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Cutting edge

Just as the UK continues to lag behind in productivity, the FM sector is hardly at the cutting edge when it comes to embracing the latest tech. What can CAFM do to help?

report, ‘Solving the UK’s productivity puzzle in the digital age’, published by the McKinsey Global Institute last year, argued that the UK’s ‘uneven digitisation’ is one of the reasons for the continuing productivity gap. Within the FM sector it’s been argued that CAFM has a much stronger role to play in helping to boost productivity within businesses. We asked some leading CAFM suppliers whether their software could be better deployed among users to improve performance for client and FM service providers.

PETER BRUMBY
CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, CLOUDFM

It is no secret that the UK has a productivity problem. At just 2.4 per cent in the last five years, productivity growth in the UK is far below similarly developed countries. It now takes the average British worker five days to make what a French worker achieves in four. McKinsey and other commentators have suggested that the uneven adoption of digital technology in business is partly to blame.

At its heart, the productivity problem is about efficiency. And companies with a new business model enabled by technology can be spectacularly efficient. Disruptive start-ups like Monzo, Deliveroo and TransferWise have reached billion-dollar valuations with a relative handful of staff. But, in other sectors, companies struggle to make a sustainable margin – hampered by outdated systems and inaccurate data.

FM is one of those industries. There is no Deliveroo of FM. There are services that connect clients directly with contractors. But they have not delivered significant gains in convenience, efficiency, or effectiveness. Neither have the longer-established CAFM technologies. These conventional systems allow manual intervention and optional data entry, which fundamentally compromises the quality of data and prevents effective management. For example, a system might register that a task is complete, simply because an engineer attended – when the fault has merely been ‘made safe’. Flaws like this limit the impact of such technology on productivity.

This is not an abstract problem. Unlike, say, retail banks, FM providers are not under direct threat from digital competitors. But poor productivity represents a different risk, one highlighted by the margin pressures accepted as almost unavoidable in the industry. Using technology to increase productivity is no less urgent in FM than in other, more easily disrupted sectors.

FM may seem a long way from the world of digital start-ups. But the start-ups’ principles of simplicity, transparency and convenience have influenced even traditional organisations. Long-established companies in transport, retail, finance and other sectors have successfully applied these principles. As a result, whole industries (and not just new entrants) are enjoying increased productivity.

But these successes have not stemmed from simply applying digital technology. Like the best start-ups, established organisations that use digital technology successfully use it to reshape inefficient models and processes. Conversely, most applications of technology in FM simply formalise or accelerate existing, ineffective processes. And an ineffective process that is managed digitally is still an ineffective process, just a faster one.

There is no good reason why FM companies cannot successfully apply the principles of digital start-ups, in the same way as established banks, insurance companies and retailers. Current technology is more than good enough to enable highly efficient processes in FM – but to deliver significant gains in productivity, those processes must:

  • Create a controlled and uneditable workflow. Data should be accurate from the moment a task is identified through completion, payment and final performance analysis.
  • Make data capture seamless, and non-optional. Capturing the entire workflow within the technology platform removes the scope for inaccurate or optimistic reporting.
  • Ensure that all stakeholders have access to all relevant information, in real time. Creating genuine transparency builds trust and encourages positive behaviours.

For the FM industry to achieve productivity gains through technology, leaders must not think only of how to apply technology. Instead, the focus must be on improving processes – and how technology can help make that happen.

RUDI BRÜMMER
PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MANAGER, URGENT TECHNOLOGY

I’ve spent several years mobilising and managing CAFM projects for clients. The success of each project has always been defined by clear business requirements and processes, the people and the quality of the data, rather than the software functionality itself.

CAFM implementations are significant projects that demand the correct approach in terms of vision, communication and delivery, from an internal team of stakeholders, to achieve successful deployment and adoption – and consequently boost workforce or contractor productivity. However, all too often CAFM projects do not attain the expected goals of improved productivity, cost reduction and enhanced asset lifecycle performance. This is due to a lack of end user buy-in to the new system, subsequent low rates of adoption and reversion to ‘old ways’ of doing things.

There can be many reasons for end user disengagement. CAFM strategies may not be driven consistently and constantly from the top down, reaching the engineer or subcontractor level. There may be an initial lack of understanding of user requirements or participation, or a failure to communicate new processes and the expected benefits. The departure of an important stakeholder can also harm the organisational change process and system adoption, even if a project has been delivered as planned.

CAFM providers can hold the key to system adoption – and be the enabler for businesses to realise the increase in productivity that the software promises to deliver.

About Sarah OBeirne

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