Digital Technology in Facility Management

Digital Technology in Facility Management

The expenses for manpower are increasing every year comparatively. Augmented reality may not play many roles in the present because the market is still "very young and very nascent", but AI has undoubtedly taken a front seat, especially in the last 2-3 years. In a recent interaction with the Editor of Siliconindia, Anuj Rajain, CEO, Soteria (Tenon Group), shared his insights on the digital technology in facility management.

How have technologies like Augmented Realty & Artificial intelligence impacted facility management & security operations?

Facility Management has been a manpower-driven industry in India even today. When you approach a client, the client does not speak of technology. Instead, they state their requirements, and we need to deploy people. Traditionally, it is observed that technology was not their driver, manpower was. Over a period of time, facility management has witnessed some developments, and a notable involvment. The most basic technologies used are bristol management systems, incorporated to reduce the load on the workforce. To get attendance management systems incorporated for the physical maintenance of data which was recorded by a security guard or facility executive.

The use of technology has evolved over a while; now, a facility management client asks for the services offered through technology. The expenses for manpower are increasing every year comparatively. Augmented reality may not play many roles in the present because the market is still "very young and very nascent", but AI has undoubtedly taken a front seat, especially in the last 2-3 years. With AI's help, one can develop solutions that create relevant data for the client to understand better. So, if an attendance management tool that a facility operator uses provides a live update to the HRMS platform for a client, which also includes an employee base across India, mentions the footfall. Similarly, the facility team is also able to understand if it is an entire occupancy office or if there is a 50% load on the office on a specific day. Things as simple as janitorial services are benefits where AI plays a vital role in informing when to clean a specific area during a set pattern or set timing in the day.

What are the emerging technologies that your clients demand today (post pandemic era)?

During the pre-pandemic era, the technologies used were basic, like a management tool or management technique to see the performance. During the post-pandemic period, the use of technology has evolved. Even the work culture for a lot of companies has changed. Rather than having multiple offices, a lot of multinationals have started hubs to balance the workforce.

Where employees are made to opt for hybrid working, so not all employees are present daily, AI and Facility management can help observe how often a specific employee would visit the office and what they typically require. In this way, technology and requirements have evolved.

At present, companies want more "life dashboard" where they can gauge the number of their employees visiting any specific office at any given time. Hot desk management is something that is very commonly found now. With the help of Hot-desk management, companies can measure and get notified about everything related to workforce management. The other service that has become quite relevant is that any facility management or security service offered is not technology-driven. Let's say there was an engineer whose key role would be to check whether the HVAC was operational. Until the pre-pandemic era, that engineer was not very well equipped or skilled and had a very basic qualifications. But after two years, he is upskilled, so that's where technology becomes quite handy. Rather than doing a reactive check on various electrical tools and equipment, an engineer now at a client site does more of a preventive review. If the HVAC system is running at 70% deficiency, the technology or Ai system indicates that something has gone wrong and asks to be verified so that we can bring the efficiency level back to 95-98%. This is similar to the facility management team. They are now better equipped because they know that they do not constantly have to be on the floor to service a specific employee at a client site. It has become like an on-demand service for many people.

In such a labour intensive industry does technology plays a spoilsport in terms of human capital deployment?

According to the survey, the cost of human capital deployment over the past 5-7 years has seen massive growth in many states of India. Karnataka's resources have gone up to 120% now, and no company is equipped to spike the budget by 100 percent for deployments on the ground. To a certain level, technology played spoilsport where people in a service industry would be replaced by technology. But that's not the case here; technology is not a substitute rather a complementing factor. It plays a crucial role in finishing specific tasks. But the balance is again supported by technology, which still gives an ROI benefit to the client where, within a span of 2-3 years, they can see a substantial cost-benefit in the overall FM budget.

Even in matured markets, it is not that technology has not played spoilsport. As observed in Singapore business, the government has been very proactive in pushing technology for a simple reason. In Singapore, the cost of labour is very high, and supply is very restricted. Still, the critical message has been that technology can probably help 50% in reducing the load, but to balance the 50%, it has to be serviced by capital.

What are the challenges in adopting digital technology in the facility management & security industry?

Earlier, the biggest challenge to adopting digital technology in the facility management and security industry was the lack of a fully skilled workforce to support that kind of technology. Gradually, everybody started to own a smartphone. However, they were not so familiar with operating it. The main challenge faced was not selling the technology to the client, but on-boarding resources that were either skilled enough to handle that technology or to have a workforce that should be up-skilled towards the direction where they could be able to utilise the technology tool equipped for them.

What is your take on upcoming digital surveillance trends & technologies being adopted in India today?

The future that was envisaged has already started to come into play. The required technology was acquired, but there was no EI platform to utilise it. Technology is now a vital tool that helps to reduce stress or workload on human resources. I believe that the deployment of tools will enhance the capability of an AI platform because there are sensors on anything and everything one looks at. It is just about gathering the data from the sensor and creating meaning out of it. We give a lot of raw data. Converting that raw data into something that would provide efficiency in one piece is the need of the hour. Hence, one critical digital transformation observed in the industry is machine learning. It will take a more active role in advising us on what to do and what not to do. Decision-making would be easier for people as they would possess more data to help decide and bring efficiency. The larger offices have started to shrink due to the optimization of seating capacity; in the case of Logistics Park, service tools help run it more diligently. Thus, it is only a matter of time before one can utilise AI or machine learning to its full potential.