The role of a property manager is very dynamic in nature. With time being the biggest constraint, day-today operations can prove to be a task. Complex operations such as handling multiple buildings, constant client-tenant communications, competitive pricing and staff management, tracking the maintenance of different locations, etc. can no longer be handled manually.
The good news is that the industry is now more than ever opening up to automation solutions that are making the life of a facility & community manager easier. CM today spoke to Dr Michael Waters, Associate Professor in Real Estate, School of Energy, Infrastructure & Society, from Heriot-Watt University Dubai on how automation is driving the real estate industry on the whole.
Acceptance of automation came at a very early stage, with Facilities Management (FM) industry taking on innovations that can help them provide a better service, efficiency and in turn resulting in cost-saving for the assets and improving the overall quality of life. “Facilities Management uses digital technology to promote performance and wellbeing, and to respond to citywide and global challenges in smart cities. They are infact one of the early adapters of automation and use software solutions and Internet of Things to optimise operations in smart buildings. The industry has been more than accepting towards automated solutions that meet the needs of the asset and save billions of dollars,” explains Waters.
While technology is a catalyst for change, one cannot overlook the service experience dimension of the industry. Long-standing relationships between service providers and customers that are built on faith, respect and integrity are extremely essential and exceptional for ensuring sustained growth and success. In such cases, the excessive reliance on technology can put the companies at the risk of alienation from their customers.
Walters says that the inefficient management of technology can also put service providers at the risk of degrading their service delivery and lowering customer satisfaction. “Facility managers are hence required to meticulously analyse how and when to implement technology to add value to the user/ customer experience,” adds Waters.
Sophisticated tools in the hands of inept employees can also increase the risk of poor service delivery, says Walters. “Helping the workforce meet their skill development and training needs are extremely vital, and should be seen as an investment into the future of the company, rather than an option,” he adds.
Fear of losing the ‘humanness’/human touch
One of the common misconceptions of automation is that it removes the human touch completely. Within these areas of technological development, there is a clear line of argument that supports the need for human involvement. “While ‘data is king’, the ‘devil is still in the detail’ meaning the establishment of all these technologies and innovations will require professions to evaluate the traditional assumptions more closely,” elaborates Waters.
Waters observes that while technologies will be developed to make the market more efficient, the real estate line is no different. “Those willing to innovate and use technology as a tool will thrive. On an industry level, there is a great necessity for more transparency and standardisation in the industry and technological innovations will facilitate this over the next 10-15 years,” he says.
Moreover, urbanisation is already putting immense pressure on cities, buildings, infrastructure, and workspaces. “By 2050, our global population will surpass 9 billion of which 16 percent will be aged over 65 and 66 percent will be residing in the urban part of the world. As the core mission of FM is to make lives easier, the integration of automation in FM services and process is going to be more crucial in the future to cope with the rapid rate of urbanisation, population growth, and changing demographics,” he adds.
With a huge choice available in the market it is however vital to choose, execute, and appropriately oversee the right set of solutions for their client, says Waters. “It’s important to find the sweet spot between automation and the human touch. One must find the solution that takes into consideration of all stakeholder needs and an assessment of the internal and extrinsic value for a given service,” he adds.
Automation in property management helps configure workflows with respect to asset management, contract administration, and document management. The gradual adoption of automation in property management with respect to assets, equipment, processes, and office functions, have proven to be effective in increasing profitability in the long term.
“The biggest advantage of implementing property management software is its ability to automate routine, time consuming tasks that eventually improves accuracy and efficiency. By implementing automation in accounting alone, property managers can benefit from a healthier cash flow as it is easier to keep track of rentals, expenses, leases, and vacancies,” says Waters.
Another key ROI one can see is Data. Data is power! Data analytics equip property managers with insights such as occupancy forecasts and maintenance predictions that help streamline essential tasks, improve service delivery, and enhance tenant experience.
Waters also mentions that the failure in timely maintenance leads to expensive remedial work, wasteful usage of resources and duplication of effort that can turn out to be financially imprudent and subsequently accelerate asset depreciation.
In serious cases, such as a collapse in the fire safety equipment, it can be extremely detrimental to the health and safety of people and assets. “Automated systems can therefore help identify internal and external risk factors, and trigger essential warning signals. It facilitates better customization of services and life-cycle management, which results in stronger ROI, even if the implementation of automation might appear as high upfront costs,” he adds.
As the global property management market size is expected to grow from USD 14.47 billion in 2018 to USD 22.04 billion by 2023, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 8.8 percent, automation is going to be extremely crucial to maximise assets, reduces liabilities, increase profitability and improve tenant satisfaction.
(Read the July-Aug issue of CM today to know more about automation in the community management industry)