Have the expectations of building users changed as a result of the pandemic?
Many people rightly speak about a “revolution” since the beginning of the COVID crisis… And this is undoubtedly true in many sectors. In the field of Facility Management, I would rather speak in terms of reaching a goal, or even of a measured acceleration of underlying trends that we have already been observing for some years: “Flex office”, ideas about the organisation of the workplace, “teleworking”, etc.
Whatever country you were in, the "projection into a new reality" was sudden and shocking: we all found ourselves overnight having to work remotely; digitalisation was the condition sine qua non for anyone who wanted to continue working professionally! Will we go back? I do not believe so, with the exception of a few special cases. Teleworking and meetings combining on-site and remote participants will now become an integral part of the way companies organise themselves.
This shift in focus, this overhaul of working methods, will obviously have consequences for the way all companies will have to consider the workspace and the digitalisation of their activities.
And, paradoxically, the “fundamentals” have also been brought up to date ...
This is indeed one of the unexpected consequences of the crisis. Who, for example, cared about air quality before the crisis? None of our customers spontaneously spoke to us about this subject. Outside of the periods of lockdown, we offered our customers solutions intended to make it safe for their employees to return to the office. In France, for example, we joined forces with BORA in order to introduce an innovative solution for air disinfection using UVC radiation. In all the countries where we are present, we have stepped up activities intended to ensure the safety and reliability of existing installations and have conducted a series of air flow measurements.
The crisis has also given rise to digital innovations. In Switzerland, one of our employees has devised a system for detecting and warning when the authorised capacity of people is exceeded in a meeting room or a canteen. He is now thinking about the issue of respecting social distancing guidelines.
What are the challenges that the digitalisation of Facility Management now has to rise to?
If I may be a little simplistic for a moment, there used to be the building manager, on the one hand, and the maintenance company, on the other. In recent years, employees have come to play a part in this system by making their own demands; since the COVID crisis, we can even say that they are at the heart of our concerns.
They are no longer concerned only with their few square metres of office space but now want to shape their own workspace in the wider sense: booking meeting rooms, setting up videoconferences, etc. Another very recent development is their personal interest in CSR, sustainable development, and greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. Today they want to know how to consume less energy or why photovoltaic panels have been installed on their company’s roof, etc. These concerns, combined with the new regulatory requirements aimed at achieving targets in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, are the main drivers of the Facility Management market.
The real challenge is therefore to offer accessible tools, including to people who do not necessarily have any great technical knowledge, so that building managers can ensure optimal management and occupants can become stakeholders in their environment. It is this logic that we are following with Smart FM 360°, which has been our unified digital platform since 2019 and which offers ever more functionalities and services resulting from the innovations made by our partners. First and foremost, this platform has made it possible to highlight the energy consumption of a building and each user involved in responsible energy consumption.
Does human effort still have a role to play in this digitalisation process?
Yes, because collecting data is only part of the job. Everyone (or almost everyone!) knows how to collect data today. But what about “useful” data? Knowing the customer, their facilities and their challenges is absolutely essential.
In conditional maintenance contexts, for example, this data will make it possible to trigger an intervention when an alert threshold is exceeded. What is even more interesting is the possibility of analysing the collected data in ways which permit upstream interventions. With this, we move into the world of predictive maintenance: the cross-checking of multiple situations and histories will make it possible to anticipate interventions and plan them better. But all the possibilities opened up by data acquisition also raise the question of cybersecurity and the protection of individual data. This is, moreover, one of the most important concerns of our customers.
This form of digitalisation takes time: implementation, feedback, adaptations, sometimes taking several months before the right solution is reached. Business expertise therefore still has an important role!