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India’s FM industry deserves homegrown digital solutions

Parikshit Roy, Co-Founder & CEO, Caleedo

The service conditions of India’s FM sector are unique to this country. Naturally, the digital solutions it embraces will need to be specific to challenges that are encountered here. In a sweeping view of DigiFM in India today, Parikshit Roy, Co-Founder & CEO, Caleedo outlined what the industry wants, how digital solution providers must respond and deliver, what hinders more widespread adoption of such solutions, and why the tide has turned in their favour.



Digitisation or Digitalisation?

There is a difference between these two terms, which many may not be fully able to comprehend. In the FM industry, digital solutions (or digitisation) are software solutions which can take the form of a platform or an app, and can be accessed through a mobile or a web browser. On the other hand, digitalisation is a combination of a digital solution and a built-in IoT application.

For example, an IoT device can measure the number of people who walk in and out of a restroom; accordingly, an app will issue a ticket to the housekeeping supervisor for restroom maintenance. The app is the digitisation component, which along with the IoT device, constitutes digitalisation.

Expectations from a digital solution

  • Solves a problem: Should be based on a universal work process problem and its efficient resolution.
  • Quick adoption and ease-of-use: Simple, icon-driven, colour-coded interface; easy to train, adapt and operate.
  • Low-click user experience: Avoiding typing as much as possible and resorting to button clicks.
  • Modular application: Buy applications you need, as opposed to buying an entire enterprise solution, with the ability to integrate as you add more use cases/workflows.

Additional features, functionalities and new technology upgrades are more easily transportable to subscribers and end-users in case of modular configurations.

We cannot buy parts of Microsoft Office, even though we only use some of its programs. This trend is fading; customers will now pay for only those parts of the software they use.

  • Scale and scalability: Digital applications must be scalable such that the volume of transactions and number of subscribers should not impact the speed of service. If a client using the software at 50 sites suddenly wants to implement it across 500 sites, the back-end needs to be able to match the jump.
  • Resilience: Digital applications must comply with enterprise levels of resilience standards like auto-scaling and multi-level data security as far as design and architecture is considered.

User feedback is critical for design

Most successful digital application ideas have emerged from customer-user feedback, based on their real-life operational challenges, difficulties and problems. However, it is important to assess the universality of these challenges and problems before building a digital application. Else, a digital product may have to go through multiple iterations based on specific customer feedback or their independent problems.

I would recommend a questionnaire-based survey with 30-40 FM practitioners in multiple locations to identify the most common issues and problems that they are reporting. Products which follow this design philosophy are mostly seen to be successful, popular and high on adoption levels.

India’s DigiFM market

The estimated size of the global FM market as per a research report by Frost & Sullivan is $1.3 trillion. Out of this, only 3% spend is towards digitisation, which is primarily in Europe and North America. Opportunities in the digital FM market in high-growth geographies like Asia-Pacific, Middle-East and Africa are going to grow explosively in the next five years.

The Indian FM industry, which has been consistently growing at a rate of 17-20% year-on-year, is probably going to be the fastest-growing digital FM market outside the US in the aforementioned period.

Customer uptake in India

Currently, customer awareness of digital applications in India is low but evolving. The engagement of digital companies with FM customers is mostly through a consultative and solutioning approach; therefore, the decision-making process and adoption are more arduous and take disproportionally longer. Education, knowledge sharing and collaboration between digital solution providers and FM service providers is the most critical factor for the success of digitisation in India’s FM industry.

Popular international digital platforms and applications are seen to fail or not find adequate user acceptance in the domestic market. This is because apps used in the US or Europe may not be suitable for India, which has lower digital literacy, and in many other cases, challenges in adoption of international FM work flows.

On the other hand, domestic applications are designed keeping in mind the Indian service process standards, language flexibility, training, support and domestic cost structure sensitivity.

Customer apprehensions

Currently, Indian customers have doubts and apprehensions about digital application solutions for the FM market in the following areas:

  • Data security standards: How safe and secure is the end user data?
  • System reliability and uptime: To minimise service disruptions
  • Cost, commercial framework, and return on investment
  • Service provider or end-user: Who pays, who invests?

While there have been some early adopters, many had taken a wait-and-watch approach towards digitisation. The pandemic has accelerated digital application adoption and prompted many customers and organisations to commit to a level of digital application investment unlike ever before. In the last four months alone, we have seen several organisations take a proactive decision in investing in our solutions.

We have also seen that unlike in the West, mobile-based digital applications have gained more acceptance. Most of the apps are mobile-first developments and cloud-hosted solutions. This has brought down the cost structure and eased adoption.

In India, we see significant traction in certain digital applications like:

  • Indoor air and surface hygiene solution
  • Visitor management solutions
  • Space management and reservation
  • Workplace services reservation
  • Health and vaccination status

The future

The future of digital applications is going to be built with predictive and data-led decision-making framework and embedded with Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, which will help service providers and end-customers to decisively predict and plan future actions, on operations strategy, cost and budgets, strategic decisions, employee experience, performance management and more.

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