Cutting Edge

Just as the UK continues to lag behind in productivity, the FM sector is hardly at the cutting edge when it comes to embracing the latest tech. FSI Senior Business Development Manager, Mark Magee tells FMJ what CAFM can do to help.

A report, "Solving the UK's productivity puzzle in the digital age", published by the McKinsey Global Institute last year, argued that the UK's "uneven digitisation" is one of the reasons for the continuing productivity gap. Within the FM sector it's been argued that CAFM has a much stronger role to play in helping to boost productivity within businesses. We asked some leading CAFM suppliers whether their software could be better deployed among users to improve performance for client and FM service providers.

PETER BRUMBY

CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, CLOUDFM

It is no secret that the UK has a productivity problem. At just 2.4 per cent in the last five years, productivity growth in the UK is far below similarly developed countries. It now takes the average British worker five days to make what a French worker achieves in four. McKinsey and other commentators have suggested that the uneven adoption of digital technology in business is partly to blame.

At its heart, the productivity problem is about efficiency. And companies with a new business model enabled by technology can be spectacularly efficient. Disruptive start-ups like Monzo, Deliveroo and TransferWise have reached billion-dollar valuations with a relative handful of staff. But, in other sectors, companies struggle to make a sustainable margin - hampered by outdated systems and inaccurate data.

FM is one of those industries. There is no Deliveroo of FM. There are services that connect clients directly with contractors. But they have not delivered significant gains in convenience, efficiency, or effectiveness. Neither have the longer-established CAFM technologies. These conventional systems allow manual intervention and optional data entry, which fundamentally compromises the quality of data and prevents effective management. For example, a system might register that a task is complete, simply because an engineer attended - when the fault has merely been ‘made safe'. Flaws like this limit the impact of such technology on productivity.

This is not an abstract problem. Unlike, say, retail banks, FM providers are not under direct threat from digital competitors. But poor productivity represents a different risk, one highlighted by the margin pressures accepted as almost unavoidable in the industry. Using technology to increase productivity is no less urgent in FM than in other, more easily disrupted sectors.

FM may seem a long way from the world of digital start-ups. But the start-ups' principles of simplicity, transparency and convenience have influenced even traditional organisations. Long-established companies in transport, retail, finance and other sectors have successfully applied these principles. As a result, whole industries (and not just new entrants) are enjoying increased productivity.

But these successes have not stemmed from simply applying digital technology. Like the best start-ups, established organisations that use digital technology successfully use it to reshape inefficient models and processes. Conversely, most applications of technology in FM simply formalise or accelerate existing, ineffective processes. And an ineffective process that is managed digitally is still an ineffective process, just a faster one. There is no good reason why FM companies cannot successfully apply the principles of digital start-ups, in the same way as established banks, insurance companies and retailers. Current technology is more than good enough to enable highly efficient processes in FM - but to deliver significant gains in productivity, those processes must: ­

  • Create a controlled and uneditable workflow. Data should be accurate from the moment a task is identified through completion, payment and final performance analysis. ­
  • Make data capture seamless, and nonoptional. Capturing the entire workflow within the technology platform removes the scope for inaccurate or optimistic reporting. ­
  • Ensure that all stakeholders have access to all relevant information, in real time. Creating genuine transparency builds trust and encourages positive behaviours.

For the FM industry to achieve productivity gains through technology, leaders must not think only of how to apply technology. Instead, the focus must be on improving processes - and how technology can help make that happen.

RUDI BRUMMER

PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MANAGER, URGENT TECHNOLOGY

I've spent several years mobilising and managing CAFM projects for clients. The success of each project has always been defined by clear business requirements and processes, the people and the quality of the data, rather than the so„ ware functionality itself.

CAFM implementations are significant projects that demand the correct approach in terms of vision, communication and delivery, from an internal team of stakeholders, to achieve successful deployment and adoption - and consequently boost workforce or contractor productivity. However, all too often CAFM projects do not attain the expected goals of improved productivity, cost reduction and enhanced asset lifecycle performance. This is due to a lack of end user buy-in to the new system, subsequent low rates of adoption and reversion to ‘old ways' of doing things.

There can be many reasons for end user disengagement. CAFM strategies may not be driven consistently and constantly from the top down, reaching the engineer or subcontractor level. There may be an initial lack of understanding of user requirements or participation, or a failure to communicate new processes and the expected benefits. The departure of an important stakeholder can also harm the organisational change process and system adoption, even if a project has been delivered as planned.

CAFM providers can hold the key to system adoption - and be the enabler for businesses to realise the increase in productivity that the software promises to deliver.

We recently worked with a customer in the care industry whose CAFM project was not meeting its objectives due to a key stakeholder leaving the business. Our professional services team went in to help the business understand and audit their challenges from different user perspectives, engaged with multiple stakeholders and, as a result, reconfigured their system. Training was also delivered to increase awareness of the new system's benefits and boost overall adoption.

An ongoing partnership between vendor and buyer can help FM leaders drive successful implementations by assisting in the change management approach and lifecycle, developing system proficiency and achieving adoption - long after the software has been installed. The role of consultancy, training and project management should not be underestimated when specifying a project. Technologies such as asset performance management, IoT or predictive analytics may promise to deliver greater levels of business intelligence, FM efficiency or automation, but their impact on a business will depend on strong adoption rates and achieving the successful cultural change necessary to underpin it.

MARK MAGEE

SENIOR BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, FSI

While the picture this report paints is stark - the UK has one of the lowest productivity levels in Europe - there are a lot of positive opportunities for CAFM. If we rethink what CAFM is and its potential, we can use it to provide a working environment that promotes enthusiasm and employee engagement while constantly adapting and modifying to changing needs.

At its simplest level, FM is the facilitation of a working environment. It's a million different things that people don't give a second thought to. FM also has the power to change the working environment in a way that directly impacts on productivity.

Workplaces are no longer designed with rows of desks with an emphasis on saving space. They are designed to be conducive to new ways of working and to promote interaction. This is not just traditional FM - making sure there are lights, water and security. It's about FMs using technology to increase happiness and efficiency at work, as well as that difficult-to-measure but golden ticket - productivity. What's positive in this report is how digitised we are as a country. This means organisations can deploy an FM solution easily, and it's driving our customers' expectations. It has a major influence on how we develop the user interface of our products and the reporting tools. As a consequence, our technology takes FM functions and makes them accessible with products that are easy to use from an intuitive and engagement perspective. It's the natural extension of the tech we use every day.

FM should also support what's happening outside a company's walls, because we now have remote working and people need to be supported by their organisation's tech solution. This means the automation of the software is very important and must be seamless. FMs also need to be able to monitor performance and quality at the touch of a button, wherever they are. But, as the report says, while we have this level of digitisation, we're being held back, and a lot of this is to do with culture. We need to look at the broader spectrum of services and the quality being delivered, either in-house or through contractors and suppliers. The productivity puzzle is the difficulty of optimising the quality of service while reducing the cost. It needs transformational thinking. Traditionally, FMs haven't been in the boardroom and haven't been exposed to the wider population within an organisation, but this is starting to change - and with it, the potential for an increase in productivity, however small, which will have a big impact on the business's bottom line.

As a result, more and more FMs are taking their mandate, their responsibility, beyond the limits of the physical infrastructure and are looking at innovative ways to differentiate their environment and workspaces, contributing to the culture of the company in the process. They are no longer a service manager but an experience manager. This is about the whole customer experience, from when an employee walks through the door in the morning to their departure at night.

FMs have to understand what services need to be delivered to the workforce in their entirety. Once you understand the requirements of employees, you can translate it into a tech requirement and, most importantly, the business process needs. It sounds simple, but there is a tremendous amount of integration and automated processing going on in the background, which is why we increasingly talk about integrated workplace management solutions (IWMS).

The key to more efficient deployment of FM is responsiveness. Every organisation has vastly different requirements and no two companies operate in the same way. A good FM solution can be adapted or configured easily to meet the environment within which a business is operating.

With the advent of BIM, FM is gaining an even bigger role. Traditionally, the design and construction process took nine years and, at the end, manuals and disks would be thrown at the FM and they would be told to run the building. With the operational phase of a building being 25 to 30 years, there is now more emphasis on making sure FMs are engaged at the beginning of the process. The speed of tech development, the potential to increase productivity and the impact this has on people's working lives make it an exciting time in FM. When used correctly, IWMS can provide vital information to support strategic decisions in an organisation. The benefits are now felt by far more people than just the FM team.