Steering a route to a better mobile working

Industry experts, including Natalie Green, FSI's Business Development Manager, respond to PFM's question on how mobile working has changed FM in recent years.

Continuing development  of mobile solutions has provided more opportunities for FMs and service providers to take advantage of these and improve their working practices.

Among the first to respond to PFM's request for thoughts on how mobile working has changed within the FM sector in recent years was FSI business development manager Natalie Green, who states that the introduction of mobile CAFM technology "has brought about something of a revolution for those organisations that have embraced it and run with it".

During early rollout of mobile CAFM technology, it was usual for it to be met with some resistance by personnel used to paperwork approach to account for their activities, she explains.

"The fact of the matter was that once they got their hands on, and became familiar with, a virtually real time tool to support them, they haven't looked back," she says. "Mobile has brought significant engagement to users with both the sites they operate in and those they interact with, when carrying out FM activities across estates and with the recent launch of CAFM smartphone apps all employees can now effectively become mobile contributors," says Ms Green.

"The amount of information and flexibility that mobile devices interacting with the core CAFM system enables, in comparison with the paper-based past, is game-changing. We estimate 50-70% of data management can currently be done directly between the mobile and central CAFM database - freeing up back-office resource to be more proactive and ensuring the system is a live reflection of work being carried out."

Users of mobile applications soon become adept at spotting additional or alternative ways to increase efficiency. This has led to the increasing development of mobile applications that complement core FM activities, such as portering for hospitals.

"Conversely, some tried-and-tested mobile applications make it clear that existing business practices can be made more efficient and so bring associated benefits," says Ms Green.

The world of work has changed, says Sodexo UK and Ireland Corporate Services marketing director Andrew Wilkinson, providing FM with a transformational opportunity for people to perform at their best wherever and whenever they work.

Agile working incorporates the adoption of new technology and a cultural change regarding workspace and its use and perception and working flexibly has become an important part of the workplace environment in recent years.

"At a very basic level it has become increasingly difficult to accurately predict workplace usage from one week to the next, impacting things such as labour management, purchasing and project planning," Mr Wilkinson continues. It is now essential that FM providers build a relationship with, and understand their service users and the client's requirements. Technology is a key enabler but human interaction must not be ignored. 

With the trend increasing for people working across different workplaces, the role of FM will play a vital part in helping to create opportunities for collaboration and encouraging social interaction.

"In a recent study we found that 67% of knowledge workers had left their last role because they felt their workplace was not optimised for them. Using this valuable insight alongside workplace trends, FM providers can become a strategic partner for clients," he says.

"While essential to understand the culture of client organisations, mobile working can present challenges, although the impact the workplace has on employee engagement, talent retention and productivity is being realised, providing an opportunity for FM providers to become true strategic partners for client organisations," Mr Wilkinson concludes.

Wates Smartspace FM mobile business director Dave Gannon says: "There has been a significant shift in the support technologies that our mobile delivery teams use to effectively manage and deploy resources in recent years."

Referring to his company's planned and reactive maintenance services for a multinational client base that includes sectors ranging from zoos to international banking headquarters, Mr Gannon says this requires teams to deliver FM services in the safest, most efficient and cost-effective way to allow clients to focus on their core business.

Use of best practice IT solutions by his company's mobile delivery team includes utilising PDAs and leading vehicle logistics software. By integrating these technologies, utilising an effective web-enabled platform, the complete CAFM solution merges "powerful functionality with sophisticated technology", he continues, supporting effective management of client asset activity and life cycle planning across multiple accounts with unique requirements.

"This holistic view of our facilities and maintenance activities allows our management team to move Smartspace FM's service to the next level - tracking every location, asset and person on demand, analysing processes, including the associated costs and efforts required for optimal performance, and maximising maintenance regimes to ensure best-in-class service provision.

"This improved utilisation has helped us to deliver increased engineer productivity and operational efficiencies by identifying and deploying the correct and nearest skill to the task required. We have also operated more sustainably as a result of insights gained around fuel consumption, vehicle maintenance and waste," says Mr Gannon.

Where We Work director of workplace consultancy Jackie Furey says mobile working has enabled the office to become a more fluid and flexible environment. This has led to lower levels of workspace occupancy and utilisation, as having one desk per person is no longer a requirement.

"The FM environment has had to change accordingly by providing workspaces that are adaptable to changing levels of utilisation. The workplace has been influenced by the rise of ad-hoc desk systems, collaborative or activity orientated workspaces, booths, touch down-desks and more.

"Consequently, there has been a shift in the ownership of the workplace. For example, there was a time when organisational departments would dictate the planning and design.

"However, since the rise of mobile working, the FM has gained more control over this space. Now, the FM must harness a strong understanding of shared spaces, utilisation and attendance and how to efficiently manage a space to accommodate fluctuating requirements," she continues.

Advantages include more cost efficiency, lower space requirement, improved work efficiency, with regular space reconfiguration and IT adjustments no longer an issue.

"As a result, the job of the FM in the office environment has developed into more of a service offering, much like a concierge in a hotel in that needs and availability must now be ascertained and measured, and an efficient and attractive environment be provided to ensure all requirements are met," Ms Furey concludes.

Calbarrie Compliance Services commercial director Tim Beardsmore says the development of handheld computers (PDAs) and the automatic transfer of accurate data has led to significant cost savings and efficiencies.

A PDA can live-stream results data securely via GPRS which, when integrated with an IT system, can enable effective job tracking from request through to testing and reporting. Information can be uploaded onto the PDA onsite and transferred securely to the office for the production of reports involving just one point of data entry. As well as minimising the risk of data loss, it also means that accurate reports are available for the FM to download within hours of testing.

"PDAs and vehicle trackers monitor progress and location of engineers with 30-second updates, ensuring that concerns for personal safety and lone working can be offset and service levels met. Engineer activity levels, working hours and travel times can be monitored daily, and mileage controlled to ensure that commuting distances are kept low," he continues.

When the PDA is programmed with automated data validation software high levels of compliance can be achieved. Checks on data type, values and spelling, for instance, provide guarantees for fitness, accuracy, and consistency of data input, with validation rules and parameters defined and designed specific to the organisation to verify that engineer-supplied data is consistent.

"In a climate where service providers must achieve the highest levels of operating standards and remain competitive, greater control of mobile workers can enable them to demonstrate significant value," says Mr Beardsmore.

Dynamism and flexibility has resulted from the surge in mobile working, says Service Works Group chief executive officer Gary Watkins. "Time-strapped and deadline heavy, FM teams are the foundation of any organisation and technology is essential to strip back unnecessary time wastage. CAFM has been widely used for years, but access via mobile phone and tablet devices has revolutionised its benefits."

Cheaper smart devices means this technology is now widely accessible and highly compatible with CAFM, he continues. Static work orders are "a thing of the past", with operatives accessing the system from any location, creating significant time savings and a more reactive workforce.

Mobile operatives can update their progress and also log new jobs, increasing the level of service delivered. The development of ruggedised devices and some CAFM apps' offline capabilities mean that operatives can remain in communication with the help desk, even when in remote environments with no wi-fi signal.

Standard device features mean engineers can take photographs or videos and upload them as evidence of asset condition, and QR codes attached to an asset can be scanned to access pertinent information.

"Mobile working also means greater efficiencies at the help desk. Through GPS, operatives can be assigned work according to their proximity to the location and possession of the requisite skills. Mobile technology has been, and will continue to be a great ally to FM, improving rectification times, creating efficiencies and expanding the lines of communication in this fast-paced industry," says Mr Watkins.

Anabas account director Tim Hyson says: "Supporting clients who have a strong focus on mobile or agile working requires thought and an innovative approach for most FM providers. In particular the advent of technology and changes in corporate culture that support flexible working have provided some unique challenges in the industry. Typically workers within an organisation could be classed as residents, internally mobile or externally mobile."

FM providers need to ensure that facilities and services are suitable for each of these groups and it is this flexible approach that has seen the greatest change in the FM environment recently, he continues. Agile working arrangements can support client structure and culture including mobile working.

Increasingly, strategic FM providers are able to influence arrangements including how space is used to furniture design and infrastructure support - these elements can promote inspiring multi-use space providing both bookable and non-bookable space for transient workers or functional working groups. FM service delivery also impacts on the effectiveness of these solutions and appropriate and flexible provision of catering, cleaning and security are essential.

"A mobile workforce that needs to drop in and out of traditional office space must be considered when developing service models for clients, there is no longer a ‘one size fits all' solution.

"Mobile working has also significantly changed the working practices of FM providers internally. From multi-site engineers becoming more effective thanks to mobile CAFM apps, to account managers being more effective when moving from client to client. This further highlights how traditional service models are now becoming less usual," says Mr Hyson.