A sandbox for innovation

by Tiffany Paczek
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Australia has the perfect FM environment to trial some of the innovations infiltrating the industry. ADRIAN BUTTIGIEG explores what makes it so and the role of testing facilities management technology in Australia.

Technology is changing the way we work, and embracing these developments is enabling the facilities management industry to work smarter and more efficiently. We have greater visibility of the built environments that we manage, with the IoT (Internet of Things) enabling predictive maintenance to become a reality. Energy management is also advancing at an exciting pace; City FM recently launched a new platform called ‘Spark’ that uses regression analytics to provide insights into how energy is managed and helps businesses cut costs.

The vast amounts of data that, as an industry, we create and collate can now be used to make more considered decisions. We are lucky that we have the opportunity to develop in Australia; our shores have become a sandbox for innovation – a chosen market for leading technology developers and global brands to test new products and inventions. As a result, there are a number of important lessons and key takeaways available for facilities management.

In recent years, major players such as Citibank and AOL have used our country as a launch pad for new technology, before breaking into other markets. These advancements are a part of a push to make Australia an ‘innovation nation’. This is moving us well ahead of traditional innovation hubs like the US and Singapore and means we have the infrastructure available to test and trial new technologies, services and products before launching in larger markets.

WHY AUSTRALIA?

There are a number of reasons why Australia is well-suited to this development.

  1. It’s representative of other markets. With 25 million residents, Australia is the perfect launch pad for those looking to enter the US market. The two countries share a similar GDP, language, economic stability, IP protection policies and culture. Not to mention, like many other Western countries, digital adoption is well and truly ingrained in daily life here. Businesses can therefore make safe assumptions when market testing and draw comparisons between consumers here and in the US.
  2. Geographical size. The ratio of people to the size of Australia means products don’t have to be scaled up to launch, because of the relative population numbers. Testing can be done cost-effectively and trialled without risking reputation in core markets.
  3. Framework. We have the right infrastructure in place to support technological advancements and market testing. In some ways, these technological advancements have become a necessity on our shores as labour costs increase. City FM is seeing its clients begin to think differently and seek technology solutions to reduce labour costs and drive human capital efficiencies.

These three factors have contributed to the team at City FM, a global company, making use of the opportunities within Australia to test and trial new resourcing solutions for clients across the globe.

In South Australia, it is currently trialling ‘SMART’, a digital sign-in app for retail clients that replaces the paper-based visitor and contractor book. The platform is currently helping to monitor over 200 store visitors every day, saving both time and money by recording visitors signing in and out, tracking compliance and actual time spent, capturing contractor and supplier KPIs and providing simple reporting options.

LESSONS LEARNED

This testing period has provided valuable insights for the future national, and international, rollout of SMART. The technology can be scaled up and can prove to clients that using technology in this way can provide resourcing savings.

City FM can now better understand the importance of having a thorough development process. Initially, the development of the platform was informed primarily by customer behaviour, but the experience in South Australia has meant that it now also prioritises a human-centric design framework. Tweaks to the platform, such as creating an additional ‘fast track’ sign-in option (to support additional technical teams that may need access to a retail store quickly, such as planogrammers), are evidence of a more holistic approach. In fact, human-centred design has been an important factor in the success and adoption of SMART to date.

FACING THE FUTURE

Technology is clearly driving the future of business. As more and more organisations explore new ways of working, to stay relevant and continue to provide solutions for clients, the facilities management industry must embrace the change and innovate. On the ground, we are seeing organisations in the medical and retail spheres seeking automated solutions, and we expect other traditionally slower-moving industries to follow suit.

Testing and trialing new innovations and solutions makes perfect sense; often major investment is required upfront for development and so it’s worth having some reassurance that the spend will turn into profit in the long run.

As the nation continues to invest in innovation and companies are increasingly looking to differentiate themselves, the perfect storm is emerging for the facilities management industry to leverage all that Australia has to offer and provide businesses with innovative solutions. ●

Adrian Buttigieg is director of IT at City FM.

This was originally published in the Dec/Jan 2019 issue of FM.

Image: 123RF’s Anton Balazh © 123RF.com

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