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Shooting for an energy-smart world

The legacy model of facilities management is as out of place in a world of connected devices, AI and machine learning as a horse-drawn buggy, says Prabhu Ramachandran, Founder and CEO of Facilio

| | Aug 19, 2019 | 11:48 am
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Prabhu Ramachandran

ULTRA-STREAMLINED AND EFFICIENT SOLUTIONS

Optimising the use of energy is an important aspect of what my team and I do at Facilio. If one were to apply the ‘a dollar saved is more than a dollar earned’ adage to the realm of energy, one could certainly say that our solution has the net effect of contributing dramatically to a more energy-smart world.

I have always been driven by the desire to seek out solutions. Looking at what technology has made possible in enabling ultra-streamlined and efficient systems in other industries, it was obvious to us at Facilio that building automation was an obvious candidate for tech-driven evolution. In 2017, my colleagues, Rajavel Subramanian, Krishnamoorthi and Yogendra Babu, and I, felt the need to leverage technology to offer a solution to the global challenge of lowering energy consumption.

Our built spaces are a fundamental aspect of civilisation that we take for granted, and since most of our activities revolve around them, so do the opportunities to introduce radical energy efficiency. With the concurrent emergence of IoT and AI, the avenue and methodology that could be explored to enable such a breakthrough in power consumption was obvious. However, while I am glad that the energy aspect of what we do has attracted attention, what we offer is really just a smarter, more enabled and empowered way to use buildings and to add value to them as infrastructure.

 

HOW I BEGAN

Founders of Facilio at the Tridium Niagara Forum Dubai 2018: Yoge B, Prabhu R, Krishnamoorthy R, and Rajavel S

Over the last 18 years, the one common thread in my career has been to leverage technology in the service of efficiency and customer experience. Prior to taking the leap into entrepreneurship, with the launch of Facilio, I was the director of WebNMS, the IoT division of Zoho Corp.

While being directly responsible for overseeing the design and implementation of strategy, innovation and product management, my work scope also included business development and marketing, for enterprise companies and large organisations. During this period, my experiences in dealing with large-scale and complex software systems for global businesses helped me understand how to address bottlenecks and issues at that scale, and how to use technology as an enabler to generate solutions.

My stint at Zoho was, in many ways, very similar to being part of a startup, and it is because of this familiarity with implementing big-picture and breakthrough innovations that I, along with my colleagues, was able to envisage and deliver the product we have. The source of the passion that has driven me has always been the desire to find a better way to do things. Facilio is still deeply rooted in the commitment to creating a solution that, when applied at scale, will transform our world for the better. It’s because of this perspective that, along with being the Founder & CEO of Facilio, I am currently an advisor and technical committee member at Net Zero Buildings of the Indian Green Building Council.

 

Celebrating Facilio turning one

WHAT FACILIO MEANS TO ME

The philosophical underpinnings of Facilio are very straightforward. We are strong believers in innovation and the power of technology to unlock unprecedented opportunities to improve performance and efficiencies.

Technology, as such, has already been an integral part of facilities management for some decades. Automation is everywhere in buildings. Where we stand apart is in making no compromises. Our approach was built on going for a comprehensive and all-inclusive solution that ticked all the boxes. For example, commercial real estate owners and facilities managers have been heavily restricted in their ability to have transparency into their operations, and balance sustainability and ROI expectations. Building occupants, in the meantime, are more and more accustomed to the empowering nature of digital technologies in every walk of life, and so their service and experience expectations have been rapidly redefined. Existing automation solutions have been unable to cope with these evolving needs of the built-environment, restricting the industry from rapid digital transformation.

Our philosophy was based on not settling for a refinement of a few aspects and features but rather helping CRE owners and FMs completely reimagine how buildings need to be managed in the modern era. And for that, we built Facilio’s enterprise-wide platform around the core principles of measure, analyse and act, using data insights, real-time transparency and a unified solution to empower nearly every metric of performance that can be conceived in the context of buildings. It was about being ready not only for today but also about preparing for tomorrow’s needs. We also wanted to ensure that our solution required low capital input, could be integrated with existing infrastructure, instead of rendering it obsolete, and yet could be in a position to lend itself to providing an enterprise-grade platform for portfolios to be managed efficiently in real-time. I’m happy to say that we have been able to create an elegant and comprehensive solution that addresses all these objectives. While energy efficiency is a key component of our solution, in comparison to other tools that are limited in scope to energy management, Facilio’s solution maximises impact by ensuring that energy problems are addressed in real-time by integrating all teams and departments, equipping them with contextualised data and real-time visibility and, therefore, reinforcing accountability.

THE VIRTUES OF BEING AN FM COMPANY

During the launch of FutureProof, an FM summit

Buildings and their impact on humans, is a centuries-old relationship. From reflecting our dreams and aspirations, to serving as iconic reminders of an era, buildings have stood the test of time and evolution. Today, buildings not only impact the health and wellbeing of billions of humans who interact with them on a daily basis but also the environment. Therefore, managing facilities, and managing them well, has become a critical space, if the world is to successfully transition into a more sustainable, efficient and end user-empowered version of itself. The legacy model of facilities management is as out of place in a world of connected devices, AI and machine learning as a horse-drawn buggy. I think the greatest positive to being an FM company is that one can fundamentally influence some of the most important concerns that currently occupy the attention of humans all across the planet. Most people today see the promise of technology and aspire to living a life empowered by the possibilities that it has enabled. However, having learnt from the last couple of centuries, the consensus is also to apply technology in a way that does not destroy the environment and is sustainable.

What is most satisfying about how we at Facilio are contributing as an FM tech company is that we have been able to reconcile these superficially divergent goals. It’s commonly estimated that buildings consume about 40% of global energy. Imagine being able to influence such an incredibly substantial chunk of our consumption as a civilisation! In my opinion, this is the single most exciting thing about what we have set in motion at Facilio. Also, the vast standing infrastructure and legacy systems, all around the world, placed a limitation on how soon and at what scale innovations could be applied. It’s simply not possible to discard and replace existing structures completely. Our solution found a way around this by introducing the concept of enterprise scale software platforms, as a means to redefine future buildings as well as update existing ones, with a single solution.

INNOVATIONS DRIVING THE AIR CONDITIONING MARKET

IoT is a natural ally to any automation and mechanised system. If you consider all the excitement and enthusiasm around Industry 4.0, and what IIoT is achieving in the manufacturing sector, it’s not hard to think of what can be achieved by the same technology in the built-environment. By using sensors to collate data in real-time about the performance metrics and outcomes within an air conditioned space and leveraging AI to generate actionable insights, the framework for an integrated and proactive system becomes apparent. The breakthrough is in being able to gain true system transparency and the ability to respond to requirements and performance on an ongoing basis.

Buildings waste a lot of energy in the form of leakages, overuse, poorly serviced assets and simple human errors – such as not switching off a piece of equipment or not updating temperature settings. Centralised, data-driven decision-making empowers building owners and FMs to go beyond considering such leaks and inefficiencies as routine.

THE IMPORTANCE OF R&D

At Facilio, we are very cognizant of the fact that the central advantage we offer our customers stems from innovative thinking and breakthrough solutions. In fact, this is essentially what we identify as our role in the industry. This is the reason why we have invested a substantial part of our returns, and the capital we have raised, into R&D and the further refinement of the Facilio solution. The great advantage we have is that as a software platform, the product is not only hardware agnostic but is also open to several more iterations of innovation. We are by no means satisfied with what the product has been able to enable in its current form. From the very early feedback we received from early adopters to innovations we see emerging in other verticals, we are constantly open to adding and improving on our product. Of course, innovation developed inhouse, by our own R&D team, is also a very essential part of the process. We are also investing substantial R&D efforts towards applying tech, like machine learning and AI, to manage facilities efficiently.

HOW I WISH TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE GROWTH AND PROSPERITY OF THE GCC REGION

Facilio received Startup World Cup (India) in 2018

The GCC region is currently in the midst of major departures from established practices, in terms of expanding the scope of the commercial activities it is known for, as well as leading the world in the implementation of future-ready initiatives. In Dubai alone, nearly USD 8 billion has been earmarked for upgrading building infrastructure. The target is to retrofit 30,000 existing buildings by 2030, as part of the ambitious goal set by the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, to reduce energy demand by 30%. The region is already home to several instances of ongoing, and planned, Smart City initiatives.

Facilio sees itself as a key enabler in this ecosystem. Fortunately, there is considerable political will and dynamism on display in the GCC region, in terms of proposed projects and programmes, and I see this consensus leading the world in enabling what is, ultimately, the key to transitioning into the optimal deployment of future-ready infrastructure. In terms of contributing to growth and prosperity, I think it is important to realise that every great leap in communication, transport and infrastructure has completely transformed the world. Every enabling and empowering innovation in these fields results in civilisation taking a quantum and exponential leap forward. New York City has just announced that it proposes becoming completely carbon neutral by 2050. This would have been considered laughable for such a large city, not too long ago. Given the GCC region’s affinity for adopting disruptive innovation rapidly and at scale, I believe that such initiatives and ambitions have an even more natural basis within this region. FM is so basic to the way we organise our society and so inherent to our everyday lives that I truly believe our impact is potentially even greater than what we can conceive at the moment. Ultimately growth and prosperity are about leveraging resources and capital to create the greatest possible outcome, and I believe Facilio can play a key role in ensuring that this is achieved to a degree that is completely unprecedented.

MENTORS IN MY LIFE

Shailesh Kumar at Zoho was my mentor. I worked with Shailesh throughout my entire 17 years at Zoho. His management style and approach towards people had a big influence on me. I am extremely grateful for his constant support and guidance at Zoho.

Shekhar Kirani @Accel is more mentor than investor for me. We started working with Shekhar from Day 1 of Facilio. During the past twoplus years of building Facilio, his guidance helped us to execute faster while sharpening our approach and getting ready to scale. This was like a coaching that an athlete gets from a coach to compete on a global scale.


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