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Home > Facility Services > Article > Integration software, IoT, data analysis, automation: Everything you wanted to ask about PropTech

Integration software, IoT, data analysis, automation: Everything you wanted to ask about PropTech

Ragupathy Vaidyanathan, Associate Vice President, Global Workplace Solutions, HCL Technologies

In a wide-ranging interview, FM veteran Ragupathy Vaidyanathan, Associate Vice President, Global Workplace Solutions, HCL Technologies answered all the questions of Mrigank Warrier, Assistant Editor, Clean India Journal, about the ideal software tool, what it will take for further uptake of such tools, and the seemingly minor challenges posed by the ground realities of FM in India today.

Scores of FM softwares are available in the market. What more are CRE and FM heads looking for from PropTech software?

From a developer’s perspective, a property management software has to monitor, control and manage their entire operations and measure efficiency. Aspects of this also need to be passed on to the tenants; tenant management is an integral part of what they need. Whereas, a corporate needs software for smart campus management with end-to-end solutions, which includes both operations management and employee experience.

Most organisations today depend on the software brought in by the integrated facility management service provider. But if there is a change in the service provider, they have to go in for a complete redo.

There are many products and solutions available in the market today. The problem is this: they have been brought in and implemented in silos.

For example, there may be one tool for help desk management, a second tool for cafeteria management, another for transport management…but they are not integrated on a single, common platform. What organisations need is a single-window view – like a dashboard – that allows all services to be overseen on a common platform.

If you ask me whether any single platform can cover all this, I would say it is highly impossible. Maybe 60-80% can be covered by a single tool; the rest will still be in pockets.

Have these silos come in because organisations are adopting software tools part by part, or because software developers are offering only individual solutions rather than integrated ones?

FM requirements have evolved over time, which is why the requirements from software solutions also have changed. For example, a few years ago, no one would have thought about space management tools. But with the hybrid work culture of today, hot-desking is a tool that had to be developed.

Requirements are dynamic and changing rapidly, and technology is keeping pace with it. However, any software that is adopted should be usable for a minimum of five years.

When an organisation switches service providers, does it also lose access to historical FM data?

No, that gets transferred to, and remains with the organisation. But there will be an impact from the employee experience point of view.

For example, when someone switches from Uber to Ola, they encounter a different app interface. Data needs to be entered and validated all over again on the new platform. In FM, in addition to this, customisation also needs to be brought in; a lot of time may be lost in doing this.

What is the single, most important expectation from a PropTech software today?

Technology must generate predictive analysis that will guide you to make informed FM decisions, which is why we are going in for technology that is evidence-based. In today’s scenario, with the hybrid model, it is important to have information about occupancy, employee experience and well being, energy and water consumption, indoor air quality and many other parameters available in real-time.

The tool should help an organisation intervene and take the right decision at the right time. A data analytics tool that can look at energy management, water management and other verticals is imperative. This needs to go beyond monitoring; we need predictive analytics which tells us which areas need attention and remediation.

It will help improve delivery efficiency as well control cost of operations. From an employee perspective, it should offer complete transparency into service levels in terms of resolution time and other parameters.

How should an organisation take its first steps towards embracing PropTech?

Always do a proof of concept. Take a small facility, test the solution for all scenarios, test all the parameters, measure the efficiency and output of the tools, and the level of automation. This can be simultaneously done for three or four softwares. Only then should we decide which solution to adopt.

 

In India today, different FM services are also contracted out to different service providers, each of whom may bring their own software to the facility. When we talk about moving away from silos, does this mean each of these softwares feeds into a ‘main’ integration software?

At a macro level, an organisation needs to decide what services it wants to view and manage from the common dashboard. This differs from organisation to organisation, and depends on both the scale and type of organisation.

There are numerous FM services that are running simultaneously. At present, the FM head needs to view individual tools corresponding to each service. Instead, he or she can choose to consolidate selected services into a common dashboard, based on what is a priority for the organisation.

For this, we need to transition from a legacy kind of system or wired solutions to IoT or cloud-based solutions, where data is easily accessible and recoverable.

There are certain ‘open’ platforms which can ‘talk’ to each other, while others can’t. A good tool should enable you to ‘push’ data from one tool to another platform and ‘pull’ data from another platform to this platform. So, push and pull should be available in any technology that someone selects; an open-source kind of solution where there are no proprietary rights.

Does an integration software always have automation as an integral part?

Many people confuse digitalisation with automation. Many of the technology tools available today do not offer automation.

A typical FM software is more of an analytical tool which helps you measure your performance, review it and then take informed decisions. Automation goes beyond that.

For example, earlier, people would go and inspect UPS systems every hour and manually enter information in the log book. Then, every UPS got a QR code which the FM person scanned with his mobile to access a template, which he again filled manually. Now, with live energy meters, data is immediately uploaded to the cloud and offers real-time information of the current energy consumption at a particular facility.

Let us take the example of transport technology. Fleet management tech relies on GPS to track each vehicle in real-time. It shows how many vehicles are on the road and where they are. But when the automation component is brought in, and hundreds of people need to be picked up and dropped, the system suggests the best routes based on vehicle capacity and the number of vehicles available. If this was done manually, the efficiency would be far lesser. Today, most organisations have adopted transport technology, because it is a proven model.

How should hardware keep up with FM software?

A lot of assets are becoming end-of-life. When replacing an end of life product, it is always better to go with the latest solutions which can be easily integrated with a third-party platform.

 

As I understand it, digitalisation can offer a predictive analysis to help make informed decisions, but the decision still needs to be made by a human being, whereas in automation, there is no manual intervention whatsoever. Am I right?

Exactly. Automation software not only monitors operations but takes control and initiates the necessary action. Other softwares provide real-time data and may suggest recommended actions, but manual effort is still necessary.

Organisations need to decide what they want to automate, and what level of automation they want, to reduce manual effort. Depending on this, they can choose the right tools, like an IoT digital meter for water consumption, and so on.

Would you prefer an off-the-shelf solution, or would you prefer to co-develop the solution with the software provider?

If there is an off-the-shelf product that is available, we will definitely explore how much it can meet our requirements, and what further customisation will be necessary. If the tool doesn’t meet a majority of our requirements and needs a lot of customisation, it is a waste of time and effort for both parties.

What are the latest advances in PropTech software features?

Today, a hot desking tool is definitely in demand. Many companies have shifted to a hybrid model, and need to monitor demand for FM services. Co-working spaces need to measure this too.

ESG reporting is another important driver. From energy consumption to renewable energy, emissions to air quality, and the social and governance aspects, there is a lot of data that needs to be captured, measured and reported.

Some organisations have concerns about data security when it comes to PropTech software? Is this a valid concern?

All tools need to be cleared by an organisation’s IT/information security teams before they are deployed. Risk assessments and firewalls are a given.

Based on the nature and importance of the data, companies decide whether to host the software or not. There are companies which prefer to host the software in their own server, so that the data remains in their server. With the right controls in place, others may be agreeable to hosting it on a cloud server with restricted access and proper access control.

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