobility."

FSI GO is a software platform that allows users to build fully customisable mobile solutions that are compatible with all major smartphone and tablet operating systems.  This means that such a solution can be rolled out across an FM team regardless of the devices they use, and without a major investment in bespoke PDAs. Perhaps more importantly, the solution is developed by FSI to solve specific business problems - the application is therefore personalised and caters directly to user needs.

"Unlike some fixed applications that come with a proprietary solution, FSI can quickly tailor the solution to deliver an app in line with the business requirement," Stringer explains.  "For Facility Managers and Maintenance Managers, FSI GO comes with a range of pre-designed template applications, but also allows for complete customisation.  In addition, FSI GO is able to integrate with applications across an organisation."

"FSI GO can thus deliver a mobile application for the whole organisation, making it a true corporate mobility tool, rather than a tool for just the FM function of the organisation," he says.  "With such a flexible application, it almost seems excessive to say that it has all the functionality on offer to enhance every aspect of FM mobility. FSI GO is designed to empower FM teams.  But its next generation approach means that it also pushes out the current boundaries of corporate mobility."

Contrary to the notion that mobile apps usually have only a singular function, it's worth noting that FSI GO users get to access a number of applications at their fingertips.  FSI GO allows teams to send and receive documents, capture pictures and customer signatures, and deliver real-time analysis, enabling improved business management.  Barcode, QR code and RDIF/NFC support reduces data entry errors and improve knowledge and support in the field, thereby improving client services.

"Responsiveness is also improved with FSI GO's integrated mapping ability to locate a user or find the nearest team member, and costly delays are eliminated if glitches do arise," Stinger adds.  "It is available as a standalone platform or in conjunction with FSI's Concept Evolution CAFM solution.  It is fully scalable, to support anything from 1 to 1000+ devices.  Secure logons and data encryption protect privacy, with a variety of security options allowing control of who gets to see what."

Rosmiman Software Corporation is another IT solution provider that has made a mark in the FM industry with its variety of offerings in the mobility space.  The company, which is one of the leading CAFM suppliers in the Middle East, have mobile solutions that cater to a number of FM functions including work order management, notification management, real estate management, GIS and asset management on a map, inventory preparation and asset data gathering etc.

Antonio Ramirez, CEO and owner, Rosmiman, says that FM professionals get to enjoy a number of benefits by making use of mobile IT solutions in their work.  These include the ability to manage information on real time, control employees and subcontractors, receive urgent notifications immediately, better management of street assets, comply with tight SLAs, etc., all while having constant access to right data.

"From our experience, and seeing how the market is evolving, we think that mobile FM solutions will soon be a must for all FM companies who want to stay active in the market," Ramirez says.  "We expect that the number of FM companies who use mobile technologies will substantially grow in the next few years, which will be something that will also help increase the overall quality of the FM services offered in the Middle East."

"We expect that the majority of FM companies will soon realise the benefits of using mobility solutions to manage their FM services," he adds.  "We have seen a tendency for moving towards mobile solutions in the FM industry, especially with smartphones, since these are easily available to any user and do not represent a large investment."  Ramirez reveals that his own company has recently seen an increase in interest for mobility solutions from not just existing clients, but new customers as well.

Stringer agrees with Ramirez, with respect to the reaction FSI has seen to its mobile solution.  He says "Maintenance and Facility providers, along with in-house Facilities Managers, are receptive to mobility solutions, and are quick to understand the benefits a true mobile platform can offer.  We already have clients who have mobilised contracts with an asset collection exercise and who have been snagging new builds with FSI GO, and have now moved onto operational day-to-day activities on the platform."

Speter concurs with this assessment as well - he notes that people have always reacted favourably to using 36 Strategies' solutions for the procurement processes.  "The feedback we have had has never been negative," he says.  "It's always: can you put more [functions] into this?"  With an implementation time of just four weeks, companies are also allowed to first trial the platform and see how it works for them - the response to this, Speter says, has been "fantastic".

Given the presence of such mobility solutions in the market, FM providers have a lot to gain by making use of these technologies for their businesses.  "Indeed, there are many benefits to be availed by FM companies who become "early adopters" of mobile technologies," Ramirez says.  "These companies will be using state of the art technologies and will be seen by the customers and by the market as reliable companies offering high quality services backed up by the latest technologies."

"The best advantage for early adopters will be the fact that since they are now able to provide latest technology to their customer, they will therefore be able to provide faster response, higher service with better SLAs and ensuring its compliance, real-time information with accurate data, and so on," Ramirez explains.  "All of this will, of course, help to improve the image of the company and the services it offers as well."

Stringer adds "With smartphones and tablets now costing less and less, the business case for mobility and ROI barriers are rapidly being removed.  Cloud computing and subscription-based services have also made mobility application more accessible to large and small organisations.  We are seeing here in the Middle East clients who talk seriously about cloud being the way forward for their organisation, with mobility through the cloud being a strong aspect of their requirement."

Speter also sounds a warning note for FM companies that may be hesitating to go mobile today.  "If you are not already thinking about how to optimise, how to go mobile, then you are already 10 years behind the industry," Speter says.  "Facility Managers are always moving around - so why shouldn't the systems they use be fluid and mobile as well?  If you don't fix your complexities now, it's only going to get worse later on."

Company Profile: FSI Middle East
FSI Middle East is a division of FSI Global plc, a group of companies built on a firm foundation of technical expertise, both in IT and modern Facilities Management.  FSI provides technology for asset, building services, maintenance, property and Facilities Management.  The company's main products are Concept Evolution, a fully web-enabled CAFM solution with a wide range of features and functionality, and FSI GO, a Workforce Mobility platform, each of which is owned and developed by FSI.

With FSI having had a presence in the UAE for over 12 years, the company boasts of a large portfolio of clients including many leading regional maintenance and FM service providers, and organisations such as Dubai Airport Freezone, Musanada in Abu Dhabi, and State Audit Bureau in Kuwait.

FSI Middle East's current projects include hard and soft services for Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC), New York University in Abu Dhabi on behalf of Tamkeen and The Wave Muscat and a solution for a Riyadh-based service providers managing a mixed user tower.