Doing more with less. Sound familiar? Nowadays, it’s a common theme in facilities management. But the growing acceptance of handheld mobile devices as business tools could lessen the pressure of that demand for higher productivity with less funding. How? The market is filled with hundreds of thousands of applications at your fingertips – many free or low-cost – designed to help you save time, gather data quickly and communicate effectively.
The use of mobile devices has become much more widespread in the Middle East and the region’s FM industry cannot afford to turn a blind eye to these technology trends happening around them. Facility Managers need to solve issues and communicate with their teams and it is not as easy as reach them at their desks. Technicians are outside most of the time, whether floor-to-floor in a building or in another city, so they are mobile and they do need mobile solutions. Advancements in information technology (IT) has brought forth a number of mobile solutions that can be put to good use in the FM sector, and decision makers in the industry are seeing good results by making use of these opportunities that have been presented to them. ‘FM today’ speaks to industry professionals to find out what kind of impact has mobile technology had in the facility management industry and at the same time what future does it hold out here.
Impact on industry
Mobile technologies, such as smartphones and tablets, are everywhere, so it’s no surprise that mobile technology is transforming facilities management departments as well. In fact, ask anyone in the industry and they will tell you what an integral part of FM these mobile technologies have become. Mobile technology in the FM sector has changed considerably over the past five years. Five years before, all field activities were recorded on a piece of paper, and the FM manager gets to know the information couple of days after. “Mobile technology is critical to the industry - we could even say that mobile technology is as transformational as the introduction of the mobile phone. We live in a ‘now’ world - requiring data on demand and as mobile technology becomes cheaper, the use of this type of technology is becoming a must for field, back office and clients,” says Richard Jowsey, Regional Director, Urbanise, the first cloud-based platform designed specifically for delivering services to buildings.
In 2010, it was Motorola or Intermec PDA’s with MS Windows operating system. FM managers were amazed to see the transformation from paperwork to mobile computing devices. Their field service activities were tracked on real time basis. However, the mobile technology before 2013 had a lot of limitations on speed, scope and processing huge information through internet. But after year 2013 the software developers had a lot of options to facilitate FM sector with new technologies like IOS, Android. This new technologies allowed software developers for online collaboration and facilitate the FM sector with advanced features like image processing, signatures, huge data processing, online collaboration and much more.
Rosmiman Software Corporation, an IT solution provider, has made a mark in the FM industry with its variety of offerings in the mobility space. The company, which is one of the leading CAFM suppliers in the Middle East, has mobile solutions that cater to a number of FM functions including work order management, notification management, real estate management, GIS and asset management on a map, inventory preparation and asset data gathering, etc. Gabriel Uribe, Manager for Middle East, Rosmiman Software Corporation, says, “Nowadays, mobile devices have become cheaper and most of our clients are using tablets and Smartphones fully integrated with our CAFM system, automatic email notifications and real-time reporting functionalities. They can also use cameras, GPS and other features to take advantage of their modern devices.”
He goes on to add, “Today, requests can be processed at the time when a problem is found, some of them require images, so it is possible to take a photo and scan an asset’s barcode to identify it and thus create work orders and follow up their status easily. Additionally, our mobile apps can save changes when, for example, technicians are in a basement without access to Wi-Fi or mobile networks and upload the information as soon as they get access.”
Staying connected is the buzz word in the industry but it took a while before FM people realised how beneficial technology was to them. Nanosoft Technologies, a subsidiary of multinational software development and consulting corporation, is focused on providing technology solutions to FM companies, building owners etc. Eashak Ali B, Director of Nanosoft Technologies, reveals the organisation’s very first project, in which mobile technology was used to describe how beneficial mobile apps are in FM industry.
“It was in year 2010. We proposed the mobile app to one of our clients in Abu Dhabi. The requirement was to monitor the maintenance activities of seven sites spread across UAE. The client wanted the work progress to be represented in a geographical context to centrally track the activities. The initial discussion with client raised more concerns about how this is possible,” he says, while he adds, “The main concern was the capacity of a field staff to use mobile technologies. The field staffs understand their job roles, but there was initial resistance to using mobile apps to perform their job roles. However continuous training and monitoring made implementation possible. Within a four-month span, the implementations in all sites were completed and the FM managers started getting the benefit out of the mobile apps. They were able to get real-time information, waiting time for approval drastically reduced, breakdown calls were effectively handled and reports were made readily available. An SMS and email notification enhanced the overall engagement of FM team.”
There are boundless benefits for the FM providers who opt for mobile technology to automate their field services. The key benefit of mobile technology is the collaboration between the field staffs and FM managers. The CAFM/CMMS is comprehensive only when the field staff participates in using the mobile application to perform their day to day activities. Certainly mobile technology has filled the gap. Alan K Millin, scientist, engineer, environmentalist and an active consultant in facilities management, finds that many FM providers are benefitting from mobile applications. “Mobile solutions enable us to improve service delivery in conjunction with enhanced supply chain management,” he says while adding, “FM providers may enter into close collaborative arrangements with several suppliers allowing field personnel to quickly and easily identify the nearest approved supplier with the correct item. And they can implement data-driven cost management actions to optimize profits.”
The implementation of mobile systems adapted to tablets, smartphones and mobile websites has made the job of FM providers and the entire industry smoother and, of course, more effective. The amount of time spent in daily tasks, documenting changes and submitting requests has been clearly reduced. Time is money and this could not only improve employees’ productivity but also provide quicker responses and, therefore, day-to-day tasks can be more profitable. Gabriel Uribe, says, “Our mobile apps can help managers to have real information about where is their team at any time, they can collaborate with them without email and, instead, sending messages through the app, as well as share or store relevant information. The process becomes paper-free; Facilities Managers have real-time access to their list of work orders, pending tasks, asset details, inventory, etc. They can upload updates and also, get more accurate data on the go. Definitely, the use of cutting-edge mobility solutions makes any company more competitive, it will be able to provide a better, quicker and more effective value-added service, saving money and having a more productive team.”
The most significant development in facilities management software over the last 10 years has been the rise of applications that run inside web browsers or similar interfaces. These, alongside mobile applications, offer facilities managers’ far greater flexibility in the work that they can carry out on a day-to-day basis – vastly improving productivity and service levels. The market is constantly evolving and most software developers are aware of it, that’s why most of them pay special attention to end–users to better understand their needs and never stop improving the applications to fulfil their requirements. Some of the key drivers for using mobile technology in facilities management is to increase labour efficiency and optimize costs. Alan adds, “Clients typically want improved efficiency in terms of time and accuracy, but also expect to benefit from optimized service provider costs, all leading to enhanced customer satisfaction.”
Cloud computing, which is essentially the supply of IT infrastructure and software over the internet, has also been widely adopted. Businesses of every size are welcoming the flexibility of cloud computing and benefiting from reduced costs, increased productivity and speed to market. The web, cloud and mobile technologies complement each other. A facilities manager can log or report on a job anywhere, not just at their desk, and can be alerted to issues while on the move. A new kid on the block when it comes to cloud-based software is Urbanise. “Urbanise is very much the new kid on the block but with a pedigree that is second to none when it comes to Smart City technology. As such, we are in a position to lead the transformation to cloud-based solution. From asset management and field force to critical asset monitoring and self-service portals - we have become the Uber for the service industry,” says Richard.
“FM providers traditionally use paper and desktop software such as Excel to manage activity. With a focus on cost and evidence and with a drive to improve performance, FM’s are adopting the bespoke software to help manage their business. With Urbanise there is no capital expenditure, its a true cloud-based solution that scales with you,” he adds.
The facilities and field service industries, in particular, are benefiting from cloud-based options combined with mobile solutions. Whether the priority is meeting Service Level Agreements (SLAs), minimising driving time between calls, or securing first-time fixes, the software can calculate the ideal route, identify the best-qualified technician to send and ensure the relevant parts are available – all in real time. The latest technology emerged in mobile technology are operating systems, touch screens, increased storage capacities, high-end processors, stability in barcode scanning through smart phones, multiplatform development tools, designing tools and much more. These latest technologies benefitted the FM industry to specifically address their needs. There are lots of products/apps used in the industry. A well-known product from Nanosoft Technologies is the ‘Smart FM Reach’, which meets all the requirements of the current industry.
“Our ‘Smart FM Reach’ has all the required features and latest technology which contributes the FM industry. With our ‘Smart FM Reach’ the field staff can perform Preventive Maintenance tasks, Breakdown Maintenance tasks, route cause analysis, daily inspection of critical assets and facilities, prepare job estimation, prepare billing for small jobs on the move, register incidents, refer documents related to SOP’s, HSE, PPE and O&M Manuals and he can use his mobile to register his attendance as well,” explains Eashak Ali B.
There are many factors that affect the adoption of mobile technology in facilities management. Alan says, “FM providers that are only just implementing mobile solutions should beware of adhering to poor policies and procedures when implementing the new tools. Or they may find that they can upset customers more quickly.” Another factor that Alan stresses upon is the fact that FM providers should also be aware that mobile technology does not run a business more efficiently, people do. Some of the things one must keep in mind while adopting the mobile technology are investments, recurring costs, continuous training and to ensure 100 percent utilization,software scalability to meet specific needs. “There are a lot of mobile solutions - many of which are simply matches to existing systems. So apps will have to be developed for specific operating systems - whereas the use of other systems will enable you to view from many devices as if you were browsing a web page. It allows greater customer choice and reduces costs,” says Richard.
While Gabriel adds, “The first thing to consider is to analyse who will be the end-users, what type of device is best suited to their needs, which kind of service their company provides, to whom should they report, etc. Every company has a particular way of working and we always start analysing their workflows, adapting our solution according to specific needs of each client to fit better their requirements, to make it easy to use and by preventing employees do not understand its performance and stop using it.”
When asked most software developers whether technology is still seen only as a means to cut costs, improve timescales and instill accurate reporting for transparency, there was a mixed response. While Eashak agreed, others like Richard and Gabriel felt otherwise. “This technology transforms business delivery, and if used appropriately can connect all parties together. At Urbanise, we call it a Dynamic Delivery - a solution that provides evidence of activity and real-time reporting so a business can pivot and implement correcting strategies,” says Richard. “Technology does not only mean cut costs but also enhance communication both internally and externally between clients and providers allowing a better data–analysis in order to make better decisions, reduce implementation expenses and, finally, improving efficiency,” adds Gabriel.
What the future holds
Although the facilities management sector has been relatively slow to adapt to the changing technological trend, organisations are now starting to recognise the opportunity that mobile technology can deliver. And according to the software developers the future is certainly encouraging and committed. “At present only fewer companies are adopting mobile technology. What we see in coming years, is minimum 60 percent to 70 percent of facility management companies will start adapting mobile technology. Mobile technologies in facilities management are only catering to few categories of staff in an organisation. We need to take this further up to the director levels by providing the information which they will need to monitor on a daily basis. As software developers, we keep a track on the new technologies and constantly do research in adding new features, designs and technologies to make it more user-friendly,” says Eashak.
Gabriel observes that technology is becoming smaller and faster by the day, and now, with cloud technologies, information is accessible anytime anywhere. “Not only have companies been using these technologies, with the emergence of smart cities, citizens and ordinary people are demanding all kinds of applications to collaborate with their governments and to obtain real-time information from their cities. There is a huge potential in this field that we have seen some years ago and so we have developed a suite of apps designed to different types of users, to collect and analyse big data, to geo-locate buildings or public facilities, and to help citizens to have more friendly environments and governments,” he adds.
While Richard adds, “The industry is changing - it has to - from clunky dinosaurs of systems on servers that need to be nursed daily as if they were in ICU - to well designed and easy to use cloud systems where updates and features are added as a matter of course. At Urbanise, we recognise that systems have to be user-friendly, dynamic and a relevant fit for the 21st century. FMs will see the business become real time where assets will automatically “call” when out of calibration - significantly reducing the labour load, improving asset performance and reducing risk - as well as delivering better service at reduced cost.” No doubt, the potential is huge, but at the same time, Alan sums up and says, “The potential is limited only by the imagination of those who seek to implement it.”