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Google’s facilities director says Big Data will change the Gulf’s FM market

Google has changed the face of industry, and now it’s bringing its know-how to the international facilities management market, the firm’s director of facilities, Darrell Smith, reveals

INTERVIEWS, Facilities Management, Big data, Darrell Smith, Facilities management (FM), FM market, Google

The billion-dollar tech giant Google has played a huge part in our lives: from its search engine and software, to its web-based apps, cloud storage, philanthropy, and lobbying, the global reach of this titan of industry is unquestionable. And now, the Silicon Valley heavyweight is entering the real estate sector.

The firm’s director of facilities, Darrell Smith, was in Dubai recently to outline how Google is beginning to use its Big Data expertise to influence the facilities management (FM) sector on an international level.

“We are surrounded by a plethora of data and it’s now up to the FM world to use that data and make it actionable,” Smith exclusively told Construction Week’s sister title fmME, following his presentation at the second annual World Workplace Forum, which was held in Dubai in April.

FM professionals in the GCC are cautiously optimistic about the uptake of technology in the sector, but at the same time are concerned that greater uptake of automation could lead to job losses. But Google’s Smith said technology is an enabler for people and businesses, refuting the notion it will eventually lead to redundancies in the workplace. He suggested that technology could simply make humans more efficient in the FM workplace.

“Technology is a tool, and a few years ago, [different FM functions] were in silos. Today, we are merely putting them in a common platform to allow speedy execution. This is all made possible by the use of data and that is where technologies such as business information modelling and automated building systems can do things faster [than humans can].”

When it comes to the uptake of technology in the regional FM sector, Smith has kept a close eye on developments in the UAE market since 2010, tracking the level of innovation rolled out in the country within a variety of industries. The UAE, he said, is “light-years ahead of its time”.

“One thing that we do well in the US is fuse technology with process – the ability to get the occupants and the FM teams to use technology. If you have not conquered that [synergy], you are wasting your money,” Smith added.

Smith, who is based in Google’s California headquarters, has called on all FM operators to properly grasp the importance of – and leverage – technology and Big Data, especially when it comes to tapping into the Internet of Things.

“We are going to be left behind [if we do not embrace new innovations]. The biggest risk is not other technology providers in the sector, it is the lack of decision,” he said, calling on operators in the FM space to hasten the uptake of cutting-edge technologies.

Smith is responsible for Google’s physical assets such as buildings, which are located in the US, in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Since being founded nearly 20 years ago, on 4 September, 1998, Google has grown and expanded rapidly. With this growth, Google’s portfolio of physical assets has also grown – the company now occupies an area covering 1,000,000m2, and houses up to 40,000 full-time employees at its premises. 

Most of Google’s FM work is outsourced to major service providers, but Smith said this approach would soon be restructured, with 19 new FM jobs being created at its California headquarters. 

“We have a 4,000,000m2 real estate footprint globally, and we are growing at a rapid pace. We cannot manage our portfolio traditionally; it is simply not possible to keep up. So, we are using data to transform how we operate, design, and how we think about real estate collectively. We are utilising this data to optimise our assets and make better decisions.”

Smith added: “We have 40,000 living sensors in the Bay Area, and these are our employees, which we do not want to inconvenience. Ideally, an employee should not have to call in to complain about the air conditioning or heating being too hot or too cold; we want to be ahead of that. Today, we are able to take data and use this to tell us how our systems are performing.” 

The process, said Smith, involves a drastic change to an FM company’s approach. Instead of being reactive to issues in the workplace, for example, FM firms need to create a culture of proactivity, enabling them to thrive in the industry’s constant state of flux. Smith added that this culture would not only have a positive impact on finances, as a result of the building running more efficiently. A proactive approach could also result in a more enjoyable experience for building occupants living and working in the space, he explained.

“[Business management systems] are amazing tools, but they cannot tell you when systems are not running as designed. [They can only tell you when components have failed or are about to malfunction]. Google is fixated on the productivity of its employees, and using data can help to mitigate several issues that can otherwise hamper the working environment. If nobody notices the building and the environment around them, it means we are doing our jobs well.” 

While Google may have reinvented  the workplace with staff perks such as pool tables, bowling alleys, free food, and gym memberships to help keep the company’s employees happy and productive, now Google’s FM will have to “thrill its occupants”, said Smith.

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