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Making the call for digital retrofits

Prabhu Ramachandran, Founder and CEO, Facilio, discusses the increasing need for Facilities Management (FM) companies to step in during the design and pre-construction phase of projects, and the benefits to be had through digital-retrofit solutions…

| | May 14, 2019 | 10:32 am
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How is Facilities Management (FM) contributing to the retrofit space? Will FM stepping into stakeholder discussions and deliberations during the pre-construction phase of a project influence the overall outcome? What are the roadblocks in achieving this? 

FM is a core function in the built-environment. With nearly 80% of the cost of a building’s lifecycle incurred post-construction, being efficient can be a huge source of savings. To achieve this, FM companies need to step in during the pre-construction and the design stage of projects to help embed systems, which will be operationally efficient at later stages. FMs are the driving force and the central pivot that connect the construction and the MEP sectors. Together, they champion change and help re-imagine the built-environment. Retrofitting of buildings is being globally recognised as the only viable solution to being more efficient. Despite the benefits it brings, any conversation about retrofits with real estate owners or with MEP professionals unveils deep apprehensions regarding heavy investment required for a full-fledged physical retrofit. However, while the usual physical hardware used in retrofits are essential, the industry now needs to look above and beyond the traditional energy-saving plug-ins, and move towards digital retrofits. Digital Retrofit is to the building industry what Industry 4.0 is to the manufacturing sector, where instead of incurring costs, time and manpower to replace all of your current machinery, one can apply specialist technologies in tandem with existing equipment, so as to allow the gathering of data, which can then be used to inform decision-making in real time.

Prabhu Ramachandran

 To what extent is technology in FM gaining global acceptance? And what are the emerging trends in the Middle East? 

The FM industry in the Middle East is undergoing a digital transformation. The Middle East is seeing a high adoption rate of technology, given the ambitious benchmark and vision for developing Smart Cities. A number of FM-based software are being used for digitisation; however, they are limited and do not work on real-time data. Irrespective, technology is gaining acceptance, and its ability to disrupt industries by driving efficiencies and revenue models is now an established fact.

With special attention to the UAE, how would you assess the integration of digitisation, technology and automation in Facilities Management?  

Automation in buildings began decades ago. Sensors, siloed building management systems and packets of dormant unanalysed data, have defined automation within the built-environment. The conventional role of FM and building management services has changed; building owners today are expecting FM teams to be stakeholders and collaborators for business growth. There is a monumental shift from passive asset management to active value creation. At the same time, seamless, real-time customer experience has become paramount. FM companies and Commercial Real Estate (CRE) owners are under pressure to balance sustainability regulations, while ensuring a building is operational, efficient and competitive, so as to deliver a high return on investment (ROI). However, this is impossible to achieve with legacy systems, especially when multiple building portfolios are involved. Traditional automation suppliers have systems, which are time- and cost-intensive, and yet, they are not equipped to deal with the needs of the new era, of service-led facility experiences — agile, flexible, real-time, unified solutions to manage assets.  In the past five years, the trend for connected buildings has gained traction, owing to the vision of having smart cities.

Given the disruption software solutions have brought in several other industries, the buildings and FM market has also shown interest in a software-driven approach in the last five years. CRE owners now demand that their facilities be well-managed, modern and experience-driven structures that attract young millennials.

 Is the fear of failure when implementing technology a factor influencing FM companies today? 

There are a number of factors influencing the adoption of technology in the built-environment. The fear of failure when implementing technology – given the high costs – is a big factor. It is important to understand what works and what does not, while addressing the fears and the challenges of adopting digitalisation. There is a considerable amount of automation available in buildings, and today, we need ways to adopt modern software-led technologies. In addition, we also need to leverage existing data and translate it into actionable insights and operational efficiencies, and provide a better tenant experience. Today, the world of buildings has evolved, and so have customers. Managing and repairing buildings by using legacy automation no longer suffices, and for buildings to be more competitive, they need to have service-led facilities that are sustainable. Legacy systems are slow, rigid and are also time-consuming to implement. Customers today expect the same experience in buildings as with any consumer brand — seamless, responsive and real-time. In addition, the ability to predict the future is power, and with IoT connectivity, AI intelligence and data analytics, this is what we get — a predictive model of operation. And as awareness builds up about all the manifold benefits of technology, we are likely to see a global adoption of technology.

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