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Exclusive: Tech-led agility is putting progressive niche FMs ahead of their competition

The global pandemic has become a catalyst for long-term change across the real estate and FM services landscape, accelerating trends in occupant health, wellness, sustainability, service delivery, and agile operations.

Digital-native tenants are demanding proactive services and hands-on control, and progressive FM service providers are emerging as enablers in reopening and operating buildings, with data-led and future-ready operations AME Info spoke with Prabhu Ramachandran, Founder and CEO of AI-driven property operations and maintenance platform Facilio, for his perspective on the new status quo "Today, more than ever, FM service providers and building owners are acknowledging the need for real-time operational intelligence and tech-led agility"

The global pandemic has become a catalyst for long-term change across the real estate and FM services landscape, accelerating trends in occupant health, wellness, sustainability, service delivery, and agile operations. Digital-native tenants are demanding proactive services and hands-on control, and progressive FM service providers are emerging as enablers in reopening and operating buildings, with data-led and future-ready operations.

AME Info spoke with Prabhu Ramachandran, Founder and CEO of AI-driven property operations and maintenance platform Facilio, for his perspective on the new status quo. 

Prabhu Ramachandran, Founder and CEO of Facilio

How dynamic and competitive is the FM industry today, especially within the pandemic context? What are the key differentiators? 

Today, more than ever, FM service providers and building owners are acknowledging the need for real-time operational intelligence and tech-led agility. This awareness is partly due to the pandemic, but systemic digital transformation in real estate was long overdue. The situation can be likened to when ecommerce redefined retail. In a similar manner, emerging, niche FM companies are outperforming incumbents, by harnessing IoT-led technologies. 

Their unique value propositions include superior tenant experiences, proactive services and eco-centric facilities, among other value-based differentiators. This trend cuts across geographical and industry lines, as evident from recent contract signing between Facilio and UAE’s leading service providers and building operators such as Green Global Facilities Management, Build Well Holdings and Bright Environment.  

What are the trends taking shape in the region? Will the “new normal” sustain these changes?

The connected buildings model has generated enthusiastic response across the region. FM operatives are optimizing workflows and automating maintenance activities, using data-derived insights, at portfolio scale. These trends have direct bearing on occupant health and wellness, so the “new normal” will certainly leave a lasting impact, far beyond the response to the COVID crisis. 

Pandemic influenced trends include a shift in tenant expectations with increased focus on safety and hygiene; changing regulations and standard operating procedures (SOPs); and running cost-effective operations with a limited workforce. Business changes include FM services becoming more strategic unit post pandemic; agility and real-time operational visibility becoming critical aspects to operations; and a huge opportunity for FMs to adopt technologies for data-driven operations.

Read: The 4 practical steps a business needs to follow to implement digital transformation – Part 1

What do you think are the benefits of deploying digital solutions and data-driven service delivery models in addressing the current and future challenges?

Centralized data-driven platforms provide real time insights into the operations and enable data backed decision making. Digitisation and automation empowers workforce and improves productivity, while the transparency established between the tenants and FM service providers boosts occupant satisfaction levels. Operational data unlocks real-time visibility, ability to learn from past and predict future challenges. Similarly HVAC adjustments can be linked to occupancy and weather, to optimize both comfort and energy efficiency. Predictive maintenance reduces tenant complaints, due to seamless operations that reduce service disruptions.

Where does the larger MENA market stand, in terms of digital transformation in real estate?

Real estate owners, operators, and FM service providers in the MENA region recognize the need for real-time operational intelligence to help them make informed decisions. Integrating all building systems into a single cloud environment enables system-wide decision making, execution and optimization. Stakeholders can then unlock the power of building data to make meaningful real-time changes that effectively optimize energy costs, comfort, and productivity. 

Facilio is already involved in delivering this transformation, at leading landmark properties like ICD Brookfield Place. The experience centric focus will need to evolve with tenant expectations, beyond the post-pandemic recovery. Tenant experience is becoming a key differentiating factor and FM companies should plan ahead, with a friction less, data-led operational strategy.

It seems we are making breakthroughs with potential vaccines. How does it impact Facilio’s role in the region, as expectations evolve within the next six months?

Latest developments on the vaccine front are welcome. We could be putting public health concerns to bed, soon. But the pandemic has demonstrated the value of ecosystem collaboration between FM services players and landlords. FM service providers, have stepped up to the challenging situation at amazing level of speed given the workforce intensive nature of the business. 

The real estate industry’s appetitive for innovation has drastically increased and tech will be the key enabler. In last couple of decades, the ability to hire, train and upskill workforce along with establishing standards has been the key aspects of FM Services success. Technology adoption will be key to FM Services success for the next decade. Facilio believes that companies that adopt innovative tech strategies, and upgrade themselves as strategic partners, will succeed and scale.

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