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Operating technology in the FM industry

How the FM sector is adopting technology to improve operations

ANALYSIS, Facilities Management, Technology

With every industry increasingly using advanced technology in its operations, fmME discovers how the FM sector is adopting it

Technology has seeped into our daily lives to such an extent that most people have taken it for granted. And certainly its use in various industries across the world has increased manifold. “IT is the future of the FM industry, and the key to its evolution,” says Ron Sengco, business systems analyst from Emrill Services

“The placement of the appropriate systems and tools can provide all parties with rich data and analytics to facilitate better decision making that affects operational efficiencies and increases cost savings,” he says.

High presence
Adrian Jarvis, general manager, FSI FM Solutions, says, “There is a growing awareness across the Middle East of how CAFM can help facilities managers, building owners and end-users get full value from the operation and maintenance of their property.” He says the firm has seen this evolution across the MENA region first hand, from single-building users to multinational businesses.

Michael Andersen, managing director, Eurotech, says that people are becoming more aware that technology can help them. “Technology is not an evil thing. It’s something that you can benefit from greatly. The whole technology thing in the Middle East is really exploding.”

Director of helpdesk and ICT at Mace Macro, Imran Akram, says for a facility manager, if there are integrated systems along with the flow of real-time information then both operational and financial information can be easily compiled and presented to help make informed business decisions.

“For example, a genuine alarm from a BMS can be automatically communicated to the CAFM system and a reactive task created, prioritised and assigned all without human input. On the end-user side, advances in smart building technologies have made the interface to FM services more user-friendly.”

Speaking about the end-user, technology is also prominent when it comes to Owners Associations. Mystrata’s software is used to manage approximately one-third of all freehold property in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and master-planned communities in Oman and Qatar.

Via this portal owners and tenants can pay bills, view their accounts, print old invoices, raise maintenance requests, receive important information, chat on their community wall and more.

David Bugden, CEO explains, “Mystrata’s customer portal system enables property owners to submit and track maintenance requests online. This system connects to the FM provider in the building and can also be connected to the CAFM system the FM manager uses.

This helps reduce time and money for the building management and delivers a more efficient and transparent system for owners. Other important tools are asset registers and online booking systems for common facilities.”

Co-founders of i-expatriate, Adam Passfield and Craig Stuart have used technology in the recruitment process. “We have created the first and only online recruitment company for the offshore market. Our aim is to simplify and lower the cost of the hiring process,” says Passfield.

Explaining the software-as-a-service, Stuart says the system allows users to automatically post vacancies to a global network of job portals.

“When your vacancy receives candidate applications, they will be directed into our cloud-based system meaning there will be just one login to view all applications from multiple job portals. We build our cloud-based system with the user in mind we ensure we make it as quick and easy as possible to browse and contact your candidates.”

Passfield adds that the human element of the business comes down to the knowledge the firm has of the candidate attraction market. Once applications are received, they are hand-filtered.

Mohamad Mustafa, acting IT manager of Khidmah, which won the “Innovative Use of IT in FM” fmME award in 2012, says Khidmah has seen many benefits to inculcating a high-tech culture at the firm.

“IT plays a major part both in operations and also in how we now communicate. The benefits include: better utilisation of facility personnel, guaranteed compliance, proactive management of real estate portfolio, reductions in compliance costs, more effective strategic and master planning, predictive maintenance, reduction in cost of operations, and increased communication methods,” he says.

Sengco says, “The right tools can provide a wealth of information and data that assists in making informed engineering and operational decisions. For example, it can provide more accurate data on the condition of assets with equipment health predictions and possible future failures. This allows for accurate planning for replacement, repairs or servicing and efficient maintenance.”

Jarvis says CAFM is increasingly deemed a necessity by its adopters. He explains that CAFM users understand how the IT investment can help ensure all the stakeholders in a building project, from design through construction to daily operation, are properly informed.

“They appreciate CAFM’s scope for integrating with other strategic applications and empowering business processes throughout an organisation. They also buy in to the best practice principles embedded in market-leading CAFM platforms that have evolved in response to specific FM industry challenges.

“The benefits — enhanced ROI and cost control, improved asset lifecycle management, more interactive and customer-focused delivery, an enterprise-wide view of the organisation — are delivered daily in many of these projects.”

Akram adds: “The main benefits are the stream-lining of the FM business processes by creating automated communication through SMS or email for managing reports, notifications, approvals. Also, creating a single database source (usually web-based) of FM information means either the FM or end-user can easily access information remotely through a web browser.”

Budgen adds that technology can lower operating costs, improve efficiencies and most importantly for the FM industry, it ensures assets, equipment and facilities are properly tracked and maintained through a systemised process.

However, has it been easy to get facility managers to use new forms of technology, especially if they have been used to a certain way of working for a while?

Mustafa says that any new technology or IT integration faces difficulties or resistance during implementation especially when it comes to training both teams and clients. “Once the realisation is made that we are using the technology for compliance, automation or enhancement, both clients and staff are eager to learn. Engagement of your stakeholders prior to implementation is a must,” he adds.

Embracing change in an organisation isn’t easy and takes time, according to Passfield. He adds: “When a company is used to operating in a certain way and doing so successfully they do see it as a risk to re-engineer a process to lower the cost and often no one wants accountability if it doesn’t go to plan.”

Stuart adds: “You often see one or two major players that are innovative, embrace new technologies and subsequently gain a competitive advantage. As soon as this happens others will start to follow.”

He then gave an example of how technology in the recruitment field has been advanced in the region.

He says, “In the recruitment space, a company called Cazar (which creates the Sniper Hire product) paved the way for recruitment technology in this region. The organisation initially attracted one large player (Jumeirah Group and then Al Futtaim) and subsequently they now service hundreds of major clients throughout the GCC.”

He also reveals what his firm is doing next: “i-expatriate has recently integrated with Hiring Solutions to help further with candidate souring strategies and job board consolidation in an effort to continue to lower companies recruitment spend.”

Sengco says the adoption of new technologies and practices has been slow in the region compared to other markets. “One reason is the heavy initial investment to create and implement new systems.”

Jarvis says expanding knowledge is important. He explains that some challenges remain in this region where many FM departments still rely solely on the guidance of their IT departments who often favour household-name ERP systems despite best-of-breed CAFM platforms offering better value operationally and technically.

“Alternatively, some projects include the purchase of a CAFM system, implemented just to tick a box – then ignored,” he explains.

On the whole technology in FM has been embraced within the region with many innovations in mobility and end-user interfaces, says Akram. “However, the main challenge is ensuring processes are adhered to in order to gain the benefits of technology.”

Budgen thinks the penetration of FM technology in the MENA region is quite extensive. “One of the challenges we encounter, especially with firms that traditionally specialised in FM-related services, is educating them on the difference between Owners Association management and facilities management. They are two very different property management skills and the technology needed for the two are also very different,” he explains.

Man vs machine?
Naysayers might say the heavy use of technology implies a loss of jobs, with people being replaced by machines.

Andersen agrees that while automation can and does cut down on staff numbers, it also cuts
down on costs after an initial one-time fee to set things up.

“Obviously now there is the [ongoing] discussion that if everything becomes automised, what about the jobs? If we can cut down the jobs and have robots or IT doing it, then what about us? So that’s a big thing right now,” he concludes.

Nedap opens new doors in security
By Ido Wentink, marketing manager, Nedap AVI
Within Nedap, two market groups provide solutions for the security market. Nedap Security Management offers the AEOS-platform. AEOS is the first software based security management platform that combines management of access control, video and intrusion in one application.

This makes AEOS more flexible, future-proof and easier to use than any other security solution. With years of experience in RFID, the business unit Nedap AVI’s (Automatic Vehicle Identification) systems are installed to create a secure and comfortable flow; in vehicle and driver related activities — such as access control and tracking and tracing — and in buildings to offer hands-free door access.

Did you know ...?
- Emrill will be integrating its cloud-based ticketing system that directly transmits customer orders and requests from the web interface within seconds to the assigned maintenance crew’s mobile device.

- Khidmah uses remote hubs and systems using GPS tracking of vehicles, along with utilising thermal imaging to carry out predictive maintenance.

- FSI GO is a design platform that allows users to create personalised mobile applications to solve specific business problems – it empowers users rather than system developers.

- Macro International set up a private cloud for its CAFM which includes an online training manual and an end-user interface for room bookings. Also on the agenda is use of mobility devices for maintenance management & asset collection/condition assessment exercises and developing an intranet based QMS.

- Nedap has introduced the uPASS Access, which the world’s smallest UHF reader for hands-free building access. It reads normal, battery-less, personal access badges at a distance of up to two metres.

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