Cover story: FM in post-pandemic era
How will the FM industry shape up in the future in a post-COVID-19 world? Experts reveal some insights
Several global experts predict that there won’t be “a return to normal” for a few sectors, at least for a while. In particular, for the travel, retail and hospitality sectors.
In a post-COVID-19 world, new scenarios may emerge. It’s expected that we’ll have fewer public touch screens and more voice interfaces and machine vision interfaces. Business travel and daily commuting may decline as we embrace to “work from home”. Video conferencing and webinars will increase. There will be better monitoring using IoT and Big Data, among other things.
How does the future look for the FM industry in all this?
“From an FM business perspective, the coronavirus pandemic has presented an opportunity that, if we are lucky, is a once in a lifetime event. As the pandemic eases, some will bemoan the fact that clients will, quite rightly, look to achieve cost benefits from improved efficiencies that have resulted from changed work processes,” replies FM industry veteran Alan Millin. With almost 25 years in the GCC region, including well over a decade as an independent facilities management consultant and trainer, Millin has designed, developed, and delivered a range of successful FM training programs to the region’s FM professionals.
Millin says: “Those that embrace change will already have accepted the fact that there will be a ‘new normal’, and will be developing strategies for success. As FM companies look to revise their strategies, it is imperative that they also look at their organisational design to ensure fitness for purpose. Change may well be needed in the categories of people, benefits and rewards, organisational structure, and processes.
“Indeed, any change in strategy should trigger a diagnostic review. Many managers try to develop a new strategy but then forget to check whether the organisation is finely tuned to implement it. Fine tuning an FM organisation is not a one-off exercise, it should be built into the organisational DNA.”
Markus Oberlin, CEO of Farnek, predicts that in terms of cleaning and sanitisation, there will be greater frequency, particularly in public areas, which will increase the workload and revenues of soft FM providers. MEP systems such as air-conditioning and ventilation will need to be adjusted and air ducts cleaned and disinfected more often. However, service providers will also suffer – some companies are unlikely to survive this crisis, and landlords, through the loss of service fees, will be unable to employ regular cleaning and maintenance. The same might be said about residential properties as well, which will hit home maintenance companies.
Markus Oberlin, CEO of Farnek
Oberlin explains further: “As a consequence of this, I think that there will be a further consolidation in the FM market and only the larger well capitalised total FM companies will survive this phase of economic adjustment in the market. Innovation, sustainability and technology will continue to drive the market.”
Vincent Montanet, chief business development officer for ENGIE Solutions (ENGIE Cofely), adds: “What the pandemic has brought to the fore is the fact that FM delivers essential services, not only to residential and commercial buildings but to crucial sectors such as healthcare or transport. FM is currently playing a major role in ensuring continuity of infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vincent Montanet, chief business development officer for ENGIE Solutions (ENGIE Cofely)
“Organisations will see the need for investment in long-term technological solutions to ensure functionality, comfort, safety and efficiency of the built environment by integrating people, place, process and technology. Now more than ever, the health and safety of our staff, residents, and environment is extremely crucial. The pandemic serves as a reminder on the importance of continuous investment and training in health and safety to ensure the wellbeing of our employees as well as business continuity.”
Montanet says that the unfortunate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in industries, companies and communities seeing the value of long-term partnerships with integrated FM solution providers. Companies investing in technological capability, with a depth of experience and knowledge to deploy critical environment solutions will transform and truly optimise costs and quality of the places we live or work in.
“Implementation of long-term innovative solutions can provide retail and commercial sectors financial relief; for example, it can drive down operating expenses by introducing smart building and maintenance solutions, increase energy optimisation, as well as improve capital expenditure through a focus on asset life cycle,” Montanet says.
Montanet says that with an increasingly connected world, solutions rooted in the Internet of Things (IoT) and driven by artificial intelligence (AI) are the way forward. “These are terms that everyone has heard of, but not many know how to use or procure such solutions for FM deployment – even though they can contribute significantly towards OPex and CAPex optimisation. More importantly, advancements in AI and IoT can mitigate the effects of COVID-19 by reducing manpower on ground and therefore reduce the risk of being exposed,” Montanet says.
IoT sensor technology, for example, can be deployed for various solutions, such as air quality and health, energy management, comfort and safety. It can also be used for Condition Based Monitoring, which provides live monitoring and alters for both asset and environmental conditions, while collecting asset information to facilitate data-driven decisions with regards to asset maintenance strategy, replacement, and running costs, says Montanet.
AI and IoT solutions can be deployed to further optimise operation and improve equipment reliability, such as utilising machine learning to automatically identify performance drift. This will allow engineers to focus on other important tasks, as they are no longer required to initially diagnose faults – and it also means any faults will be detected potentially sooner than they would be by humans. AI facilitates predictive maintenance, recognizing the risk for issues before they occur, enabling engineers to intervene with preventative measures, and therefore optimise performance. There are numerous benefits to this, such as cost savings, increased equipment reliability, and an enhanced customer experience.
Montanet says: “In the long run, these digital initiatives and innovation strategies will revolutionise the FM industry in the Middle East region with the benefits of optimising energy use, reducing client costs across their portfolio and freeing up facilities management resources. Clients will be able to make informed, data-driven decisions about asset lifecycle and replacement, which will reduce energy consumption in the long run.
“The ability to predict maintenance and schedule interventions at the most suitable moment will allow for costs to be budgeted more accurately and thus eliminate breakdowns, along with their associated costs and inconveniences in the future. Not only will operational efficiency and environmental performance improve, but customers will also be able to reduce their overall carbon footprint.”
There are already technological innovations during such times, observes Oberlin. “I think that the installation of sanitisation tunnels outside of all major buildings and facilities will be very much a part of the ‘new normal’. I also think that these tunnels will evolve as time goes by and will become even more sophisticated. I can foresee tunnels with multiple applications, from health to security being incorporated, certainly if this is to be considered a longer term precaution. The technology already exists for facial recognition cameras with automated temperature capture for example. It is a sign of the times that, two months ago, nobody would have even given a second thought about sanitization tunnels, now it’s almost inconceivable to be without them.”
Oberlin adds: “Technology will also provide an answer for improving indoor environments and making them even more efficient. High-efficiency air filters and automated disinfectant feeds into ventilation systems, will become standard in most buildings and many will find their way into building regulations at some point. I also think that there will be an increased use of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation technology to disinfect and improve indoor air quality in buildings.
“As high touch points, door handles and light switches will be modified and upgraded with motion detectors where applicable or with magnetic ‘touch’ passes for more secure access points. The same can be said for shared office equipment, particularly in public buildings and large offices. New weight restrictions will be posted into elevators, limiting the number of passengers, either through a people counter or reduced weight scale, which will sound an alarm, temporarily disabling the lift. I can imagine new protocols will be introduced; no talking, facing the walls of the lift and limiting the use of hand-held devices.”
However, Millin provides a contradictory view. He believes that technology is not the answer to everything.
Millin says: “Technology does not run FM companies, people do. We need to ensure that the basics are in place. Too often we find people promoted into their first management role without adequate training and support; these are the accidental managers. After a few problem-free months everyone forgets they are new managers and simply expects them to deliver in all circumstances; they can’t.
“We have already seen a significant shift to home-working and decentralisation as a result of the pandemic. FM providers should be working closely with technology providers to identify solutions that will enable successful implementation of their strategies.
“Perhaps the most important is that any technological investment should support the business. Too often I have seen companies trying to adapt their business to fit the new technology. Technology may help, but quality management has to be established first or even the best technology will under-deliver, as some FM companies have already discovered. It is essential to plan for implementation of any new systems before investing. Failing to plan is planning for unemployment.”
Change in perception
Will the current situation bring about a change in the way FM industry is perceived? Millin believes that the more mature clients already recognise that FM adds value to their business. He says: “Any change in client perception of FM has to be driven by FM companies, no one else can do it for them.
“For many years we have heard the lament that clients buy on price alone. Why should that be? Have we really lost the ability to sell quality? Business development is much more than the simple sales function that many think it is.
“If an FM company can’t articulate and demonstrate the value it offers, who else will? Organisations such as MEFMA are well positioned to lobby government and raise the industry profile, but to do so they need active participation from members at all levels. It is not enough to join a trade association and then hope for miracles.”
Oberlin feels that there will be a significant shift in attitute towards FM soft services. He says: “I believe there will be a 180 degree change in attitude towards soft FM operations, cleaning in particular. Cleaners will no longer have to be invisible; in fact, having cleaners in full view of employees, visitors and guests, will promote confidence, that the building is being regularly cleaned and sanitised in a thorough and professional way. Cleaning schedules should be highly visible too, not just in bathrooms but in prominent public areas in buildings.
He adds that there is an enormous opportunity for all companies operating in the FM sector to position themselves as true and trusted business partners.
Oberlin concludes: “It will be vital for progressive FM companies to understand how the value chain of their customers work and where they can support their clients to comply with the evermore complex government regulations and guidelines and how they can operate in the most efficient manner. This is not only to stay competitive in the market, but also to reassure all of their stakeholders that they are a competent, professional and socially responsible organisation.”