The pandemic has put digitisation on steroids. In a recent study of Fortune 500 companies, Mackenzie found that back in 2019, 35% used digitally enabled products and services. By August 2020, this had risen to 55%. Closer home, we saw this shoot up from 33% to 54%.
Where once service providers had to convince customers about the benefits of tech in FM, now customers themselves are clamouring for it. The advantages are tangible. Pre-pandemic, PwC said digitisation helped save 7-12% cost on all processes; during the pandemic, this was revised to more than 15%.
We must bear in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all tech solution. The days of selling digital-in-a-box are over. Solution providers will need to customise products for each individual customer and solve the cost puzzle first. Not to forget, these solutions need to be designed such that they can be used by the end-user: blue-collar workers.
Mohana M, Editor, Clean India Journal, invited an FM head, FM service providers and a digital solutions provider to discuss how customers can help embrace technology. Here are the views of Suman Banerjee, General Manager & Head – Administration, Thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions India Pvt. Ltd, Angad Rajain, Global Head-IFM & CSO, Tenon FM, Amit Salunke, Director, Sumeet Facility Management Services and Parikshit Roy, Director, PAS Digital Private Ltd (Caleedo) on how these three types of stakeholders can collaborate to bring about a tech revolution.
Industry acceptance for tech
Rajain: We are all working in overdrive to find areas where we can seamlessly implement technology for our workforce. The journey has not been easy. We have had to do this without being able to walk anyone through the process in person.
There are customers who already wanted a push towards tech-driven solutions, and have welcomed them. However, there are also others who are either too occupied with their own complex problems or have no real idea of what budget they can allocate for technology.
Acceptance at the bottom end of the workforce is rapid e.g digital tracking of daily tasks. But as you go up the value chain, there is still reluctance. Everyone is eager to build the workplace of the future right now, but the understanding of what this means varies from customer to customer.
If we were moving towards digitisation at 20 km/hr earlier, now we are 50-60km/hr. A respectable pace, without doing damage to our current working system.
Salunke: The concept of Smart buildings is pushing customers to rediscover the use of digital tools and integration of buildings into one single ecosystem. Every asset or device within the building, such as lights, CCTV sensors, Visitor Management System, BMS, Asset Management System, HVAC units, washrooms, kitchens, etc have to work in a connected way, so that facility managers have the data to manage their buildings in the most effective way.
Who will foot the bill?
Banerjee: We expect FM service partners to reduce human intervention and invest in tech to manage critical equipment, and housekeeping will have to train their staff to operate this technology.
Organisations will have to be open to increased cost; that is the only way tech infrastructure will enter facilities. As FM heads, we have to tell our management about the need for this. At the same time, service partners will have to come up with logical, justifiable costs that are win-win and add value for the spend.
Customers will definitely have to partner with service partners in this, provided costs are justified, to improve the quality of service and training of staff. Their partnership will have to be stronger than it is today.
Roy: I agree. Service providers and customers will have to work far more closely, because there is a conundrum of cost vs adoption. The most complex adoption problem is collaboration with IT. This needs their participation. Many of the tech solutions being offered today are not reliable, and cannot be scaled. And we cannot build a system that was current ten years ago. Each system must be 5G compliant and operable on a mobile device.
Easing tech into FM
Salunke: If you want to introduce AI but aren’t sure where to start, start on a smaller scale. That could mean starting with an Integrated Workplace Management System that streamlines office operations, then going on from there. Based on how this helps in manpower saving, workforce productivity, resource management etc, the client can decide whether they want to move towards a Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM System), which is a more complex technology.
Rajain: The earliest tech adopters are those businesses where productivity is measured, like manufacturing, warehousing, banking, IT. But there are also customers who openly ask for tech additions and say the service provider should bear the entire cost of it. Over and above this, they still want the same number of people on the ground!
Roy: Service providers should look at how digital solutions reduce the need for recurrent training of manpower. With the facilities portfolio distributed across cities, digitisation brings down the stabilisation cost.
Rajain: Many organisations don’t have computer-aided FM systems; they may not want the full bundle of tech. Starting them off with just an auditing and tracking tool will convert customers into believers.
From seating and reservations to visitor management and space optimisation, digitisation is on the horizon for multiple functions, if not already implemented. Businesses that clamoured for data in their core functions are also now asking for it from business support functions like FM.
There has never been a better time in history for service providers to introduce digitisation. As one of the speakers said, if the organised FM sector has to expand, digitisation is the quickest way to go about it.