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Changing the face of FM the digital way

The ground realities of facility management are seldom fathomed at the higher levels of the organisation. Essentially looked upon as an “unnecessary expense incurring” department, Makarand Kulkarni, Country Head-FMS, Reliance Retail, says it is imperative to narrow the gap between what the management thinks of FM and what the FM department actually does. “FM makes a difference right from the grassroot levels to the top management level. The success of FM is in making that difference felt in all quarters and build the confidence between the two ends.” Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Mohana M, Editor, Clean India Journal.

Q. What are the challenges and the changes required at the ground levels?

A: Issues at the ground level are intrinsic pain-points ingrained at the worker level of the FM. The elongated time in service delivery, theft, intermittent absence from the floor, etc. require physical supervision and understanding of the workers’ psychology.

I have evolved a practice whereby there are days when I shift to a retail outlet and spend my time working there. The very presence of a high official on the property gets the staff performing to the best and this also enables the official to get a hands-on experience about the ground realities.

We’ve created teams within teams, which will work on specific tasks. This has changed the whole scenario. ‘In fact, the theft rate has come down to a minimal level’.

Q. What are the unique challenges of Facility Management in India?

A: The attitude of those using a facility, towards hygiene and cleanliness is a major challenge to us. Take for example, malls. Even in the smaller centres, the level of facility management remains the same as in bigger centres. But people don’t know how to use the facility. Toilets are broken, top-end flush systems are damaged… It becomes difficult to maintain, because the costs rise.

When it comes to hygiene, India is not the only country with unclean habits. I have been to Europe and the US; toilet habits are equally bad, and sometimes worse. At least in India, housekeepers try to do something. Abroad, their hours are defined. They work only 32 hours a week, unlike the 48 hours we work here. They have long weekends. In India, we have much more manpower, and can get work done too.

In order to simplify the maintenance process, we have asked architects to use natural stones like granite for flooring. Artificial stones are difficult to maintain. Go for a material which has a richer look, but which is also tough and not easily scratched.

In India, our engineering services and their response time are quite good. The major hurdle is housekeeping, and pest control. At retail outlets the deep cleaning is scheduled at night. We coordinated with pest control services, to engage in pest control of the area immediately following deep cleaning. The ratings ranged between 92- 96%, which is very good. Now, we’ve reached 99.2%. We’re now monitoring customer focus, which is over 95%.

Q. What role does Digital Facility Management play in your services?

A: We have a central record; if anyone has a problem, he has to log in and someone has to reach the site within two hours. We record the call, and monitor call closure. We have a digitised system for this.

Most digital FM software has been designed for corporate services, not for retail services. I cannot use a system that is not designed for my requirements, so we’ve designed our own system internally.

For 4-5 months, we’ve taken feedback from the ground-level and developed the architecture for a software, in which assets will be barcoded. If an asset has a problem, someone simply has to scan its barcode, and it will be logged into the system, and assigned to a person, who will access it from his mobile, and deal with it. Since we started this, we have an exact record of the number of assets, which is important from the account perspective as well. How many ACs, chillers and how much inventory… The data is maintained in a SAP server.

We also have a preventive maintenance schedule, in which each asset has different parameters defined. These parameters have been uploaded in the software, all of which is accessible from a mobile app. Our Android app is live, we’re now designing for iPhones as well.

With this, we now get realtime, clean, clear data; there is no scope for manipulation. Actuals are visible. We are also creating 52-week preventive maintenance plans, so that people will know well in advance when a machine is going to be up for maintenance.

Q. How has digitalisation helped you in your work?

A: With digitisation, you get information in real-time, and you can schedule people to work accordingly. Business hours for most retailers are 10-16 hours, so the back-end staff will start work early in the morning at 6am, although customers come in only by 10am. And they have to work 2-3 hours after the store closes as well, which is usually 10pm. As per the business, there is a replenishment time for stock as well, particularly in stores selling fresh products. So, the peak hour varies; in a city like Mumbai, people will come in at 8 in the morning to buy vegetables, while it may be 10am in other places. But we have to make sure that the place is clean before they come in.

Digitisation helps me detect and understand human errors, which occur because of timeand location-pressures. For example, when an AC technician shows up at the site, he is told that the problem is with ‘Number 4’ AC. But he doesn’t know what, or where that is.

Another way it helps is in tracking the life-cycle and lifespan of each asset. It can help frame OEM recommendations. We can track expenditure on specific machines, and determine if the maintenance cost is more than its replacement cost, and thus save on our budget. Indians are emotionally attached to their products. They will keep using them until they no longer work. We monitor the maintenance costs, and show why sometimes it is wiser to replace than to repair.

All our checklists for preventive maintenance will be digitalised; no more ticking! If any abnormality is detected from this, it will trigger an alert in the system, and generate a repair request.

All my vendors are sending e-bills. We no longer have physical bills. I don’t have to sign anything. There is no longer any scope for manipulation.

We’re also trying geographic fencing – the checklist for a device will open on a person’s phone only when he is standing next to the device.

Q. What impact has digitisation had in terms of customer response?

A: Our ‘poor’ ratings have reduced to 0.75%, and most of our ratings have gone from ‘good’ to ‘excellent’. 60% of our ratings are now ‘excellent’. The up-time of equipment was 95-96%, now it is 98%, and we are targeting 99.8%. Considering the number of machines across centres, even 2% of an increase is a huge improvement.

Q. For someone looking to shift to DigiFM, how much will the investment be?

A: Investment is in development costs, or software. When someone develops an idea, they want to cash in on it. More than cost, willingness is more important. There are so many software developers who are passionate about coming up with solutions, who work very quickly.

Q. ‘On average, how many FM staff members will each store have?”

A: Each store is about 2,000 square feet. The number of people required depends upon business hours and the type of business. If it is a store selling fresh produce, movement is high and we have better trained housekeeping staff.

Q. How have FM companies adapted to digital FM?

Our housekeeping staff is outsourced. Whenever you want to change something, it is human nature to resist. We have explained to those who run FM companies, how digitisation will be helpful for them. For example, they will know exactly how many people are working at a site. We’ve also shown how they can run a training programme in conjunction with the Prime Minister’s Skill Development Program; they don’t even have to pay for it, the government reimburses them. Seven housekeeping agency vendors have registered for this, and are running this program.

We make sure that in each state, each worker gets at least the minimum wage defined by local bodies, and that there is no cash payment, only direct payment into their bank account. Digital facility management facilitates this.

Q. How do you ensure quality control?

A: We have a traveling internal audit team to make sure no one is taking any shortcuts, and to make sure checks and balances are maintained. We also have ISO certified service providers on board. We’ve also converted our stores from using regular lights to LEDs, to reduce power consumption. We’re also moving towards using alternate sources of energy.

Our services are divided into two buckets: critical (which affects the business) and non-critical. We monitor this carefully, and there are penalties for vendors if the service is not provided. We have a dashboard in which we monitor each call, and how many calls are coming. Our target response time is achieved between 95-99% of the time, and we never have less than 96% of our critical equipment working.

Q. Will digitalisation reduce the ‘human touch’ in customer service?

A: There are still people who believe in touch-andfeel buying, and there are some who are comfortable with e-commerce. Even abroad, people are buying Apple products online, but there are still people who queue up in long lines outside Apple stores, every time a new product is launched. So, there will be a mixture of both. Ultimately, humans can’t be replaced. Digitisation will only help them provide better services. The expected response time has come down from hours to minutes; in the future, it will be in seconds, and digitisation will make it possible.

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