Technology Is Turning Facilities Management From Boring to Bespoke

A rise in people-centric technologies is redefining the way businesses approach customer experience. The contemporary consumer thrives on the ultra-responsive, real time and on-demand services that business models such as Uber and Airbnb deliver. Not surprisingly, the commercial real estate industry too has embraced these influences. Facilities management, in particular, has transformed from focusing on physical assets, to an emphasis on creating ideal outcomes for end-users. 

Contemporary facilities managers, real estate CEOs, building owners and even energy service companies are buying into the belief that a property’s most important asset is its people. This reorientation of business strategy is not entirely surprising. Buildings that work smarter provide better occupant experiences, leading to bottom-line benefits such as improved workforce productivity, lower vacancy rates and increased employee engagement. Once considered secondary to managing physical assets, the commercial real estate industry is realizing that such outcomes eventually drive better ROI for building owners. 

For decades building owners primarily considered facilities management a cost center and not a value-driven service. However, with an increase in the number of younger tenants, a change in customer expectations is creating new avenues for properties to differentiate themselves. The emergence of a work-culture that prioritizes employee wellbeing is altering the aspirations prospective tenants have, about their office space. Businesses have realized that the quality of user experience that a facility delivers has a direct impact on workplace productivity and talent retention. In turn, these insights are driving preferences and perceived property value. 

Research states that over 70% of millennials in developed economies want to work in smart offices within the next five years, with those surveyed in the US representing an even greater consensus by percentage. Employees spend seven to ten hours of their workday indoors. The air quality, temperature and lighting in a building, all have a marked impact on the physical and mental health of occupants, as well as their ability to be productive. High concentrations of chemicals in the air, dirty air ducts or an inefficient HVAC system can lead to sick building syndrome, where occupants experience ill-health, linked to time spent in a building. Added to that are expectations of integrated work, play and community spaces that are well-maintained and offer a seamless operational experience. A building with a high downtime on elevators or “that musty smell”, quickly earns a negative reputation. 

While other kinds of commercial spaces, such as malls, hotels or sports stadiums, might have usage patterns differing from offices, the expectations and challenges of customer experience are similar. Legacy facility management was all about being in the background for fixing functional issues, such as a chiller or an errant lighting array. Its contemporary version, however, has transitioned to providing an optimal experience by delivering enhanced comfort and efficiency for occupants. 

PropTech accelerated in 2018, with nearly $4 billion invested across the smart buildings sector. An amazing seventy percent of a global real estate executives interviewed by research firm Verdantix in 2018, expected occupant wellbeing, IoT-driven connectivity and mobile applications to be either “very influential” or “influential” over the next three years. SoftBank’s CEO Masayoshi Son believes the real estate industry presents one of the world’s top disruption opportunities. In his opinion, technology will be the driver that consolidates the fractured real estate landscape, through more advanced automation.

Managing this shift efficiently and effectively, by adopting the right technologies, is critical for building owners. Legacy FM services can’t address customer expectations around customized, modern, service-led and experience-driven facilities. The scene is set for the commercial real estate sector to reframe its priorities and deliver on these emerging needs, through future-ready innovative technologies. 

A trend currently gathering momentum within the facilities management industry is the use of enterprise-wide and data-driven software platforms. This solution uses a combination of IoT to monitor real-time performance, along with AI and Machine Learning to extract actionable insights to empower informed decision-making. Such a unified platform gives building owners the ability to optimize entire portfolios, by utilizing data that their automation already generates, but which is currently not being used to derive actionable insights. 

The eventual aim is to manage buildings predictively, to deliver value and unprecedented occupant experiences. Technology has emerged as the greatest enabler of this “customer experiential”. It is the ally empowering FMs and CRE owners with portfolio wide transparency, which creates “delightful” customer experiences. An enterprise-wide software platform, for facilities operations and maintenance, can give owners the edge in a crowded marketplace. It identifies them as providers of superior occupant experiences, for which customers are willing to pay a premium.

Gartner forecasts that 25 billion devices and gadgets will be connected by 2020, up from 4.9 billion in 2015. Smart buildings, with lights, sensors, HVAC units, automated doors, CCTV and more integrated into a network, will be increasingly common. In addition, as people choose to work for longer, organisations will need to be responsive to the needs of different generations of employees. 

Today’s commercial real estate owners are looking to differentiate themselves as operators of modern and smart facilities. A focus on customer experience provides the perfect competitive edge, to set them apart. Technology is enabling real time value creation in buildings, and putting FMs and CRE owners front and center, as the providers of this value.

An enterprise-wide facilities operations and maintenance platform can help manage buildings centrally. It allows commercial real estate businesses to work better, scale faster, provide responsive services and deliver outstanding customer experiences. CRE owners can achieve dramatic upgrades in quality and empower their teams with the right tools to create value-added services. With real time data, managers can identify and solve problems faster, predict anomalies and proactively manage facilities, enabling a seamless experience for customers and better ROI for owners and investors.  

Technology and changing attitudes to the workplace are driving a transformation of commercial real estate. FM is coming of age, as it seeks to blend empathy, strategic thinking, commercial expertise and an eye for innovation. Tenant work-life harmony is becoming a key focus for building owners and space is being seen as an experience, rather than as a commodity. Passive and siloed data is being analyzed for actionable insights in real-time. Digital technology is emerging as a key tool to manage buildings. The stage is set for unified, enterprise-level management of buildings to emerge as the next big thing in commercial real estate.

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