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Health and Sanitation as the Key Differentiator in Facilities Management

The Indian market presents a similar story and extremely positive outlook – with a projected increase in the overall size of the organized FM market and within that, a projected increase in the fraction of business done by the Outsourced service providers.

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The corona pandemic has created a structural break in many industries, and areas of opportunity and transformation for some. Facilities Management has suddenly become the fulcrum of  health, safety, and sanitation measures in our work spaces and public spaces, and progressive FM firms can leverage technology, innovation, and ideas to tap into this opportunity space.

The global Facilities Management (FM) market, sized at US$ 1.1 Trillion globally in 2016, had been poised for double digit growth. The Outsourced Integrated FM (IFM) segment itself  is expected to grow to US$ 59 Billion by 2023. 

The Indian market presents a similar story and extremely positive outlook – with a projected increase in the overall size of the organized FM market and within that, a projected increase in the fraction of business done by the Outsourced service providers. Indian FM firms are also integrating across categories to include Cleaning and Soft Services, Security, MEP Maintenance, ATM Protection, Managed Transport, amid others to become full service providers. FM has already seen double digit growth for the past several years and increased focus on large enterprises and public infrastructure operators, such as Airport Authority of India and Indian Railways, outsourcing FM contracts to third party vendors. 

The post-corona world will present many opportunities – as well as some critical constraints for Outsourced FM providers. Typically, these firms have relied on manpower, with technology being 1 to 2 percent of their annual budgets. This will have to change to address the risks and opportunities of the future. 

Health and Sanitation in Focus

The corona pandemic has literally placed health and sanitation “under the scanner”. There is increased expectation of clean, hygienic, and germfree work spaces and public spaces. There is increased monitoring to ensure that healthy workers enter work sites and public sites. Scanners and sensors are quickly being redeployed and innovated upon to help enterprises and governments deal with the “safety” aspect of sanitation. 

Security of spaces needs to consider not just the physical and digital intruders, but also the “invisible enemy”, the health intruders such as germs and microbes, sick staff, or even asymptomatic germ-carrying staff and employees. 

FM companies will have to quickly reinvent themselves in the face of changing global forces to meet these new expectations. While the earlier focus on technology was on some degree of efficiency, optimization and proof of work, now there will need to be much greater emphasis on technology to ensure standards and processes, safe sanitation workers and safe hygiene work practices, bi-directional governance to show proof of work as well as to assure clients on prevention and real time incident management. 

Covid19 Implications for FM

The FM industry will face divergent and competing expectations from clients as the current crisis subsides, leading to changing work place and public place habits and expectations of employers, employees, and consumers. 

FM will need to evolve along eight vectors as described below. Collectively, these will impact how these firms will train and manage workforce, manage operations and supply chains, ensure governance, and interact with their customers. Technology will impact and underpin each of these vectors. 

  • Social

The emotional and workplace impact of corona crisis will extend beyond the crisis and its immediate aftermath. Increasingly, enterprises – especially in the services sector – are likely to shift towards a blend of onsite and offsite work. Lack of “social trust” will require greater distance and time-gap between the presence of employees and staff at any location at any time. This will impact workforce requirements for facilities firms – and may shift the need towards a savvier, digitally capable workforce that can rise to meet the new demands. 

2. Contractual

The current crisis has been a force majeure event, and FM firms, like all others, may be faced with discussing ongoing contracts with current clients. Widespread economic distress may lead to rationalizations and renewed negotiations, which firms are already facing. In the short term, Government clients may not reduce contractual value so that companies can retain employees. The IMF recently released a report which suggests that the economic impact of the crisis will be lower in India compared with all of the developed countries, and even China. This should imply lower than projected economic growth for Indian enterprises, which should signal positive news down the line for all suppliers and vendors. 

3. Logistical 

The current crisis has exposed frayed supply chain the world over. Super specialization at country and product level has led to reliance on certain key suppliers and supply destinations for many products. This has led to immediate term shortages for several critical products. In the post crisis phase, FM firms will need to consider what inventory and equipment to keep at each site, thereby increasing the cost and inventory management complexity at each site. They may also need to rethink their supply chain – consider new suppliers for the newer equipment and systems needed, and creating backup suppliers for high volume consumables to ensure supply. 

4. Protocol

The latest guidelines issued by Government of India highlights protocols to be maintained when workers enter a factory or office premise, including quick health and body temperature checks, and app based tracking of moving workforces in logistics or those traveling, and guidance on shift management. We are already seeing such norms being put in place in many Asian countries, and some are likely to continue post the immediate crisis ends. This will require newer ways of scheduling and managing facilities workforce and tasks. 

5. Organizational

With increased focus on delivering sanitation metrics, FM firms will show proof of hygiene quality as a mark of differentiation. This will require embedding new processes and expectations, and a closer monitoring and reporting of performance against these new service levels. The people requirements may also change – given the competing factors of the need to expand sanitation related activities, increase service levels, and improve accountability and visibility, while keeping in mind the need for reduction in costs and number of staff accessing any area at any given time. 

6. Governance

Given the increase in social mistrust, enterprises and governments would prefer heightened communication on the adoption and usage newer hygiene and sanitation safety processes. This will drive the need to understand the quality of sanitation efforts in place, thereby requiring governance models and solutions that can improve operational performance and reporting visibility of FM firms. 

7. Technological

Each of the above factors would create an imperative for FM firms to deploy various new equipment, consumables, systems, and tools that can aid in managing people, processes, and service levels. 

8. Commercial

FM firms will need to re-evaluate commercial terms and conditions. Increased service levels, staff competencies, logistical and cost increases, and risk metrics may create a need to increase commercial terms. At the same time, clients will go through their own cycles of survival and revival, creating pressure for reducing spends in every category. 

Given these complex and competing factors, FM firms will need to adopt a partnership approach to deliver to a higher level of expectation while containing costs. 

Immediate, Intermediate, and Long Term Imperatives

FM companies supporting essential services, such as hospitals, are having to quickly reorient themselves during the crisis phase. However, as economic activity restarts, these firms will have to ramp up and restructure their efforts on many new fronts. 

Larger forces, such as regulatory requirements and guidance on social distancing norms, and consumer sentiments and lingering mistrust of shared spaces and proximity interactions, will drive several interventions. At the same, as FM companies will compete with each other, they will need to respond to industry pressures and internal improvements to overcome the new constraints and meet the new expectations. 

  • Immediate Term

Immediately after the economy reopens, there will be an escalation in the need for deep cleaning of commercial, industrial, and public spaces. Newer cleaning materials, worker screening, and worker daily health records would be mandated. The industry would scramble to bring staff back on board, and train them on the new SOPs and SLAs. Thermal scanners and scheduling and optimizing tools will be needed to ensure healthy teams are allocated and optimized to meet the short term spike in demand. Productivity and Quality monitoring tools and applications would be needed to measure, monitor, and report on the new SLAs. New alternate supply sources for standard and innovative cleaning consumables, tools, and equipment would be needed to meet the surge demand. 

  • Intermediate Term

Once businesses, transport and logistics, and public spaces reopen, they will be struggling to reorient themselves and grow. Many firms may choose to blend remote working and onsite working as an extended or ongoing measure. There will be pressure on reducing cost outlay for outsourced FM. At the same time, there would be increased expectation of worker health screening, deeper cleaning, and higher hygiene SLAs. This would require FM companies to invest in equipment and tools, reorient supply chains, tighten contracts and service level agreements, improve staff retention, and better utilize existing staff. Camera based technologies and analytics will be installed to manage queueing and clustering at entry gates, public spaces, and during shift interchanges. Workforce Management tools will need to go beyond staffing to measure productivity, allocation, and efficiency.

  • Long Term

The “new normal”, even after the economic climate improves, will create sustained higher health, safety, and sanitation expectations from FM firms. Firms will need to create mechanisms for hiring, training, and retaining staff, and improve the productivity of each staff member. They will need to consider deeper entrenchment of technology and process change in every aspect of their business – from hiring, staffing, allocating, operations, and reporting. 

Technology Imperatives for FM in the “New Normal”

To compete and win in the changed market, FM firms will have to rapidly innovate and digitalize every aspect of their People, Process, Performance, and Procurement process. Firms will need to consider solutions for each site they manage – with specific interventions for entry areas, common areas, and work spaces. To truly transform themselves, they will need to consider enterprise level solutions that will enable them to manage people, ensure quality, and assure clients of service standards on an ongoing and systemic basis.

  • Hardware & IOT Solutions

The suite of hardware and IOT solutions will continue to monitor spaces for footfalls, air quality, water and wastewater quality, effluents, energy, lighting, and occupancy. Predictive Maintenance of spaces and facility equipment will remain important. 

But moving beyond the concept of “sustainability”, FM companies will have to help their clients create “resilient” workspaces. New technology solutions will consist of hardware solutions such as new cleaning equipment, camera based solutions for attendance, temperature and health screening, queue and cluster identification, and tagging and tracking of assets and tools. Newer equipment such as auto-dispensers for cleaning consumables will control misuse of critical supplies, and at the same time, ensure actual usage of proper cleaning materials and tools at each location. Sensors and systems can be used to create zones and ensure effective cleaning of each area. 

Camera based solutions will need to leverage Video Management Systems and Video Analytics Systems to create intelligence and insights, and use AI/ML to identify and report exceptions. Control and Command Centers, along with Incident Management and Video Walls with intelligent systems will allow FM firms to take real time preemptive and responsive actions at various sites and optimize operations across sites and clients.

  • Software and SaaS Solutions

FM firms will have to shift focus from pure “manpower-play” to “productivity-and-quality-play”. This will create the need to use integrated software solutions and applications that allow management of workforce and workflows across sites, across clients, and share comprehensive dashboards, reports, and escalations managed to clients. Bi-directional Governance Monitoring platforms will enable FM firms to showcase better productivity and standards over competition. 

Staff quality and training will be a key differentiator and FM firms will need to leverage technology to train and retain people with the right skills blend of process orientation, tech savviness, and customer centricity. 

Segment Wise Focus on Worker and Workplace Safety

FM workers will themselves be subject to health risks as they go about their tasks, and can in turn, create health risks for their families, neighborhoods, and the spaces and segments they are sanitizing and maintaining. 

FM firms will need to look at worker safety for all segments – with protective gears, sanitizers, and health protection practices. Specialized gear, personal protective equipment, and tools may be needed for critical segment workers who are serving hospitals, healthcare, pharma and food industry clients. 

Better health insurance policies will be needed across the board, and higher compensation may be needed for staff in high-risk areas such as critical healthcare and hospitals or open environments like transport hubs, railways, airports, buses, and malls.

Transporting workers, especially in the immediate and intermediate terms, will become critical to ensure that workers remain safe from risks of infection and social crowding associated with using public transport. This will further ensure the safety of the places they are cleaning. Temporary busing facilities, with pre hop-on health screening measures, may be needed in the short term. Easy health record trackers will need to be implemented to measure, monitor, and track over time temperature and health symptoms of workers and their immediate families.

Traversing the path to excellence in the New Normal for FM

FM firms have traditionally been cost-focused and relied on manual processes, frugal technology, and people driven staff and resource management to meet the objective of “value for money”.  In the “new normal”, in the face of changing expectations on quality and transparency, it would be easy for FM firms to spend on few piecemeal “image conscious” measures – without truly transforming intent, approach, processes, and practices. 

However, to be truly transformational and win in the new scenario, FM firms will need to move along a path from Traditional to Progressive. They may follow competition and best practices in some areas. But to break away, they will need to increasingly digitalize themselves and innovate continuously. This will start with the “Tone from the Top” – senior leaders who truly believe in higher standards of quality, transparency, and service delivery – to line managers who are, then, able to leverage tech tools, manage teams, and deliver services to a higher level. SaaS solutions and tools such as Workforce and Governance Monitoring platforms, along with Response Management systems and Dashboards, can help FM firms measure, monitor, and improve quality. 

In the end, “Intent” will need to meet with “Action”. It is not enough to implement some technology, but a matter on truly believing that technology can be a huge enabler and game-shifter in transforming purpose and performance. It will require technology alongside an open mindset that accepts and utilizes the data-driven operations. Change management interventions will be needed to change mindsets of line, operations, and business managers. 

Collaboration – in this case, openness and sharing with clients – will be critical to ensure safe, clean, and hygienic workspaces and public spaces for employees, consumers, and citizens. FM firms will need to become true partners to their clients in delivering to this higher-order reality.

Structural breaks require step-change responses, and the FM industry will need to rise to the occasion to meet this. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Amrita Chowdhury

Amrita Chowdhury is co-founder and Director of Gaia, a tech firm providing AI-IOT enterprise SaaS solutions for Connected Sites and Smart Cities. She serves on the Boards of Mahindra Lifespaces, Nesco, and Simmonds Marshall, and social sector startup Drishtant. She is the author of two bestselling books of fiction and holds 7 US patents for semiconductor manufacturing. She holds an MBA from Carnegie Mellon, MS from UC Berkeley, and B.Tech. from IIT Kanpur.

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