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Leading With Data

By integrating disparate data sources, next-generation Retail Integrated Facility Management Technology will empower FMs to be smarter and more strategic.

By Matt Alderton

Whether it’s a broken HVAC unit that’s making customers sweat, a power outage that’s leaving employees in the dark or a ruptured pipe that’s raining on sales, the typical Multi-Site FM spends their day hopping from crisis to crisis.

Christopher King, Microsoft
Christopher King, Microsoft

“When you look at today’s industry, it’s a cost center business model that is stuck in the ‘80s. Facilities management is one of the few areas that hasn’t advanced in their processes or systems. The existing break-fix model often puts FMs in a position where they are constantly putting out fires. They're often behind in completing work orders and understaffed to meet the needs of the organization,” said Christopher King, Senior Technical Specialist for Business Apps at Microsoft.

As any bona fide firefighter will tell you, firefighting is a losing proposition from the start — once the flames are burning, the damage is already done. Multi-Site FMs would therefore be more effective if they could devote their time and increasingly limited resources to preventing fires instead of putting them out.

That’s the idea behind CBRE fmPilot Built on Microsoft Dynamics 365 Field Service, a next-generation retail integrated facilities management technology developed by CBRE and Microsoft. The technology automates and integrates facilities management in ways that make FMs proactive instead of reactive. The connectivity this platform creates between disparate systems will shift the industry standard of 20 years — scheduled and reactive maintenance — to a new way of working, predictive analytics and machine-based decision logic.

Bill Hayden, CBRE
Bill Hayden, CBRE

“FMs are being challenged by their leadership to do more with the systems they deploy,” said Bill Hayden, Sector President of CBRE’s Retail & Multi-Site sector, which provides industry solutions for facilities and project management. “If we can give them better data, they can build the business case for facilities management as being a key part of the customer experience.”

According to Hayden, over the past 15 years, the FM sector has deployed traditional CMMS technology but is not leveraging the robust data available in those systems, combined with other critical data from related systems and sources. By finally embracing full-scale data and digitalization, he said, FMs who are used to being treated as a business cost can recast themselves in the role of business driver.

Delivering on the ‘Single Pane of Glass’ Promise

CBRE’s legacy fmPilot solution was launched in 2006 and was made for managing work orders and processing invoices. Moving FMs from a reactive to a proactive position will take more than basic features, argued Hayden, who said the reimagined CBRE fmPilot is less like a traditional CMMS solution and more like a full-blown “real estate services platform.” CBRE Nexus Platform with CBRE fmPilot (built on Microsoft Dynamics 365 Field Service) positions retailers to use machine learning and the Internet of Things (IoT) to ingest and analyze data from disparate sources — for example, procure to pay, energy management systems, occupancy sensors and connected assets like elevators, ovens, or refrigerators. The result will be what the tech industry calls a “single pane of glass.”

“Many retailers have invested in energy management systems to make sure they’re shutting the lights off and not keeping their air-conditioning on overnight,” Hayden said. “But those things are disconnected from the work-order system. We are bridging that gap using our CBRE Nexus Platform.”

Bridging the gaps between technologies has a host of benefits. For one, the system can detect performance issues or anomalies in real time and automatically generate work orders. Once a work order is resolved, it can similarly monitor performance to validate that the work was actually completed. Meanwhile, the system can collect information about energy usage and cost, which a retailer could use to negotiate more favorable lease terms with landlords.

The platform is even more powerful at scale. Imagine, for instance, an FM with a vast portfolio of locations and a finite (and potentially shrinking) maintenance budget from which to service them.

A next-generation technology solution like CBRE fmPilot can automatically parse jobs and prioritize them based on dynamic variables like technician availability and skill set, the availability of parts and return on investment, be that in the form of optimal energy consumption, increased occupant comfort and/or reduced total cost of ownership.

Therein lies the real potential, according to King. “The value in having a smart facility is the ability to leverage historical and current data for predictive action. That predictive data allows you to drill down and anticipate consumer behaviors which impact the customer experience,” he said. “The payoff is minimized disruptions in service, reduced maintenance costs, limited downtime or outages and significantly lower asset breakdowns.”

“Furthermore, FM can focus on sustainable building practices as demand for reducing carbon footprint continues to grow,” King continued, who said FMs with predictive powers could have a meaningful impact not only on financial performance but also on strategic objectives like sustainability.

Hayden agreed. “As an industry, we pat ourselves on the back for being able to tell our leaders that it rained last week. But that’s not very interesting. If you can tell me it’s going to rain next week, then you’ve got my attention,” he said. “We’ve already got the scoreboard. Now we need to ask ourselves how we can change the game.”

Destination: Transformation

A new culture is needed along with technology, King said, who spoke at the 2022 Summer of Connexion event in Atlanta. “Culture illustrates the value recognized in the various groups across the organization. If the organization doesn’t see how each task or department contributes to the employee or customer experience, they’ll never make the necessary changes and investments to improve that area.

“It’s time for the industry to break away from their traditional operating methods, and digitizing facilities operations will become a lifeline to success,” King said.

Even before they implement retail integrated facilities management technology, FMs can lay the groundwork for disruption by taking inventory of existing data and systems and deciding which ones are most impactful for their business.

“The time to start is now because the expectations of the consumer are progressing rapidly and demands that we reexamine the entire customer experience — including how we manage our facilities,” King continued.

ConnexFM Leads the Way

“CBRE fmPilot Built on Microsoft Dynamics 365 Field Service is a great example of how the FM industry is embracing technology issues and digital transformation,” said Bill Yanek, CEO of ConnexFM. In 2021, ConnexFM formed its Technology Council to provide a space for members to stay up to date on FM-related technology issues and to learn more about tech companies and services. “Expect to see ConnexFM hosting technology-focused forums and events as we expand our technology footprint,” Yanek added.

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