Why the FM sector must embrace technological change now

Paul Bullard, Business Strategy Director at FSI (FM Solutions) Limited, Concept Evolution CAFM developers, tells PFM magazine that the FM sector isn't embracing the changing face of technology as quickly as it should.

There's been so much ‘change and disruption' with respect to technology in the FM sector that it can't afford to be complacent, says Paul Bullard, Business Strategy Director at FSI (FM Solutions).

"During my 18 years at FSI I've seen technology transformed from CAFM being a simple building maintenance
tool into a front-of-house, customerfacing fundamental piece of software. Now things have gone even further and
incorporate new technologies such as the ‘Internet of Things'."

The Internet of Things, a development of the Internet in which everyday objects have wireless network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data, is an example of the technology that wasn't available five years ago, Bullard notes.

"The industry needs to look at how things can be done now and it needs to take that forward. Unfortunately people are content to maintain the status quo, despite the fact there are so many exciting possibilities to be exploited. The industry must embrace this technological opportunity."

Knowing about the technology out there and actually embracing it are, of course, two very different concepts. How should FMs adopt the change if they don't understand it? "Everyone is at least a bit concerned about what the change means for them," Bullard says. "Some are concerned about the Big Brother approach that technology sometimes symbolises, for instance.

"But the fact is building owners could achieve so much more by immersing themselves in new technology rather than farming out responsibility to a contractor who's going to do what he or she has to do without introducing innovation because there's no imperative for it, or because the contract doesn't make provision for it."

Hampering innovation
Bullard makes the point that contracting out can hamper innovation. "Many organisations still have that way of thinking - ‘Let's just use a contractor for, say, three years, and that's the problem dealt with'. But think about it - there's no incentive for them to innovate as they see their task as maintaining the status quo."

I ask whether building information modelling (BIM) is a step in the right direction in terms of FM's embracing technology. "There are many new smart buildings that are being built on the BIM model but unfortunately there are still 95% of existing properties that will never follow that route.

"BIM is a really good opportunity - for years we've seen it develop. The thing is that it has to be top-down driven in an organisation. Some of the design teams can become fairly resentful about the extra information while on the FM side, the data that comes across isn't always complete or even relevant to them."

Bullard says the Middle East, which he describes as an early adopter despite the fact that BIM isn't legislated there, is ahead of the UK in this regard. 

Online interface
Bullard says one of the best things about working in the FM sector is its variety - FSI, for instance, operates in national stadiums, airports and property companies amongst others. "Our success lies in the fact that we have a unique blend of industry experience and technical expertise. We take a team approach on projects - typically we will have a dedicated project manager, consultants and a training team."

Furthermore, the cornerstone of FSI's success is a combination of people and products, he says. "They go hand-in-hand because the product has been developed using the expertise of the people in our organisation and also the customer base in industry. So it's very much an evolved product, in line with how the Facilities Management industry has developed over the years."

Bullard adds that the company has taken all the good things it's done and ‘expanded on them'. "We've created the breadth of product that fulfils many requirements in industry - it's been a lot about people building relationships and being able to guide and advise, not just implementing a product."

Over the coming year, FSI will expand its FSI GO workforce mobility platform, says Bullard. "It gives us an opportunity to create new and dynamic apps and bring them to the market quickly. It also provides us with an opportunity to go further into (and innovate within) FM and also to look at the surrounding complementary markets.

"The role of the FM is expanding so quickly that their responsibilities keep growing, and you can see those being overtaken. You have facilities directors sitting on the main boards, taking decisions about how they can actually change their environment to be more efficient in the organisation."

Something of an ambassador
Bullard's 18-year career at FSI has seen his role change constantly. After joining in 1997 as a developer, responsible for Concept 500, the company's flagship product at the time, he moved into the consultancy field and spent time connecting systems for FSI's many varied customers.

"I moved into the operationsdirector role in 2005 and ranoperations for nine years. That involved quadrupling the size of the professional services team and increased its turnover by 500%."

It was, Bullard recalls, a time when the industry was appreciating the value of not just inserting a box solution but actually going in with the expertise of people who understood the industry and technology. "And that was what the role was all about - developing that and ensuring the customer got the product they deserved, and that it met their requirements."

His role developed into something of an ambassador, looking after customers and partners around the world, ensuring whoever was representing FSI, be it in his own team or among delivery partners, the product implemented was as FSI would recommend on all occasions.

Last year Bullard was part of a decision within FSI to drive the requirements of the software product. "There's something in technology that's called DEVOPS, a new development methodology, which is a very hot topic today. It involves the business being the hub of software development rather than just being on the outside and being asked what's required - our business is now embracing that concept and driving it."

Understanding technology
Bullard heads up the so-called Knowledge Group, a team of people within FSI that is committed to gathering
information, understanding technology and industry trends so it can always look ahead of where its products are. In this capacity, he represents FSI across the globe in terms of best practice delivery of product and the innovation that goes into it.

When I ask Bullard whether there are any projects of which he's particularly proud, he mentions his work with a large national bank based in London where his team partnered with the client to design the software. "We're essentially talking about working with a pile of Lego," he says. "Now that we've built that Lego into an FM solution for the bank, it can be rebuilt to mould that organisation's requirements as their operation evolves."

It's that type of technological innovation and partnership that Bullard sees as the clear way forward for the FM industry. Whether it heeds his call to embrace technology with more vigour remains to be seen.