Google reveals all about its FM strategy
Google is reinventing its approach to facilities management, not just as a service provider, but as a client as well
Google has played a huge part in our lives, from classroom tools to those in the workplace — it’s hard to separate ourselves from Google. The Californian tech giant is now entering the real estate space as well, as the firm’s director of facilities Darrell Smith was in Dubai to discuss how Google is beginning to influence the facilities management (FM) sector.
“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 and that was the foundation of our effort,” Smith told fmME exclusively following his presentation at the 2nd annual World Workplace Forum held in Dubai.
FM professionals remain cautiously optimistic about the uptake of technology in the sector as there is an impending fear that automation would result in redundancies. But on the other hand, Smith says, technology is an enabler and mobility is the ideal use case scenario of technology working for the better of humans. “Technology is a tool and a few years ago they [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’s where technologies such as BIM, automated building systems do things faster.”
Giving his opinion on the uptake of technology in the region, Smith has kept a close eye on the UAE since 2010, tracking the level of innovation. He says the UAE was “light years ahead of its time since then”. “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 says.
Smith, who is based in Google’s Califronian headquarters has asked FM operators to properly grasp and leverage the importance of technology especially with the emergence of IoT. “We are going to be left behind [if we do not embrace new innovations]. The biggest risk isn’t other technology providers in the sector, it’s the lack of decision,” he says.
Smith looks after Google’s physical assets which are located in the Bay Area of California. The conglomerate, just about 20 years old, has grown rapidly with the rise of its services and technology around the world. With it, Google’s physical assets have grown as well and the company occupies 1 million m2 of area and houses 40,000 full time employees in its premises.
Most of Google’s FM works are outsourced to large service providers, but Smith says the modus operandi is about to undergo a restructuring. He notes: “We have [occupy] 4 million m2 of real estate footprint globally and we are growing at a rapid pace. We can’t manage our portfolio traditionally, it’s not possible to simply keep up. So we are using data to transform how we operate, design and how you think about real-estate collectively. And so we are utilising this data to pool in and optismise our assets to make better decisions.”He adds: “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 shouldn’t have to call in and to complain about the air conditioning or heating. We want to be ahead of that. Today, we are able to take data and tell us how systems are performing.” The process involves changing an FM company’s reactive approach to that of a proactive one. Smith says that does not only have a positive impact on the finances as buildings are running more efficient but the occupants are also enjoying the experience of living and working in the space.
“BMS systems are amazing tools, but they cannot tell you when systems aren’t running as designed. [They are only able to tell you when components have failed or, are about to stop functioning]. Google is fixated on the productivity of its employees — and using data can help mitigate several issues that can otherwise hamper working environment. If nobody notices the building and the environment around them it means we are doing our jobs,” Smith explains.
Google is globally renowned for having reinvented the workplace, and its facilities have often reflected that. Now Smith feels that the FM works at Google needs to match that, in an attempt to “thrill its occupants”.
“To address this, we are in the process of growing the FM team [within Google] by 67% and setting up a true FM organisation that previously never existed. The idea is to create intimacy in the buildings where the facilities manager can drive more value, and get closer to the business to understand what the business needs are, and not feel so corporate,” he tells fmME.
Smith says Google’s other offices around the world, which are a lot smaller as compared to its headquarters in the US, have successfully managed to create these intimate experiences. And while it will continue to outsource its FM operations, the firm will have a lot more dedicated facilities managers from within.
“We have aligned our FM organisation globally which means one set of rules will be applied globally with the ability to augment according to local needs. Our buildings in Dubai are run much differently as compared to our facilities in Africa or in the United States. In the Bay Area we occupy 200 buildings, across a 1 million m2 area and we foresee the operations to be a lot more cohesive and consistent,” Smith says.
Google will be hiring FM professionals for leadership and operational roles — 12 facilities managers, 6 regional FMs and a head of facilities — in the Bay Area.
“They [asset management] haven’t caught up and we are in a market transition right now where real estate and technology are colliding to produce never-seen-before results. In the future we might hire an IT professional to run our buildings for the simple fact that building automation is becoming a video game. And we will be able to teach him/her the FM and the MEP capabilities. But technology is an enabler it doesn’t replace how you drive value in a portfolio,” Smith says.