Building manager or service provider?

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When it comes to sustainably maintaining and operating the buildings of today – it’s
 a brave new world, explains Ben Churchill, CEO of Urbanise.com.

We live in a world of growing urbanisation – where
 the tension between our environment and our lives is ever increasing. Where the expectations of the people who occupy buildings, and those of the building owners themselves, are changing. Where buildings account for 40 percent of global man-made carbon emissions, while our cities continue to expand. Now more than ever, there is an imperative to do things differently.

Traditionally, building managers, and the technologies at their disposal, have focused on the engineering of buildings. Some might even add ‘not always that well’. Managers have been more concerned about the building, than the people who occupy it – the residents, employees and visitors. Their technology
has been ‘built by engineers, for engineers’, which is often very inward looking as a result. Basically, building mangers have not been at all ‘customer’ or ‘end user’ focused.

CUSTOMER CENTRIC

As world thinking shifts towards a more customer centric approach to satisfy consumer expectations for convenience and personalisation, so too should the approach of building managers to the services they deliver. This was the mindset at Emrill during my time as managing director.

Based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), facilities manager Emrill had successfully secured a large number of contracts to maintain buildings and urban areas throughout Dubai, including residential communities. The company operated with two main business divisions – one dealing with B2B FM services to maintain the common areas; and the other (Mplus+) more B2C focused – providing services ‘behind the door’ (apartment or villa/house) where the B2B contract did not extend. The B2C business was not particularly strong, while the B2B business was heavily reliant on shareholder derived business, rather than securing contracts competitively.

VALUE-ADDED SERVICES

To strengthen Emrill’s position in the UAE, we were looking for expansion opportunities that would increase revenues and improve service, without significantly increasing costs. The most attractive opportunity for the company was
to start providing value added services to the people who lived and worked in the properties managed by Emrill. However, the practicalities of extending these services would mean having to manage thousands of customers, rather than a smaller number of corporate relationships.
It was also clear to all of us that the world
was rapidly changing from a technology perspective. Most consumers expect a commercial interaction in their lives to revolve around an online experience, whether booking flights or doing the grocery shopping from home. So why shouldn’t that same expectation be met when ordering building services?

CLOUD-BASED PLATFORM

The solution was a low-cost, scalable, cloud-based platform from Urbanise.com that enabled Emrill to provide building services directly to customers via the internet. While the use of e-commerce is not new, it has typically focused on the sale of ‘products’ and managing SKUs (stock keeping units). This approach needed to be different in the FM sector because, unlike a product, a ‘service’ has a life cycle involving multiple customer touch points and workforce interactions that need to be woven into a cohesive and simple online customer journey.

Through the use of technology, Emrill was able to extend its offer to encompass the purchase of services (and management of interactions associated with the sale of those services) to the people who lived and worked in the properties under management. With this new approach, a gamut of new channels and go-to-market strategies opened up for the company’s lifestyle services, as well as its B2B commercial contract businesses. Symbiotic partnership eco-systems started forming around Emrill customers.

For example, a bank would tender contracts for maintenance services for its offices and branches. The platform enabled Emrill to extend that B2B maintenance service offering to the people who worked at the bank with B2C maintenance services – the ‘must have’ services such as air-conditioning repairs were adjoined with ‘nice to have’ services
like dry cleaning. The bank was happy and
its employees were happy. But that wasn’t
all. The bank had mortgage customers
and their homes needed maintenance and lifestyle services too. Again, the scalability of the technology allowed Emrill to rebrand its services into packages tailored to the bank’s very own customers and promoted directly by the bank – establishing a B2B2C model.

A NEW CORPORATE DNA

The power of integrating e-commerce with an operational service management engine that could plan work and deploy the field-force dynamically changed Emrill’s DNA. It offered a whole new way to take services to market and was suddenly agile – able to design
and deploy new services, including home energy saving measures, and even extend the experience to smaller, distributed businesses such as coffee shops. It was a new paradigm of service provision.

The company launched ‘Love Where you Live’, a free community information portal
and benefits program offering discounts from local businesses. This program provided a sticky ‘social wrapper’ around the e-commerce storefronts that sold its lifestyle services. Emrill positioned itself at the very heart of each community in the city (creating a huge upsurge in social media interactions), resulting in the organic acquisition of more than 25,000 residential customers and approximately 1000 new customers a month.

MONITORING

The same cloud-based platform used to deliver Emrill’s service e-commerce also provided functionality for real-time monitoring of building systems. This started some transformational thinking around using the software to make smarter maintenance decisions. The traditional maintenance of assets in buildings is driven by ‘planned preventive maintenance’ schedules
– sending an engineer to inspect a pump
on a regular basis – rather than providing service. The systems that exist to automate this scheduling more often than not overlook whether a visit from the engineer is actually required and just how critical the asset is to the business it’s supporting.

By deploying low-cost sensors on assets based on their criticality, Emrill was able
to implement a more strategic approach to business-critical maintenance. The technology provided visibility and enabled smarter decision-making. If something went wrong with an asset, or an asset started behaving in an unusual way, an alert was triggered against the asset in the service management platform, sending someone to attend, assess or rectify. This critical asset response service was overlaid on traditional manpower contracts enabling Emrill to offer higher service-level agreements, with the commitment of fewer resources, than its competitors.

In addition, Emrill was able to use the same technology to remotely monitor and sub-meter energy consumption in the buildings it managed, leading to the implementation of an entirely new level of value added services for its B2B customers. Rather than simply tendering to maintain assets, the company began an energy-driven FM model. It would offer to implement the technology as part of the contract, and then use the energy savings achieved to discount its core maintenance services below the cost of the pure manpower solutions that competitors were offering.

While remote monitoring and energy measurement is nothing new, the cloud- based installation and operational costs of the technology were so low, Emrill could literally bundle the solution into its offering for free, providing a huge perceived value added service to its corporate clients.

So what was the outcome for Emrill? Over an 18-month period, the company experienced a 60 percent growth in revenue, with profits up by 400 percent and more than 2800 new jobs created. The company also achieved its goal of moving away from the traditional shareholder derived contracts, signing agreements with both Etihad Airways and Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. In 2013, Emrill was named Middle East FM Company of the Year and Middle East Green FM Company of the Year.

SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN
 FOR BUILDING MANAGERS?

Emrill’s transformation from a building manager into a true customer-focused service provider demonstrates that the ‘customer- centric service experience’ has well and truly arrived in the FM sector. The FM companies that are brave enough to embrace this change will quickly stand out from those who remain content with supplying ‘mops and buckets’, and become recognised as market leaders in the industry.

Prior to joining Urbanise.com,
 Ben Churchill was the managing director of Emrill Services LLC.

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