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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.