Recent research stated that over 70% of millennials in developed economies want to work in smart offices within the next five years, with those surveyed in the US representing an even greater consensus by percentage.
The scenario is not very different in the region as well. From how we communicate with one another to how we keep track of an asset, technology has proven time and again to change the face of the way communities or buildings are managed. Contemporary facilities managers, real estate CEOs, building owners, and even energy service companies are buying into the belief that a property’s most important asset is its people.
This reorientation of business strategy is not entirely surprising. Buildings that work smarter provide better occupant experiences, leading to bottomline benefits such as improved workforce productivity, lower vacancy rates, and increased employee engagement. Once considered secondary to managing physical assets, the commercial real estate industry is realizing that such outcomes eventually drive better ROI for building owners.
For decades building owners primarily considered facilities management a cost center and not a value-driven service. However, with an increase in the number of younger tenants, a change in customer expectations is creating new avenues for properties to differentiate themselves. The emergence of a work-culture that prioritizes employee wellbeing is altering the aspirations prospective tenants have, about their office space. Businesses have realized that the quality of user experience that a facility delivers has a direct impact on workplace productivity and talent retention. In turn, these insights are driving preferences and perceived property value.
‘CM today’ spoke to both service providers and a supplier to not only understand the kind of impact technology has in communities but also get a deeper insight into how community management is changing because of technology.
Experts revealed that technology is no longer just another tick in their KPI box. It is more about understanding their requirements, and whether or not the technology being adopted by them can help them resolve that. Hence, technology is not only playing an important role in service delivery today but also in Community Management.
H.E. Salem Ahmad Almoosa, Chairman of Salem Ahmad Almoosa Enterprises (SAAE), says that Community Management is currently undergoing transformation and is now regarded as the future of business and leadership. “Community managers are building the human infrastructure of the 21st century, where technology is a big enabler. Technology empowers community strategists today. Automation of services can free up time for tasks that demand a human touch. Hence, the human element is also equally important in community management. Technology cannot replace personal interactions and networking that are paramount to attracting and retaining residents; still, it is an important enabler,” he adds.
Another obvious reason to adopt technology is to stay ahead of your competitors and remain relevant. “To do that you need to harness the power of next-generation technologies that are relevant in the facilities and community management sector. Many of the available innovations today are highly disruptive and have already begun changing the industry’s landscape. As such, you need to keep up or risk being left behind,” adds Alan Rowlands, General Manager, Three60 Communities. We are certainly living in an era of technological advancements and many assets have seen a positive impact on the overall facility. Almoosa says that they remain committed to the adoption of the latest technologies to enhance their services and deliver improved customer experience and security.
One of the initial challenges that they faced was the recordkeeping aspect of their operations -- organising the sheer volume of information, which came in 'printed on paper' format or in electronic file format. Understanding the situation, Almoosa Owners Association Management Services created the AOAMS online portal and mobile app, which allows users to check on their assets, send requests like a move in and asking for gate passes or receive notifications and status updates.
“Technological innovations like AOAMS online portal and mobile app, are aimed at offering users with a whole new level of experience, especially in managing properties. Besides, this app has also been designed to keep identity, finances and other important details safe and secure,” adds Almoosa.
The AOAMS is still a work in progress. “We are still working towards further developing it to become a more interactive, smoother and more reliable system that fits every clients' needs,” states Almoosa.
However, personal contacts with owners and tenants are still maintained to update them regarding community activities and the newest announcements. Besides, requests of tenants and the status of their payments are monitored manually. However, users can check and monitor their payment status and progress online, which brings them peace of mind, trust, and confidence. The integration of technology allows owners and tenants to see the full history of pending, rejected, and approved requests in the dashboard. “Meanwhile, owners who have multiple properties can easily switch between different communities,” says Almoosa.
Three60 Communities, on the other hand, keeps technology has one of their top priorities. “Technology is critical to our bid to become a leader in the community management industry. Accordingly, we have made heavy investments in our technology infrastructure and innovative services,” adds Rowlands.
One such technology initiative implemented at their assets is the introduction of the smart mobility and paperless processes “Tafawuq GO”. “This is one such technology that ensures the transition into a paperless process in which our technicians can manage each maintenance job using only their mobile devices. The innovative solutions enhance the experience of our clients, help lower costs, and facilitate operational efficiency and reducing the environmental footprint of our communities,” Rowlands explains.
When it comes to criteria before adopting the right technology, both parties state that they look into all aspects of the asset and the innovation. At Three60, their standard of choosing the right technology is to get smarter and better with every adoption. “We select and innovate technologies that can enhance our finance, human resources, procurement, or inventory management procedures. We also go to technologies that will help our employees be more efficient in terms of serving our clients. This is the mindset that we adhere to in all our decisionmaking processes,” says Rowlands.
Increased productivity is the main advantage of technology, and asset management companies are making good use of opportunities brought about by technology adoption, especially to provide more value to clients and to enhance the efficiency of building operations. When it comes to the ‘need of the hour’, Almoosa says that the integration of technology in asset management is transforming the worldwide distribution of goods and services and this is reflected by the growing number of connected workplace devices. “Fourth Industrial revolution tools such as the Internet of Things (IoT) have unlimited potential. The subcategory of property technology, often called ‘PropTech,’ is becoming increasingly popular among owners, property managers, HOAs, and leaseholders,” Almoosa adds.
Technology is being used and adopted by almost all companies, Rowlands says that there is a need to strategically implement it in a smarter way to make the most of it. “In our labor-intensive industry, technology can alleviate the pressure on our staff, reduce costs, ensure quality, and serve the clients better,” says Rowlands.
He explains that for instance, Blockchain can be used to track and record activities, including the monitoring of HVAC systems, security access, smart parking, and asset management. The gathered data can help in decision-making processes, provide transparency, and ensure efficient operations.
“We have also been tapping artificial intelligence (AI), which can be utilized for services such as speech recognition and reaction, heat sensing and monitoring, cleaning and waste disposal, and security management, just to name a few. AI helps enhance tenant or consumer experience and address their growing demand for quality and excellent service,” adds Rowlands.
It is important to invest in the right technology. Moreover, expect that a huge chunk of data will be produced using new technologies such as AI and blockchain. “As such, we need to have an individual, or team of individuals, regularly examining through the information so that we can fully optimize what we have,” expresses Rowlands.
3 ways in which Technology is changing Community Management
The fundamental promise of emerging technologies, in the context of Community Management, is being able to optimize operational efficiencies, deliver personalized services and make infrastructure responsive to real-time needs. Facilio Inc, the Atlanta-based FM-Tech startup with operations in the US, Middle East, and India, picks 3 distinct ways in which technology is impacting community management.
Wireless devices not only give building occupants access to services and goods virtually instantly and, at the same time, FMs, CREs and the workforces that service the community is also leveraging these technologies to coordinate better, enhance their processes and be optimally agile. With IoT and AI, the promise that Connected Buildings hold to enhance community management & unlock efficiencies for today’s predictive, realtime era, is tremendous.
IoT, AI, and Machine Learning technologies allow us to analyze the performance of assets and processes in real-time and generate insights that give us access to unprecedented efficiency. Our buildings and communities are embedded with automation, such as HVAC systems, lifts, lighting, access control, MEP infrastructure and much more. They require diverse services and workforces to function appropriately, which includes cleaning, maintenance, security, waste management, and engineering. Creating optimal performance across such complexity can be challenging, but technology is empowering us in doing so continuously.
Another significant evolution is the ability to tailor results to an exacting degree. The powerful and unified control that we can exercise, by adding a layer of digital networks and centralized platforms, creates ideal outcomes for tenants, as well as for building owners and service pr oviders. Whether it is services personalized to the needs of a customer, or tweaking asset performance to precisely match what a CRE business needs for sustainable operations, or optimizing operational efficiency for continuous ROI for owners & enhanced experience of occupants - the ability to exercise fine and specific control is redefining community management. And the most striking impact that technology has had, is being able to address all these diverse needs simultaneously.
(The author, Prabhu Ramachandran is the founder and CEO of Facilio Inc)