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Embracing Technology in the FM Sector

Technology is all around us and continues to encroach into our lives. Whether through the applications on various office appliances, voice-controlled tech at home, or the sensors used to measure and improve the space we live in. We have an enthused world where anything is possible with the use of technology. The role of technology and its disruptive influence is one of the three key themes that was identified in the RICS Responsible Business Forum. This article explores some of the challenges ahead with the impact of technology on the built environment. Is your business fully embracing technology?

Setting the Expectations

Data-enabled systems have become the standard operating approach for many.  The potential opportunities to save costs and improve the workplace are widespread. But, cutting through the sales talk and communicating the benefits to your clients or your business is tougher.

The challenge with communicating the benefits is the balance between perception and what can be delivered today – which is very much about setting expectations. There is often a need to oversell the opportunities that can be achieved or underplay the integration costs. In part, this is led by misunderstandings by leaders on the role that technology can take, and a lack of experience on the ability to deliver and achieve results from data.

Simplifying what the technology is, how it is being used and the resulting data that can be utilised is fundamental for communicating the expectations. There are also lessons that older business leaders can learn from the younger generation in technology.

Getting Technology to do what we want it to do

So, what do we want the technology to do and how will it help us? We are all still the same people, but adding layers onto needs. Technology can help this and the interface is still important. In the built environment, we use technology to:

  • optimise or reduce plant run times through AI,
  • ensure space is optimised for user comfort,
  • help teams to optimise condition-based maintenance programmes; and
  • extend asset lifetimes.

Together this has significant benefits to the energy performance of the building, employee wellbeing and cost savings.

However, over-reliance on technology can mean we lose the ability to communicate with each other. People skills are vital in the FM sector, but with technology becoming the interface instead of the person, it promotes small changes in behaviour. For example, leaving a message instruction to another to close off an issue rather than seeing a problem through to the end. This encourages a loss of accountability for activities along with the loss of team working.

Rise of the Data Analyst in the Responsible Business

Technology can enable FM to be more customer-focused, but its advance requires new skills. For example, the ability to analyse the data that is being generated. Whilst AI tools are available, the dynamic approach of most organisations will require individuals who understand the data to translate it to a people/ business perspective.

Not only are employee skills sets changing, but the requirements on business is changing too. The level of data captured increasingly infringes on personal information. Therefore, disclosure and openness about what data is held is critical. Gaining confidence from workers on this subject will require communicating the reasons why data is held, and the benefits of holding the data. There will be kickback to this, and the use of opt-outs will help to provide a mechanism to act on this.

We are moving into a sphere where organisations are challenged about what they stand for. It is no longer about money, but increasingly about purpose, transparency and values. Those entering the workforce want to work for organisations that share their beliefs, which are becoming more altruistic. Commercials are good and an absolute necessity, but so too are the ethics – how do we get this mindset through to the FM sector?

Integrating Technology into FM

This provides a very different role for FM moving forwards. A role where technology is integrated into the service, and key skills revolve around customer service and data analytics. But being mindful of the disruptive influences that could be lurking on the horizon. Improvements in technology could easily lead to the ‘uberisation‘ of standard services – particularly maintenance and hospitality functions. Has the industry considered this though?

With new technology part and parcel of modern life, it is illogical for the FM sector not to embrace it. However, the integration of technology through the lens of a responsible business is necessary. Weighing the balance of environmental improvements with social and Governance costs is fundamental. Look out for the release of the RICS Responsible Business Leaders Forum Report at the end of the Summer 2019. We delve into these challenges further as we seek solutions for the sector.

For more information on the RICS Responsible Business Forum please visit the RICS website
Sunil Shah, Chair RICS Responsible Business Forum and Managing Director, Acclaro Advisory.

Implementing meaningful sustainability

Implementing meaningful responsible business attributes within the built environment requires engagement of all levels of the chain – the developer, constructor and operators of facilities. Increasing complexities of roles and knowledge involved means this is no longer possible through a single body or simplified framework across the property lifecycle.

Acclaro Advisory and the SFMI (Sustainable Facilities Management Index) are delighted to be a major contributor to a collaborative approach in partnership with RICS. The aim is to create the new model necessary to transfer knowledge of sustainability through the property lifecycle. Sunil Shah, MD of Acclaro Advisory will be chairing a series of discussions across the globe, with the SFMI team developing and building upon the necessary discussions to develop a single approach for the industry.

Why?

For a long time, collaboration has been key for organisations to deliver sustainability; it has been the subject of many reviews within the property sector from the Latham Review in 1994 through to the present discussions from the Hackett Review. We have experienced a rise in dialogue develop between a client and their major suppliers, together with a governance system between the two stakeholders. Much of this is measured in more complex projects to improve performance and outcomes – great news for the parties involved!

Professional bodies, on the other hand, are showing a different approach to advancing the sustainability agenda. An increasing number of groups are jostling for position and funding. They are focussing on what separates or differentiates themselves from their peers. However this doesn’t promote a sector or an industry in a cohesive way, nor does it show leadership internally or externally. Discussions are blighted by arguments over semantics (the most recent is that experienced on the definition of Social Value), and with so many opinions there is little room to tackle key areas that would give consistency and a common approach for the good of the sector.

What we need is a more joined up structure

RICS have been taking a lead on one area related to Responsible Business. As the appointed Chair of the Forum, I (and our partners at RICS) see the importance of collaboration across the delivery lifecycle for two main reasons. First, is to ensure that as a collective we are working together and that multiple points will drive changes in behaviour and the need to comply. Secondly, simply, is that no organisation knows everything and that to build a practical response spreading over the lifecycle of a property requires a number of actors knitting their specialisms together.

The journey that we have been on in the sustainability sphere has promoted environmental specialisms including energy, waste and water, largely because they were easy to measure and understand. Social aspects have been considered by organisations for a long time, slowly becoming more widespread. For example, it formed a fundamental part of the London Olympics legacy programme.

In fact, volunteering and philanthropy have been easy wins for businesses to prove corporate responsibility with minimal strategic considerations. However, we haven’t had a structured approach. Since 2010, there has been a step change in the role of society within the sustainability framework.

Regulation in supply chain management (through Modern Slavery and Social Value ), the conceptualisation of wellbeing (through mental health awareness and workplace productivity), and increased competition for talent have driven employee development up the agenda.

Looking into the future, we can see the increasing trajectory of societal and community needs as part of the built environment dovetailed into environmental requirements. Assessments of place and occupier services will be based upon the provision of these services and engagement with the community to drive improved satisfaction, a safer environment and a location where people want to work.

Technology will play a significant role in this. The deployment of technology is driving the collection and use of data, but we have yet to answer the question of who owns this data. We are entering into space where knowledge is being captured that can denote the behavioural characteristics of individuals to help provide a tailored working environment. Should individuals be made aware of the data held and how it is used? Protocols are necessary –technology and data are a vital part of our necessary progress. – but a negative perception can damage the brand of an organisation quickly.

The Solution – The Responsible Business Forum

So, RICS has been working with Acclaro Advisory, UKGBC, Arup, Business Services Association and others to capture insight and identify solutions required for a responsible business to operate property assets. This work aims to influence the corporate culture, operational level and interaction with the supply chain to ensure the long-term sustainability of the built environment. See here our opening discussion in the UK, and the finding that we took home from a business leaders roundtable event.

Utilising partners, frameworks, tools and events from across the world, we will look to capture the knowledge, benefits, challenges and risks that will affect the management of property and integrate responsible business practices that will improve society and the environment that we live in.

RICS is calling on strategic thinkers and decision makers across the supply chain who have a desire to embed responsible corporate values in their business, to join the conversation. Together we can deal with challenges and look to shape clear solutions and drive responsible business leadership.

Visit the RICS website and download the RICS Responsible Business Leaders Forum summary report to gain further insight
To get involved in these discussions and for further information on what RICS is doing in this area, contact us or get in touch with Ana Bajri, Property Standards Project Manager, RICS 

Article Image : RICS