Tools of today, jobs of tomorrow

by Ben Ice
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A week before his appearance in the ARBS Seminar Series Online, FM chats with Shane McIntosh, APAC strategic partner manager at Switch Automation, about finding the right building data solutions and future career pathways in FM.

Shane McIntosh has an electrical trade background and has been working in the building industry, in some way or another, for most of his working life. What’s finally starting to excite him, he says, is what he’s doing now at Switch Automation, a worldwide software company with origins in Australia. After work in data communications, with such manufacturers as Schneider and Clipsal, took him around the world, he started at Switch three and a half years ago. He enjoys helping to bring to fruition what the company has been preaching since about 2012 and has a passion for the future skills of FM – working with graduates at Switch Automation and also with the FMA (Facility Management Association of Australia) to define career pathways for new talent in the industry.

FM: At an upcoming webinar you’ll be discussing your work and helping FMs monetise their building’s data. What does this entail beyond increasing efficiency and saving resources?

Shane McIntoshShane McIntosh: There’s a bit more to it. It’s the whole optimisation of the plant and equipment; it’s the ability to remotely view a portfolio of buildings and triage when alerts are raised, rather than automatically calling the service vendor to go out there with his flashing red light on, because a ‘too hot’ or ‘too cold’ call comes in. Through remote engineering, teams can delve right in to find out what the problem is. It could be likely that the service guy is due to go there tomorrow anyhow. [This avoids] pulling him off one job and having him race down, which is disruptive. It’s part of the contract that they have to attend these calls, but it takes them away from another job that they’re already doing. Not many of these companies have the luxury of having service vans running around with nothing to do, waiting for something to go wrong. So, we save a lot of clients money by reducing those emergency callouts. 

And that’s ideally what we would like to have happen, is that the likes of the larger data management systems (DMS), mixed services companies, would use our platform as a software package. 

Because of the skills shortages that we have in this country, these people are hard to find. A lot of FMs are also of a retiring age. Part of the FMA’s role is we want to have a career path set for someone when they come out of school saying ‘I want to be in facility management’. 

That’s interesting. How are you trying to frame the profession for new grads?

It’s all about the digital thing. This whole COVID-19 period has really fast-tracked the development and the deployment of new technologies. When you start to look at indoor air quality, people counting, lift management, what’s happening with the lifts in the building and how many people are in the building… these are all things the data says that we’re starting to be asked to bring into the platform. Block that in with work board assistance, and things like that, where you can actually start to see the bigger picture all on one screen. We want to be that single source of truth.

Or the sustainability team within a FM role – they spend a lot of time gathering data to report on things. [Such as] their environmental sustainability and governance reporting they have to do these days. Investors want to know what they’re doing in the same building. Investors want to invest in the green thing. From a property owner’s point of view, if you look at the next generation of employee, they are going to be really fussy about who they go and work for. You’ve got to be able to give them the pool table in the corner and the lunch and the breakfast and the whole Google trip. They’re going to be very fussy about the building they go and work in. 

They’re definitely more passionate about sustainability. A lot of young people want to feel like they’re making a difference in that area. 

Absolutely. And they want to be informed; they want to know what’s going on. I’m 100 percent behind them.

What do FMs commonly get wrong these days when it comes to choosing and using building data?

The inability to access it. They’ve got the data there, but maybe it’s in spreadsheets, or it’s in their utility bills, or wherever it is. 

When FMs are trying to demonstrate value, perhaps to secure budget or approval, there may be a lack of confidence there. Do you have any advice for communicating the value and function of FM to executives?

You know, I think that’s changing. The more I see about the portfolio owners around this country, as we just discussed, it is that they are really now in a position that they have to have high-quality stock. High-quality means sustainability ratings and wellness ratings that will come into play. I think the property owners and the CEOs are under the pump to get that right. So, in all fairness, it is hard for the FMs. But [for example], we’re dealing with one of the property owners here in Australia, which employed a chief technology officer, and his role was to start it on its digital data driven maintenance program. It has committed to it. We were in discussions just prior to COVID-19. We thought the budget it had put aside for it would have been turned into hand sanitiser but, no, it kept up and we battled through the COVID-19 period to bring on 35 to 40 buildings. 

I think the direction is starting to turn around and come from the top. FMs have got to embrace it.

With the FMA, we looked at ‘how do we arm FMs on the ground with the right information for when vendors, like me or others, come and knock on their door to try and sell them something?’ And I said, “That’s wrong.” We put together a list of questions, originally out of our Switch Automation marketing material, and I said, “These are the questions that they need to be asking internally.” First, to get the evidence behind them and not have us knocking on their door, but then to have them calling us in to say, ‘Right, what can you give us?’ and then make some decisions. 

Because, people are buying these things. Like they’re buying a mechanical services vendor contract. It should be: ‘Don’t spend three months putting together a tender document.’ Because at the rapid rate that this industry changes, by the time you’ve done that, it would have changed already. 

Just get three vendors into the room and say, ‘What can you give us? And what are you working on?’ And then make a decision. Because they’ll be telling you things you haven’t even thought of.

I could talk about it all day. It’s an interesting time, right now. And it’s an exciting space for FMs – for the ones who are embracing it. The worst thing they can think is that going down this digital path is going to put them out of a job. They’re thinking completely wrongly about it. If any software platform, whatever it is that they use, is not helping them do their day-to-day job more effectively and better, well then, they shouldn’t be doing it. It’s got to be looked at as a tool.

And there are FMs who embrace it. And there are ones that just cannot get their heads around it and don’t want to. And that’s back on companies like ours to make it user friendly. We have user experience (UX) staff and all they do is look at, ‘How easy is this to use?’ 

Designing dashboards and workspaces so they make sense and it’s simple for the FM to view it, see if there is a red flag in it – ‘Oh, I better look into that’, or ‘Nope, my building’s running perfectly, I’ll get on with my job.’

They’ve just got to embrace it. But at the same time they’ve got to make sure they get the right package. There are too many that have been burnt. Like we said earlier about the confusion in the market, this whole cloud hosting thing, everybody’s got a cloud. I spent the first 18 months trying to find out who did what. ‘Are we competitors or could we collaborate?’ And I’m starting to see now a lot more may be a slight bit of crossover, but you’ve got to work together to get the perfect solution. Because no one company can do everything for everyone.

 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Photo by Nick Jones on Unsplash

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