by Krishan Sidhu
Innovation Analyst
Brand, Innovation and Technology

February 2018

As one of the founding members of the Spotless Innovation Team, I have had an interesting journey understanding the world of Facilities Management (FM) at one of Australia’s largest service providers.

My previous experience in developing strategy and working within innovation teams has taught me the biggest lesson in any advisory role – ‘Respect the Experts’.  Although I was confident in my ability to embed innovation frameworks and processes into the business, one of the biggest challenges was learning where “the next big thing” was within the FM world.  Working with senior leaders with countless years of experience in this industry as well as Spotless clients, has helped me to identify the following trends and areas where integrated FM service providers must innovate:

1.    Safety and Sustainability

Customers and clients no longer see Safety and Sustainability initiatives as a “nice to have” - they have become a core requirement of RFTs and can be the difference between winning and losing business. In fact, I am personally aware of contracts that Spotless holds where “safety” is a core part of our client’s values and strategy. So what is the link to innovation?

As a services industry, our product is our people. New technology and innovative practises can drastically reduce some of the risks involved in labour intensive tasks. One great example of this is the use of Drone technology. Instead of sending a person up to inspect a potentially unstable rooftop – could you send an aerial drone? Instead of draining a water tank (very costly!) or sending a diver inside – could you send a subversive drone?

In both these examples, the use of drone technology will reduce the cost involved in meeting your contractual agreements – but more importantly, will reduce the risk of serious injury to your people.

2.    Business and Operating model innovation 

Almost every time I discuss innovation, I find people looking for a “silver bullet” technological solution that will solve all current business issues. Whilst I am a big believer that new technology can revolutionise stagnant practises – of equal importance is business model innovation that exists outside of technology.  Uber is a great example of this.  It wasn’t the technology that led to its success – taxi companies have had apps since I was in high school. The “innovation” was in the business model. For the first time, you could call a ride from an everyday person with spare time, you could pay without exchanging cash with the driver, you could rate your driver on their professionalism (and be rated yourself) and lastly engage with the emerging sharing economy and cut out the facilitator (in this case the taxi company).

So what role does business or operating model innovation have in the FM industry. Although there are certainly impacts of the sharing economy – innovation doesn’t need to be so drastic.  A great example of applicability is embedding principles of lean process improvement. Whilst lean has been around for decades, the use of these principles within FM contracts might mean you are doing things differently. This should be considered as important as new tech implementations.

A lean transformation doesn’t mean cost cutting designed to strip out the number of cleaners at site. It means evaluating all your processes with a customer lens. Consider how everything you do from mobilisation, to procurement, to invoicing customers and of course service delivery adds value to the client. Through cutting out unnecessary processes that don’t add value and creating a smooth, consistent flow within operations you will find you save money and delight your customers.

3.    Customer collaboration and 24/7 monitoring

New technology has disrupted the way that business is conducted – with a shift from providing goods and services to providing customer experiences. So what does this mean for facilities management giants? Customers no longer want their FM managers stuck in a shed somewhere, quietly maintaining the areas they are assigned. It is now important to collaborate with customers to find ways to enhance their interactions with you. I’ve assisted in facilitating several workshops with some of our key customers – and the focus was on their operations, not just what we could do for them.

In my view, the one of the biggest impacts of customer collaboration going forward will be responsiveness. Technology like Augmented Reality (AR) will mean that customers can get help for minor unplanned asset maintenance jobs instantly. Instead of waiting hours (or even days for remote sites!), technology and collaborative partnerships will enable experts to help customers assist themselves where safe to do so – cutting down waiting periods significantly.

Relevant to responsiveness is the concept of 24/7 monitoring. It is no longer acceptable to wait until the scheduled maintenance date or only attend to something when it is faulty. 24/7 monitoring is not a new concept, but with the Internet of Things, sensors can now provide a plug and play solution without the hassle of complex installations. 24/7 monitoring is great for the customer because it can lead to significantly less downtime on assets monitored, but it is also great for the services provider as you can reduce the frequency of manual servicing.

Final thoughts

So that’s my summary of what innovation can do for FM companies – however, I think the clear message across all Australian firms is that failure to innovate is no longer acceptable in the marketplace. Almost all large companies have dedicated innovation programs and teams - and it is at the forefront of corporate strategies. It is important to remember, that if you don’t look after your customers and find new ways to address the things they prioritise – someone else will.