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Digital transformation in Facilities Management

Rob Smith, interviews David Hipkin on Digital transformation within the Facilities Management space

fm Digital transformation

Mobile technology has been seen as a big driver for cost reduction in the Facilities Management (FM) industry for many years, is this still the case?

The adoption of smartphone technology has been unprecedented with 1.46 billion devices shipped in 2017. We now live in a world where we as consumers demand instant access to information from our devices. We expect to be able to book a taxi, purchase a book, plan our holiday or order repeat medication, at our convenience, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, straight from our phone.

When mobile devices were first adopted by the FM industry, they were simply seen as an effective way of distributing work to a dispersed workforce and reducing the cost of the paperwork flow. In today's world of digital disruption, the expectation and behaviour of consumers are driving relentless advances in technology that will have a profound impact on the way facilities are managed in the future.

Facilities and service managers now expect to have access to data on their smartphones that will help them proactively manage their contracts and engage with their clients to demonstrate they are delivering great value. In a world of demanding SLA's and performance measures, they need to be alerted on their mobile device before problems arise and can re-deploy resources whilst on the move to avoid contractual penalties and operate at minimum cost.


What kind of data will a Facilities Manager need?

Data has been described as "the new oil of the digital economy" an immense, untapped, valuable asset. Technology providers are therefore all striving to deliver "Insight" from the wealth of "Big Data" that is rapidly being collected from mobile devices and "The Internet of Things".

All too often, however, the "insight" is of limited value to a Facilities Manager as we still live in a world where we find silos of information in departmentally sponsored systems that have historically been implemented to meet very specific operational requirements.  These systems are often poorly implemented due to budget restrictions and lack of sponsorship from higher management and are largely focussed on demonstrating compliance and providing departmental rather than organisational efficiencies with limited return on investment.

Different systems are often used to manage the help desk, schedule maintenance, track equipment, manage porters, control security alerts, book rooms and audit cleaning. The resulting complexity means that it is difficult to transfer support staff between departments, training costs are high, and administration costs are totally disproportionate to the benefits achieved. Islands of data result from this silo approach and lead directly to a disconnected delivery of service and poor customer satisfaction.

Real insight can be provided to FM businesses when these silos are broken down, and technology is harnessed to build a connected ecosystem of devices and systems. In a connected world, data from motion sensors could be used to demonstrate that cleaning had been carried out within a defined period from last usage rather than wasting resource on regular cleaning visits when the area is often left unused. Combining external data such as temperature and weather conditions with operational data will help businesses better understand the impact of these conditions on their service delivery. This insight can then be used to proactively plan resource requirements and prevent service issues based on the weather forecast for the coming period.


You mention the Internet of Things, how is this being used?

Global IT and connectivity specialists, Cisco, predict that thirty billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020 creating massive volumes of data which once analysed can be used to transform the way we go about our daily lives.  The obvious examples of devices are GPS systems, alarm systems and thermostats which are used to send and receive constant streams of data to monitor and automate activities in our vehicles, facilities and homes.

Other less common examples of how the Internet of Things is already being used to transform our facilities include sensors indoors to improve security and safety by sending signals when they are unused for a certain period, or indeed if they are used at the wrong time. As the industry evolves, the focus of IoT will mature and revolve around creating new business value propositions rather than simply improving efficiencies in existing business processes.


How do FM businesses move away from silo systems and start to build the connected ecosystem to which you refer?

Our new buildings and facilities are being designed for the connected world and present a fantastic opportunity to design solutions that connect devices and systems and unlock tremendous potential for increased efficiencies and improving the customer experience.

The availability of cloud-based platforms, applications and services has now reached the point where FM businesses have access to an incredibly rich and powerful set of flexible tools. These can be paid for on an affordable usage basis and can be scaled up from conceptual proof of concept to enterprise deployment as the value of these new compelling business propositions is proven. 

This adoption of cloud computing is now mainstream and is expected to pass the 50% adoption rate in 2018. The business value of flexible consumption is also well understood and according to a recent survey by Deloitte "91 percent of CIOs have adopted flexible consumption capabilities, and over the next two to three years, 91 percent of adopters expect to allocate more than 10 percent of their IT spend to flexible consumption offerings" (2017 Flexible Consumption Impact Survey, Deloitte).

As a result of building these connected cloud-based solutions, the end user will also benefit from a huge range of user-friendly apps and Business Intelligence "BI" tools that visualise the data in new and exciting ways, delivering insight into new opportunities to add yet more value.


What is the success rate of technology adoption and what kind of leader is needed to execute this type of transformation excellently?

I am sure we can all think of many high-profile horror stories about large IT system failures and industry estimates still place the percentage of failure at alarmingly high rates of anywhere between 50 and 80%.

One of the biggest reasons for failure is not having a clear remit for the project in the first place. I am continually amazed by conversations with customers where they don't have a clear vision of why they are implementing a system and specifically what impact the new system will have on their business.

To ensure real value is delivered by a technology project you have to start by identifying the specific business problem you are trying to solve and the quantifiable benefits that will be achieved by solving that problem. Too many people start with discussions about data and reports which are often based around the current situation rather than the vision of the future. By building solutions based on a cloud ecosystem, there are fantastic opportunities to deliver real value quickly by deploying cost-effective solutions that combine to fulfil the final vision.

The industry therefore needs leaders who can capture and communicate this vision across the business, shaping solutions to take advantage of disruptive technologies whilst of course being alert to the demands of today's security, compliance and data regulation hurdles.

The challenge for the FM industry is therefore to consider whether we are thinking big enough in our vision for modern facilities and have a grasp of what today’s technology can really deliver.


Thanks for sharing your insight. So finally, if the FM industry were looking for some quick wins, what would you recommend?

Every organisation can find new opportunities to improve performance by gaining insight from powerful visualisation of their data. I would therefore start by evaluating one of the many Business Intelligence "BI" platforms such as Tableau, Power BI or Qlik and explore new ways of making data available to a wider community of users in a format that they can understand and interrogate. I think many businesses will be surprised by the number of "light bulb" moments that will occur when their team suddenly say "I never knew that!". The value gained from each moment of insight will pave the way for continued investment in their digital transformation.


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