How wasl Properties is enhancing its operational efficiency by implementing Facilio’s software
Changing the game with real-time facilities management and connected buildings: An interview with Ali Nasser Nassiri, senior operations manager at wasl properties and Prabhu Ramachandran, founder and CEO of Facilio
Technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and AI have enabled data-driven management and process efficiencies, across the entire spectrum of industrial sectors. While built spaces were once relative laggards in adopting these enhanced capabilities, the prospect of making better informed decisions and enhancing occupant and workforce experiences across an entire building portfolio is generating increasing interest among commercial real estate owners and facilities managers. The industry is responding enthusiastically to the vision of an empowered business model, which leverages enterprise platforms and digital retrofits, in pursuit of unprecedented efficiencies and profitability.
Smart buildings, with better facilities management and optimal occupant convenience and safety, can help streamline business processes and boost profits in commercial real estate. Facilio ¬ a mature start-up tech firm ¬ has been changing the smart
building landscape in the Middle East region. Facilio has developed an enterprise platform that helps multi-site owners and managers centrally control building performance in real-time, and drive seamless facilities management. The firm harnesses IoT to connect and unify teams, systems, and equipment across multiple facilities.
wasl properties adopts digital retrofits to transform its Dubai portfolio
As one of the largest real-estate management and development companies in Dubai, wasl properties has been at the forefront of adopting smart technology solutions in the industry. By adopting Facilio’s solution, it is now mastering the art of connecting its assets and enabling unprecedented efficiencies in its facilities operations.
Elaborating on how technology is ushering in change within the FM industry, Ali Nasser Nassiri, senior operations manager at wasl properties, says: “IoT, AI and robotics are an integral part of the conversation around adopting breakthrough technologies currently, and the Dubai government is also actively driving their adoption. The advantages of deploying these technologies are manifold in our business. They help reduce costs and increase efficiency, while also enhancing tenant satisfaction and experiences. As a business that seeks to set benchmarks, our aim, in leading the adoption of these innovations, is to provide our clients and tenants with the most outstanding services that state-of-the-art technology can deliver.”
Prabhu Ramachandran, founder and CEO of Facilio Inc., adds: “Legacy models, for the use of technology in the context of buildings, have largely centered around the construction phase. In comparison, the adoption of tech driven solutions has been relatively limited, during the post construction phase of a building’s lifecycle.”
Addressing the lag in adopting technology, in the commercial real estate sector
So why has this complacency in adopting technology within built environments been the norm in the past? According to Ramachandran the reason for the tardiness boils down to inadequately perceived business needs. Over the 40 or 50 year life cycle of a building, operating it as an asset is a ‘silent guzzler of capital’, he explains: “Building maintenance, over the entire lifecycle of the asset, requires five to six times the capital outlay that construction entails - in terms of energy spend, facility management, water, and retrofits. However, because this expense accumulates gradually, it is often overlooked.”
Technology adoption in the industry also suffers because of insufficient communication between stakeholders. There are, typically, three main parties involved in the management of built assets: commercial real estate owners, FM services companies and contractors. “The lack of an explicit consensus between these three entities has also been responsible for a lag in the adoption of technology, despite each party recognising the need for something to be done. Such a fractured business model has to evolve, if the industry is to achieve optimal outcomes,” Ramachandran says.
“Along with the possibilities that IoT, machine learning and robotics enable, commercial real estate businesses are also increasingly appreciating that facilities management is a key aspect of the value perception around their brand,” Ramachandran continues. “From traditional office styled workplaces to a retail mall or any other variation of property, the industry is increasingly acknowledging customer experience as the key to differentiating their brand. There is also much greater clarity around the savings that centrally administered asset portfolios, which create real-time efficiencies, can generate. The most effective way to achieve such results is, of course, the adoption of appropriate technologies. The industry is now actively interested in affordable and minimally disruptive ways in which it can make a dramatic change, as opposed to taking baby steps every few years.”
Nassiri believes that the commercial real-estate industry’s adoption of new technology will be faster if vendors engage with their customers, to articulate the advantages. He says: “Vendors have to educate their clients on the benefits that new technologies enable. Familiarity and informed expectations will help the industry adapt to these new breakthroughs more easily, as clients feel empowered to identify their specific preferences and vendors can offer better informed options, in response. A recent example of the successful adoption of a new technology can be found in the proliferation of LED lighting, where vendors educated their target audience, to facilitate a rapid changeover.”
This is a tantalising vision. Can the facilities management sector make a technology driven leap similar to the one that disruptive tech startups like Uber, AirBnb, Netflix etc. brought to the industries they serve? wasl properties and Facilio certainly seem to think so, and the basis for their optimism is compelling.
The big picture potential
According to Nassiri, building owners were unable to understand the complete potential of technology, in the past. “Buildings have had automation associated with them for some decades already. However, these were typically siloed systems that required specialists to run them. Large portfolio owners ended up with multiple systems of this sort and were eventually unable to use most of their capabilities. For instance, if one were to just use a BMS system to control chillers and the system failed in some way, the typical response was to operate the assets manually, completely undermining the advantage of such a system. There was therefore the need for a new category of Operations and Maintenance platform, which could help building owners run their operation in a responsive and effective manner, using real-time data,” says Nassiri.
“With the ability of IoT to monitor and interconnect systems, commercial real estate owners can now leverage predictive analysis to fix or replace assets before they fail. The previous generation of software solutions was not being used anywhere near its potential, largely because there was no centralised and intuitive platform that empowered stakeholders through system wide transparency and ease of use,” Nassiri says. “Ideally building owners should have been able to receive reports in real-time to take appropriate action, as well as receive appropriate tech support to enable predictive maintenance. The solution we have been able to deploy, since our relationship with Facilio, enables exactly such a proactive and predictive model that gives us complete transparency into the real-time operation of our entire portfolio,” Nassiri says.
A new business model
Adding to the points made by Nassiri, Ramachandran says that the solution introduced by Facilio results in a new and more effective business model. “Building owners have traditionally outsourced BMS installation to a contractor and facilities maintenance services to FM services; however, this is not enough. There is a third category that has to evolve, which concerns itself with optimising overall operations, which is the capacity that our software platform delivers,” Ramachandran asserts.
“Can all the properties in a portfolio be interconnected and is the data they generate available to be utilised by all stakeholders? It’s important to realise that maintenance service vendors, the sustainability team, the finance team and several other entities stand to gain from ease of access to real-time data. Ultimately, this new business model will create its own evolutionary path that will result in better talent, and new job descriptions in the industry. The success of this model is going to come from the collaboration between the FM services company and the tech vendor and, finally the tech vendor and the owner. It’s going to be a three-way process,” Ramachandran believes.
According to Ramachandran, the goal of the project undertaken with wasl properties was not cost and energy savings alone. “We are not looking at a siloed approach to optimisation. We connect all the buildings in the portfolio as the first step, and then carry out analytics to generate portfolio-wide actionable insights. All assets are managed with the active involvement of the Facilio platform. The maintenance schedule is done by Facilio and the maintenance teams are given mobile access to data via an interface. From wasl’s point of view, it gets access to hundreds of its buildings and it can see how these buildings and the associated workforces are performing. Our solution creates the opportunity to move beyond energy and cost saving concerns to an even bigger picture, that also includes optimising maintenance, as well as workforce and tenant experiences,” Ramachandran says.
A future-ready solution
Nassiri points out that one of the most empowering aspects of Facilio’s software-based solution is that it can be expanded in its scope with time.
“The technology is open. Facilio is able to develop the software further. We started with energy, and we need to move into security, safety, standards, and other aspects of our operation. In future, artificial intelligence will assist onsite technicians access information such as operational history, parts replaced, number of breakdowns, run hours, check lists etc., by simply scanning the relevant equipment’s barcode. They can then contact the concerned engineer remotely, to get support and advice, and the engineer can visualise the exact condition of the equipment using a real-time AI delivered assessment. Both the stakeholders in this scenario will benefit, as the technician accesses the engineer’s expertise, while the latter monitors multiple sites simultaneously” Nassiri elaborates. These expectations are certainly backed up by the initial results. wasl is expecting 14 million Dirhams in savings every year, which is around 20% of its utility bill, through the implementation of retrofit project, monitored on real-time basis through Facilio’s platform.
According to Ramachandran, the opportunities its platform enables are endless. He says: “wasl properties is one of the most highly reputed players in the real estate market. We started with sustainability, the next step is operational efficiency in the form of how we can help wasl’s workforce to become more efficient. Subsequently, we can integrate siloed platforms. For instance, safety, energy, water, and compliance can be integrated into one single platform. Then that platform becomes the core and all other systems on all other teams can start accessing this operations and maintenance platform to streamline wasl’s processes across their entire portfolio of buildings.”
It needed a big player like wasl to lead the transformation in Dubai
Ramachandran reiterates the clear advantages to taking a centralised approach to managing a building portfolio. “The limitations of the typical siloed business model that is currently commonplace are apparent. As far as the advantages of gaining real-time and portfolio wide transparency is concerned, I believe most commercial real estate businesses realise the inherent advantage to taking such an approach. However, as with all new innovations, it takes a significant industry player to champion change. wasl properties has had the foresight to embrace a new world of possibilities and enhanced capabilities. I believe the industry will look back on this development as a landmark moment that redefined the commercial real estate business in Dubai,” Ramachandran concludes.