There is a pressing need to not just digitise facility management, but to make it all manageable and operable from a single platform. Experts discuss digitalisation of FM in the present-day workplace scenario. Extracts from the panel discussion held during the DigiFM–Conference on Digital Facility Management at Bengaluru.
The days of a maze of cubicles and corner offices are on their way out. Even a decade ago, who could predict the explosion of shared work spaces across cities? Or that leading corporates and financial institutions would even be open to the idea of shifting their teams to such new-age offices?
The age demographic of those who will occupy work seats here is rapidly evolving too. By 2025, 70% of the workforce will consist of millennials (individuals born between 1981 and 1996), who will have a completely different set of preferences for their working conditions. 60% of the workforce in 2024 will be mobile, and will work from wherever they are, be it their home, a cafe or a co-working space, and this may change from day to day within the same week. A majority of the workforce is predicted to consist of freelancers, who may jump from project to project but work out of the same office space, or temporarily occupy a space in their client’s facility.
The 9-6 routine is now only a memory; 6-9 is the new normal. The workday begins by checking one’s emails as soon as one wakes up and continues much after leaving office, replying to texts and pending mails. Some offices now work in shifts that can be decided by employees rather than decreed by bosses: as long as one’s performance is satisfactory, one can choose when wants to come to work, when to leave and when not to come to work at all. With a finite number of work-seats, an FM manager has to ensure that no seat-time-slot goes waste, nor is there a lack of seats during a shift.
These are challenges previously never encountered by facility managers. But they have evolved with the bandwagon, and from just a cost center, FM has become a business enabler.
The changing face of FM
According to Rajat Malhotra, Chief Operating Officer (West Asia) – JLL – Integrated Facilities Management, the two newest pillars of workspace FM are human experience and the digital drive. According to a 2018 survey, businesses think FM managers add most value to their employees’ human experience, which has become the biggest demand on FM managers from clients. As Jiji Thomas, Associate Director – RMZ Corp said, “It’s easy for tenants to leave a building, but hard for them to leave an experience”.
This thrust on workplace satisfaction has brought FM full circle; from being a part of HR in the 90’s to becoming a part of the CFO’s responsibility, it is now back to the HR spotlight because the latter department’s executives have realised that good FM can make the workforce more productive, efficient, and even healthy.
Malhotra believes digitisation will drive this enhanced experience, for which data scientists have become stakeholders in the FM hierarchy. By analysing end-user data, they are able to tell FM managers precisely how to calibrate their services.
An integrated user interface
Picture the journey of an employee from home to work and back home, and everything that he needs on the way: a cab at his doorstep, hot coffee waiting in the cab, a slot in the office gym, a shower, a desk in the area he usually works in, his preferred meal for lunch, different meeting rooms at different times for his appointments, a second coffee and so on. What if he could order, schedule and manage all of these from a single app?
This is the future of FM from an end-user’s point of view.
Integration of automation and FM
Prabhu R, Founder & CEO – Facilio said, “If you look at buildings as a market, I see two layers. One is automation, which comes as part of the construction budget, like camera systems, fire fighting systems and more. If a customer develops, say, 50 buildings, this will take 15-20 years and hence automation too will be done by multiple vendors. The other layer, with hard and soft services, is FM. Integrating automation with FM is the way forward”.
At present, whatever proportion of automation is incorporated in a building has to be monitored by one to two technicians sitting in a room in shifts, whose skill set is limited to their particular domain. Automation data, if shared with FM managers at all, is shared largely over email and Excel sheets and phone calls. Some of these excel sheets are over a month old by the time they are analysed, by which time their data is irrelevant.
The need of the hour is an overlap between FM and automation, in which technicians, supervisors, building owners and other stakeholders all have their own apps to monitor their responsibilities and properties.
An integrated FM dashboard
Sreedhar Saraswathi, Head – South Asia, ARCHIBUS describes this as “the long-time dream of any FM professional”. A facility manager can manage his space, assets, pending tickets, AMC’s, and alerts from a single platform. He can view his properties not just across the city, but across the country and globally, on a single dashboard.
Even before he leaves home, he can check the happiness quotient for the previous day based on user feedback, physical workspace parameters, air quality, lighting and so on. He can set temperature and lighting levels to the liking of the occupants of each section of the facility, and book meeting rooms for them as per demand. While he walks from one section to another, the technology will throw up checklists for him to refer to during his inspections.
Most importantly, it will quantify the work done by the FM team and help it justify its expenses during budget meetings with management.
Required features of such a platform
Thomas said that as far as possible, it should be a plug-in product, not something that needs to be customised for every client. He also warned that without specific domain knowledge, applying Artificial Intelligence to FM is of no use. Collecting data is not enough; analysis needs to take requirements into account and the inferences drawn should be meaningful. Kiran Kumar HM, Head – Tech Service Delivery, L&T Construction had the last word when he said, “whatever system is implemented, data and cyber security is key in every project’.
Not everyone who enters the FM industry is trained in FM; consequently, the cost of hiring a competent professional is progressively increasing. Technology can go a long way in filling the recruitment gap by increasing operational efficiency, without becoming a slave to technology. Because at the end of the day, FM managers don’t need to master technology; they just need to learn how to use it well.