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Four Ways FM Leaders Can Make Smart Proptech Investments


Since the unveiling of the Real Estate Transformation Map in February 2018, a Facilities Management Implementation Committee (FMIC) was formed to uplift the FM industry from a labour intensive one to a leaner industry that relies on smart solutions such as data analytics and predictive maintenance. Since then, three key recommendations have been delivered to drive design standards, technology adoption and manpower upskilling in the facilities management (FM) industry.

The list of recommendations holds a lot of promise for the industry to quicken their pace of adopting smart technologies and upgrading their FM professionals. However, a year after recommendations have been put forth, general sentiments seem to suggest that several organisations are beginning to pull back on such investments after weighing the high cost of investment against potential returns on investment which have not come through. These concerns surfaced in a survey that Cushman & Wakefield undertook with about 100 investor and occupier clients across the Asia Pacific region including Singapore recently.

So, while the momentum on FM transformation spurred a lot of exploration and experimentation, the market has come to a point of cautious optimism, especially so because of the very real possibility of a global slowdown in 2020.

Therefore, what can you do to make sure that you are making smart proptech investments to improve building efficiencies?

Begin with the end in mind

“Why do I need to digitalise my operations? Can it improve my margin right away?”

“How many headcounts can I save once I implement this technology?”

These are common questions whenever we speak about the use of technology.

However, the more important question is whether there is a clear end state that we are working towards. Technology is only a means to achieve the ends. It can be the enabler to allow FM operations to be done in a more efficient manner. However, without a coherent goal and concept of how we intend to transform our work, piecemeal adoption of technologies will happen. Eventually, the transformation effort will likely lose steam and the company will be left with many pieces of legacy tools that will quickly become obsolete in the fast-moving technology world.

Re-think work processes

FM practitioners know that it cannot just stop at installing software, sensors and drones as these are just surface work that will yield only incremental improvement.

“What data do we need to collect?”

“What metrics are we going to measure?”

Work processes should be reviewed to streamline the workflow as well as the data flow. Checklists must be reviewed to ensure that every field on the list contributes directly to the output that needs to be measured. This will allow various systems to be integrated closely for effective data analysis. As organisations tinker with new technologies, the process of integration can be very complex. While it is tempting to dismiss these challenges as technical, they are in fact largely organisational. Organisations need to first break down barriers between teams, be very candid about their internal structures and seek alignment to break down the silos.

Align the heartware, then sort out the hardware. Taking this approach to line up the new systems will ensure that the organisation can operate leaner, meaner and smarter.

Insource or Outsource?

When it comes to developing technology, some organisations vacillate between insourcing and outsourcing. The key consideration should be whether the solution that is being developed is a core FM function. A good example is the usage of drones in the FM industry. Should an FM company develop drones in-house or should it ride the market’s development and constantly seek to apply the latest innovation in drone technologies? In this case, the latter seems to make more sense.

By extension, how do we differentiate one drone from the other – other than its ability to fly further, faster, higher and cheaper?

Therefore, it is important to find a partner that can be “demand translators”. This is a partner that has an in-depth understanding of the organisation’s business, is deeply involved in the conversations with management about strategic business goals and are in touch with the actual operation challenges on the ground. Openness and flexibility of outsourced partners is key.

Check the tyres

Lastly, it is important to remember that FM is a service industry. We can invest in the best tools, robots and analytics software but the frontline staff are ultimately the ones who will deliver the defining experience for the building occupants.

Invest in training and upskilling of the FM staff so that their service standards are as sharp as the technology systems supporting them in the backend.

If I use the analogy of a car to speak about FM service providers, one can say that the service staff are like the tyres. They are where the rubber hits the road. Significant investments must be put in to ensure that we can offer a safe and effective ride that matches the user requirement. Just remember, an F1 car with cutting edge technology on board will not be able to win the competition if they are fitted with generic tyres!

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