Technology: it’s ever changing, ever evolving and ever expanding, and it’s quite a wondrous thing. It impacts our lives in countless ways – but often there’s that slight bump in the road where we learn and adapt to a different and better way of doing things, bestowed by the grace of new technologies.

No one understands the effect of technology on facilities management better than those who live and breathe it every day, and Prabhu Ramachandran is among this number. He is the founder and chief executive officer of Facilio Inc, a facilities optimisation platform that harnesses the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) to drive real-time operational efficiency across real estate portfolios. It offers an all-in-one software suite to help facilities centrally manage maintenance, operations, sustainability and tenant experience.

FM sits down for a Q&A with Ramachandran to discuss technology in facilities management and how it is revolutionising the industry.

FM: How are the building automation and FM markets evolving and their conventional roles changing, and what part is Facilio playing in this transformation?

Prabhu Ramachandran: The technology and building industries are crossing paths now more than ever before. One of the most significant disruptions in the industry took place some 20 years ago when automation was first introduced, but since then the industry has remained conservative and hardware-centric, with little evolution on the software side.

Today, facilities are a mix of disparate, siloed automation systems – apps for maintenance, traditional building management systems, environmental sensors in server rooms, systems for security and a lot more – working independently of each other. Therefore, driving efficiencies centrally can be a challenge.

Additionally, the growing demand for cost and energy savings and the focus on sustainability and operational efficiencies is putting pressure on commercial real estate owners and FMs to transcend from being just service providers to becoming value-players. There is also a fundamental shift in the conventional roles – today building owners are increasingly expecting facilities management teams to be stakeholders and collaborators for business growth. But legacy building management systems being offered by traditional vendors are inflexible, as well as cash and time intensive. They are preventing commercial real estate (CRE) and FM from transitioning into the modern era of service and experience-driven facilities management.

With these changing expectations and roles, the built environment and facilities management industries are now ripe for massive digital transformation, one that will result in unified, efficient and sustainable management of building facilities. The building and FM market has shown considerable interest in a software-driven approach with the potential of technologies like IoT and AI that democratise automation data silos. So CREs (corporate real estate) and FMs are now impatient to harness the massive potential of tech-enabled transformation that most industries have experienced over the past few decades. They are keen to utilise software to provide flexible, agile and unified solutions that drive continuous operational efficiency and sustainability, at scale, across building portfolios.

What part does Facilio play in this?

Facilio was envisaged with these specific pain points in mind. In short, it is a response to the evolution of the industry’s needs.

With its software-led approach, Facilio breaks the boundaries and inflexibility of legacy automation and delivers continuous efficiency. We leverage the power of innovative technology to unify building performance in real time. Facilio helps the built environment transcend from the age-old reactive and ‘fire-fighting’ mode to one that belongs in the future – predictive and focused on experiences. Using IoT and AI, we extract powerful insights from the goldmine of performance data available on existing automation systems and enable portfolio-wide visibility and insight-led decision-making, putting CREs in the driver’s seat to centrally control operations and sustainability across their building portfolio.

The FM status quo needs to be disrupted to create the watershed moment of change the industry is craving. And only technology can be the enabler of this revolutionary shift from transactions to relationships, function to experience, reactive to predictive.

Which are the opportunities for bringing in transformative changes in FM? And how is the evolution in technology colliding with these industry needs?

For facilities management, the next frontier is an intersection of technology and operational needs. Billions of dollars are invested in the management of buildings worldwide. Nevertheless, there continues to be massive scope for improving return on investment (ROI), everyday sustainability and modern, experience-driven services. And several trends are blending to herald this new era of facilities management, which are urbanisation and smart cities, IoT and AI, ROI, predictive facilities, sustainability and a smarter workforce.

  • Rapid urbanisation and smart cities: Unprecedented, rapid and transformative urbanisation is sweeping across our planet. By 2030 roughly five billion people of the world’s population will live in cities. Urbanisation has the potential to generate widespread prosperity and help in the efficient utilisation of resources and energy through the creation of smart cities. Intelligent, automated and software-enabled facilities management will be a vital enabling characteristic of these urban spaces of the future. Centralised facilities management, built around AI, machine learning and IoT solutions, is the replicable unit that smart cities will comprise.
  • IoT and AI: IoT has been opening up new possibilities for building integration and allowing the evolution of intelligent buildings. Facilities management, with its multitude of automation systems, devices and connectivity layers, presents the perfect case for the application of IoT’s connectivity prowess to achieve optimal integration of the three core components of a building – people, sustainability and machines – in real time. AI brings context into this collected data. By being able to analyse and extract insights from the goldmine of latent data in existing automation systems, buildings can be managed better as CREs and FMs are empowered with data-led decision-making.
  • ROI and the opex versus capex battle: Traditionally, facilities management in buildings has entailed high capital expenditure (capex) and operating expenditure (opex). In fact, research indicates that nearly five to six times more money is spent on operational costs than on construction costs. Therefore, the ROI will be tremendous, as any small efficiency improvement made will yield significant results. This could then lead to ‘continuous efficiency’ becoming the default standard for facilities management – and this is possible with an AI- and IoT-enabled approach to FM.
  • Real-time, predictive facilities: For FMs and CREs, the days of fire-fighting are passé. Real-time data capture, analysis and insights ensure buildings can be managed on a predictive model as opposed to the traditional reactive maintenance. This transfers control into the hands of CREs, allowing them to drive the efficiency of their building portfolio centrally.
  • Sustainability at its core: Sustainability today needs to be built into the core of managing facilities. And this can only happen when sustainability is embedded as part of daily operations. IoT-enabled operations and energy intelligence help integrate asset and sustainability data in real time, helping CREs realise multi-fold efficiency.
  • Smart workforce: Building facilities management is heavily workforce driven. There is tremendous scope to make the workforce smarter with tech-enabled FM, which is a key part of being ‘smart’. FMs get empowered by a real-time AI- and IoT-led approach, leading to effective workforce management and higher productivity as facilities teams look beyond the mundane tasks of tracking down information, exchanging redundant paper notes, digging up energy-consumption charts and spreadsheets, and start delivering value to real estate owners and end-users.

The market is flooded with IoT providers, computer-aided facility management (CAFM) and smart building automation systems. Why is Facilio’s IoT- and AI-led solution revolutionary for the FM industry?

Though the IoT buzzword has being doing rounds for a couple of years, not much progress was made in its real-time applications. The data in buildings was still stuck in silos and all building stakeholders – from owners to facility managers to technicians – were still continuing to rely heavily on manual or piecemeal operations. Why was that? It was because no one had looked at the problem long enough to understand the gaps and pain points of the industry stakeholders.

At Facilio, we were constantly driven by the problem – the inefficiencies at the core of every building operation ­– and the parallel void in the global market to address it in real-time. We spent a considerable amount time of our inception stage deeply understanding the problems CREs and FMs were facing. We listened to the exact challenges that ranked high on the agenda of our customers, and then created a solution using IoT and AI as enabler technologies, which plugged the gaps in real-time information and empowered CREs and FM’s with insights, not just big data. So it was clearly a solution created for a problem and not the other way around.

The existing FM software that is used in buildings like CAFM and CMMS (computerised maintenance management system) is more of legacy systems that are disparate, siloed, operating in isolation and not talking to each other. Further, any IoT solutions today come bundled with a proprietary set of sensors. This only adds to the existing siloed environment and already heavy technical environment.

The value in IoT for smart buildings does not lie in the addition of many new connected sensors, but rather in tech-driven applications that use existing data to improve efficiency. And it is this value that Facilio brings – our solution uniquely integrates with existing building systems without having to uproot expensive infrastructure or add any new sensors. By acquiring, analysing and contextualising data into real-time actionable insights, Facilio enables all stakeholders to make better organisational decisions continually, and provide the best occupant experience.

Today, customer experience has become central to customer retention. How is technology enabling this for the FM industry?

Wherever we look around us, ‘experience’ has become a key expectation. CX (customer experience) that was until recently being touted as the key differentiator for businesses wanting to maintain an edge over competition has now become a critical survival skill.

The building and facilities management space has so far remained bereft of a focus on the facilities experience. Well-maintained and efficient buildings deliver a positive experience to occupants, improving productivity and overall wellness. Today, real-time, unified and AI- and IoT-led facilities management is the path to delivering this enhanced experience to customers, and for CREs and FMs to remain relevant and deliver value.

What does the future hold for technology and FM? What is the next frontier?

Environmental concerns regarding energy footprints, the emergence of game-changing technologies and the enormous operational and financial benefits of smart cities and smart buildings represent an irresistible transformative force at a macro level. At the same time, the building and facilities management industry is poised for transformative change, with the entire ecosystem hungry for agility and innovation to drive continuous efficiency and ROI. CREs and FMs are now demanding a shift from traditional, tactical facilities management towards a smarter, more predictive experience. The need is a reimagining of the facilities experience using technology as an enabler for a unified solution integrating maintenance, operations and sustainability.

A recent analysis report by Verdantix (a leading global research consultancy specialising in energy, real estate, facilities and maintenance) estimates that the global market for software and related IT services in buildings is currently $8 billion, and is expected to reach $12 billion by 2022. Globally, the facilities services cost stands at approximately one trillion dollars per day, and the energy cost is close to the same. This means the potential for change and realising efficiencies is massive.

With software-led facilities management, commercial real estate operators stand to be able to access several operational efficiencies through a centralised management of their portfolios. From an investment perspective, both opex and capex costs can be substantially curtailed – a 20 to 25 percent increase in the life cycle of assets and savings of around 30 percent on operating expenses. Sustainability, efficiency and occupant experience can all be very significantly upgraded through these technologies, delivering ongoing ROI as well as substantial increments in asset valuation.

Facility managers are actively upgrading to a future led by software-based management systems, unified reporting and the operational efficiencies generated by abilities, such as predictive maintenance. Given that the same concerns are occupying urban planners and administrators, regulations that will eventually require all buildings to be connected to a grid, and under the purview of local government, authorities are an inevitable and desirable outcome in the future.

How do you see Facilio contributing to this future?

2019 is going to be an exciting year for us and we’re hoping to be at the forefront of leading the tech-driven transformation in the built world. We will continue to be committed to our vision of leveraging technology to unify the three core components of buildings – people, sustainability and machines – in real time. Facilio’s goal is to empower CREs to not only be proactive, but also become efficient value partners. Our vision is to facilitate a disruptive evolution in the facilities management space, similar to the transformation in ecommerce, ride sharing and travel stay.

Smart buildings, smart workforce and smart cities – these are the building blocks of all future economies. AI- and IoT-led facilities management holds the key to helping buildings leapfrog into this modern, smart, experience-driven era. And we want to be at the forefront of leading this transformation.

Prabhu Ramachandran is the founder and CEO of Facilio Inc. Ramachandran’s career spans over 18 years of product, business and customer experience focused on enterprise-scale software for IoT-based connected services, sustainable building solutions, and telecom network management. For more information about Facilio visit facilio.com.

Image: 123RF’s choreograph © 123RF.com

This was originally published in the Apr/May 2019 issue of FM.

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