The typical facility management (FM) organization, part in-house, part outsourced, is like a business in itself. It has suppliers, a management team, and its own customers. As a key part of that organization, the FM service provider is in a business-to-business market. So the customers of the service provider are mostly the client organization’s business units and functions (which in turn serve the market customers of the client organization).

Why is that important? Because, FM is in a value chain; the services provided by the FM service provider to their client organization’s staff will have an effect (positive, or negative) on their ability to deliver for that organization’s market customers. How well they do that will affect customer loyalty, and in turn, affect the profit. FM is not simply a cost: it is part of the service-value-profit chain. Unfortunately though, too many organizations still view FM purely as a cost centre. The challenge then is for FM to demonstrate its contribution to overall business performance.

Remember the story about the cleaner at the space centre launch-site? When asked by the visiting Executive, “What do you do?” she replied “I help put rockets into space”.

Service value chain

There is a clear service value chain, spanning from the most basic service right through to the end-customer buying a product or service from the client organization. Most people will have heard a comment like, “That was a Friday afternoon car…rushed off the assembly line, not properly checked…never reliable…etc.” The truth is that, without services like FM, any day can be a “Friday afternoon”. In a workplace, if the temperature is too high, the light levels are poor, and the air lacks oxygen, then people’s productivity suffers and they make mistakes. And, of course, this can directly impact the level and quality of their output.

Some of the best examples of step-change innovation in FM are driven by this service-value chain, with the end customers’ needs in mind. If the service provider can improve the productivity of an organization’s people, through effective spaces and support services, then FM can deliver lasting innovative change.

Data-driven insights can result in doing more, with less resource

For most FM organizations, the annual budget is under constant pressure. This is the perennial challenge pushed onto the MSP – “do more, with less”. This can be an almost impossible mandate. But today, if we look at what is changing, there are new opportunities for FM.

Many of these opportunities come from technologies which have been under development for decades but are just now starting to (a) work, reliably, (b) reduce in cost, and (c) connect to computers and the IoT (or “Internet of Things”). Almost anything with an electronic ‘pulse’ can now be connected to a computer, monitored from a distance, and can provide useful data.

“Doing more” may also simply mean doing the ‘right things’. Data insights can tell an FM what is needed based on actual usage (real-time data streams).  For example, in cleaning, where bathroom door sensors may trigger a work order, sent to a cleaner’s mobile device. Result: cleaning where it matters instead of routinely executing fixed cleaning schedules which may be unnecessary.

On the horizon, ‘machine learning’ (or AI – artificial intelligence) is coming. It will take some time to see how this will impact FM. But, society is only at the beginning of this journey, and sensors are the first ‘scouts’ out there constantly searching for data.

Resource saving, and re-deployment in the service value chain

New sensor technology and knowledge (through data insights) presents an opportunity for a service provider to consider all the various tasks which a machine could potentially deliver. And which would, therefore, release a ‘human’ to do something which adds more to their customer service value chain. At long last…FM can deliver ‘more, with less’.

Sensors are simply small electronic devices which send signals to a computer. Sensors save people time, which can then be redeployed doing something which adds service value. FM is a people business, so the more that routine tasks can be taken away from people, the more they can provide valuable and tailored service to customers.

Give the routine work to sensors; they will get it right every time. Sensors monitor light levels, temperature, movement, proximity (presence) and other environmental conditions. As sensors become more sophisticated, they can measure and monitor multiple conditions, which make them very useful for FM management systems.

Meanwhile, a new service is born. Through the data scientist’s approach to recognizing patterns, your FM teams can increase efficiency. Data scientists and FM teams, working together, can analyse the data from sensors, to allow them to adjust the environment or change service delivery to align with customer needs. Or companies like MCS Solutions can help FM teams, by training them to analyse data and to organize their IWMS for maximum effect.

Customer satisfaction, through customer intelligence, means profitability

Service providers are no longer just buying tech and software. They are buying into a journey, to create value by integrating traditional IWMS with sensor data and other information sources. They are generating data-driven insights to impact performance. Insight leads to impact.

For a service provider, it is a challenge to be profitable when constantly under pressure to cut costs. But once in a while, step-change innovation can deliver improved performance at no additional cost. Or even reduce costs, after investment in new technology and training.

Over the decades, FM has measured customer satisfaction with forms and spreadsheets, and later online surveys. But data-driven insights will lead us to the next generation of ‘customer intelligence’. In the near future, sensors and connected devices, along with smart algorithms, will allow tasks to be reported, and sometimes even actioned, without service provider resources being involved.

As an example, if we give customers in the workplace the ability, through smart apps, to feedback their satisfaction in real time, then certain environmental conditions can be adjusted. Again, this can be done in almost real-time.

user feedback, part of the service value chain

More than this, though, machine learning can take over the ‘grunt work’. If enough customers report a space is ‘too hot’, then the computer-based platform can adjust temperatures. The IWMS can report trends back to the Account Manager, and this can be fed into capital and maintenance planning. At the same time, much of the work of the FM service desk can be reduced, as smart devices and apps take over.

The new FM challenge: collecting, analysing and using data

The examples outlined above are amongst many more tech-driven innovations that are changing FM forever. These innovations present both opportunity, and new challenges, for the FM market. A service provider can invest in the new technologies, but does the FM market have the knowledge and skills to use the data output? As algorithms take over parts of what people once did, then people focus on customer service and become analysts. How many people in FM are currently skilled in collecting, analysing and using data? We will further cover these challenges in future articles.

Interested in learning more? Please get in touch.