From hospital cleaning to workplace reinvention, facilities management has taken a lead role in the world’s pandemic response. The essential services provided by FM certainly more visible. But are they more valued?

The past year has put a new focus on a perennial problem – how to measure performance and define the value that FM delivers.

Data-driven insight will be crucial for facilities management to sustain the recognition it is now receiving.

The industry is transitioning from functional necessity to value-adding service – contributing to greater safety and enhanced experiences for building users.

Providers must be able to demonstrate value to their clients in order to foster partnerships, win and retain key contracts.

FM companies are being measured against increasingly stringent SLAs and failure to meet standards can lead to financial penalties and even loss of business.

The question is – how do firms prove their widespread frontline teams are consistently doing the right things, at the right times and in the right places?

Connecting with the frontline

Frontline employees who work without a desk tend to be disconnected from the kind of digital systems that exist in head offices.

But that is changing. Workflow management technology distributes tasks to workers via a mobile app. The system prompts, guides and logs the tasks that contribute directly to high standards of safety, quality, hygiene, comfort and customer experience. The accumulated data from all this complex array of frontline work across multiple locations is transmitted to custom dashboards.

Performance metrics spanning cleaning completion, safety checks, food quality, asset maintenance and many other responsibilities can be captured in real time.

These are available as digital reports to demonstrate consistent standards and highlight actions taken, saving huge amounts of time collating audit information.

Ultimately, this drives greater client confidence and strengthens the value exchange.

Data-driven improvement

As well as showing what is working, real-time data also highlights what isn’t working. This may be even more important, since it enables weaknesses to be addressed, issues to be fixed and overall performance to be continually improved.

Progressive leaders see the potential to make informed decisions about processes, allocation of resources, efficiency and productivity, based on real-time information coming directly from the frontline.

It’s vital that the industry seizes this opportunity for a more resilient and agile future, by moving away from fragmented spreadsheets, shared network drives and filing cabinets.

According to a joint survey held by Oracle and the Facility Management Association of Australia (FMA), “the industry is missing an important opportunity to reduce risk and increase operational control”. The survey of 555 members revealed a gap between what professionals want and their current information system practices. Respondents’ biggest concerns were finding, storing and retrieving information. Some facilities managers even said their firms were engaged in legal disputes over lost or inaccurate information.

The study estimated that just 40 percent of FM information is currently stored electronically – but this is expected to increase to 80 percent in the next two years.

In one FM study, 75% of occupiers cited data as key to achieving strategic real estate goals. A 2021 trends report from i-FM concluded: “All of the different responsibilities, processes and systems an FM needs to understand mean huge amounts of generated data. The built environment is already awash with technology, yet most of the data that is recorded is rarely given the proper analysis required to drive smarter, more efficient service. Advanced data analytics, predictive modelling and machine learning will allow FMs to make more informed decisions and mitigate risk.”

Cost savings uncovered

It’s impossible to ignore the financial impacts of the pandemic. Lockdown has severely squeezed some sectors, making margin gains a high priority. However, pinpointing potential efficiencies is difficult without visibility of operational details. What’s happening on the frontline? Where could savings be made? Are there routine tasks that could be streamlined?

There is a solution. Connecting frontline activity with intelligent central dashboards provides business leaders with immediate insight into what’s working and what’s not. Leaders can see blockages and weaknesses, and the circularity of Connected Workflow Management means processes can be amended and quickly distributed back to teams on their mobile devices.

Automation offers further efficiencies by reducing the labour time involved in repetitive tasks such as monitoring and recording of food temperatures, job scheduling and compliance reporting.