Our industry has been courting technology for as long as we can remember. All too often, this was on the basis of the technology searching for a problem to solve, in an effort to respond to constant customer demands for innovation, rather than the target of genuine output transformation.
Whilst we may now choose not to, in the not-too-distant past, we can all remember the promises made by the introduction of ‘industry leading’ CAFM systems and the innovations these systems will deliver, with the outcome quite often ending up as no more than call handling services. Only the enlightened recognised the data collected as the real value and started changing process, procedure and resource scheduling, based on the analysis of the data.
While this has worked well in asset management, we have not been early adopters of the wealth of data that could be used to improve the experience of soft service consumers.
The Internet of Things now presents further areas of random technology application, with the promise of a solution to many things. The rush to invest in robotic cleaning technology, which is only just about meeting its need, would be better targeted at process, procedural and resource efficiency delivered by other, much more effective software solutions. We must focus on the benefits that technology brings to people, not just technology for the sake of it.
However, if we are to truly transform outputs, and the service consumer experience, we must look beyond the hardware and focus on the data it is collecting and, with due homage to Simon Sinek, look at why we are collecting it and how it may be put to much better use, either in the improvement of the customer experience and/or service improvement.
There is now regular first-hand evidence of data transformation in real estate, an icon of traditionalism, in the example where a coffee shop multiple was looking for a new location. This instruction was not then followed by a search of vacant stores. It was addressed by analysing location service data bought from ISPs in establishing 08.00 footfall hot spots (peak coffee demand) that would make a great location for a coffee shop. Check those smartphone privacy settings!
Inside the workplace, Smart buildings are already collecting mass data on and from their occupants and it is only a matter of time before we shall have to opt in to workplace data use. Buildings are already recognising and personalising building use due to device recognition and preference analysis. Personalisation may well include preferences on heating, lighting and adjacency of team or colleague.
The WeWork business model emphasises this. It is not about property, it is about creating successful communities and they collect and analyse data on the environments that create successful, cohesive and loyal communities. They are so confident that their model works that they are prepared to offer short term tenure rather than long-term lease, with community success retaining occupier loyalty.
We also know that hardware is seen as a constraint, both through integration difficulties with proprietary system inflexibility and an inability to maintain the pace of change. Equipment supported by cloud-based applications is favoured, based on the ability to access and manipulate the collected data and to maintain currency. Does this sound like the Facilities Management industry?
We must now revert to Steve Jobs’ advice and focus not on the hardware but what our customer’s needs are, and analyse collected data to better target our resources to lifting the service consumer experience. We must recognise that increasingly in the new service world, our customer will rarely be the service consumer and we must harvest data on their behaviours.
Unless we are careful, a further splurge of uncoordinated IoT data installations could increase the confusion of data collection and conspire against customer service improvement.
At NJC we are already considering how we may use this collected data to support the customer experience. We wish to understand how the data we are collecting can be used to better understand our user behaviours, better target our processes, procedures and resources.
We wish to supplement our own knowledge with the information from the systems that collect building use, performance and environmental data, that can be used to refine product or service application more readily to the user. We are also looking at how demand management devices such as footfall monitors, smart dispensers, smart bins, MFD alerts, etc. are best integrated into our teams’ daily rotas, but this must be on a coordinated basis.
At this stage, we must urge a note of caution to our industry. Unless we become data analysts, regularly utilising analysis in the pursuit of service excellence, our industry will be approached from another direction, by the tech companies. They are already data savvy and unburdened by the heritage that can often constrain those of us who wish to use collected evidence to continually improve ourselves, and will use multiple data sources to prove customer experience improvement. A quick internet search for the story of Google’s application of its own software on their direct energy use, which was already considered highly efficient, yielded further double digit improvements. Ironically, this will then be considered disruptive.
It is time for the FM community to be disruptive. Our customers have a major role to play in this scenario. Decades of margin salami slicing must end, and the constant demand for innovative service changes can only be met by consideration of joint investment. We are very confident that a more collaborative approach, will deliver more meaningful medium and long-term improvements, which may perversely offer commercial benefits, that can be symbiotic with pace of industry and social change.