FM Tech - PropTech’s BIG Little Sister

Note: Originally published:

PropTech vs. FMTech

Until recently, in the FM community, only the PropTech startup ecosystem was getting clear attention. These digital solutions applied to property and to the broad  Real Estate market do not all cover all the daily activities of facility managers; especially those not working for commercial real estate corporations. In the FM context, PropTech talks most of the time about solutions for office buildings like Workplace Management, but facility managers activities extend beyond office buildings, covering facilities in other built environments like hotels, factories, hospitals and more.

If we break down the differences and similarities between facility managers and property managers – both take care of their buildings, but big difference is that for real estate companies, the building IS the business, while for facility managers, the building “just” gives service to the core business of the corporation, which generally speaking has nothing to do with the building itself.  Put simply, for real estate, the building is their product, for FM departments, the building is a tool.

The scope of PropTech is as broad as the real estate market itself. Without claiming to be exhaustive,  it also encompasses smart cities’ solutions and infrastructure, mobility technology, home swapping for seasonal rentals, real estate buy-and-selling platforms, smart home viewing booking tools, virtual home staging specialist – we can see how quickly it drifts away from facility management activities.

FMTech, as we would like to call it, covers startups dedicated to buildings’ digitalization, but also encompasses all other solutions that apply to daily facility management activities, like Food and Beverage Supply, Fleet Management, Waste Management, Hospitality, and Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement of the Workforce, to mention a few.

FMTech is the go-to startup ecosystem for Facility Management. It overlaps with PropTech as a BIG little sister  whose impact to the built environment’s direct users and occupants cannot be minimized and has its own characteristics, activities, and players.

FM in Numbers

Global Market Insights projects FM Market to grow from $1 TN in 2019 to $2 TN in 2026. This growth trajectory and market size is significant to warrant the attention of the FM industry.

In addition, according to Frost & Sullivan's Growth Opportunities in the Global Facility Management Market, Forecast to 2025, the revenues from the global facility management sector are projected to reach $925 billion by 2025, up from $837 billion in 2019, despite seeing a significant drop in 2020 due to the pandemic.

The return to pre-COVID-19 levels of growth is expected to be driven by cutting-edge technological innovations, such as Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, and advanced connectivity, plus creative new service offerings enabled by the digital transformation of the facility management market and the accelerated deployment of digital technology due to the pandemic.

The pandemic has also highlighted FM’s significant role in keeping the built environment’s users and occupants safe, healthy, and happy.

Along with our mission to make digital innovation and transformation readily accessible to FM practitioners, we decided to own-up technology in FM and coined “FM Tech” in June 2021, shortly  after the Global Alliance of Facility Management Innovators (FM Innovators) was founded.

FMTech Defined

In the broadest sense, FMTech is digital technology and innovation used to support or enable facilities management and its services. Expanding on this definition, FMTech  has modern technology behind it – VR, AI, big data, IoT to name a few - that can be readily integrated in existing systems. It provides answers and outcomes that bring stakeholders together under one tool to access readily available data (cloud-based or streamed) captured from objective tech sources (meaning not manual).

We define FM Tech sectors to include but not limited to Operations and Maintenance (includes Cleaning, Energy Management and Waste Management, etc.), Access and Security, Occupancy and Health, Food and Beverage Supply, Hospitality, Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement and Others like Fleet Management, Supply Chain and Logistics.

Adoption of FM Tech in Current FM Activities

It is undeniable that the pandemic has upended how built environments are accessed, used, and managed. It has necessitated and accelerated the adoption of digital technology and solutions in facility management. Here are examples of how FM Tech has helped facility managers innovate and address the challenges brought about by the pandemic as well as how FM Tech is shaping the way facilities will be managed in the future:

1. Access Control, Visitor and Workplace Management, Workplace and Workspace Analytics

With the pandemic and the need to observe and comply with health protocols, we see an increasing need for digital solutions like contactless access controls the moment people enter the building. Swiftlane's common area access control solutions are right in this alley. FM Tech Veris, offers a  number of solutions for visitor express check-ins, configurable visitor workflows and advanced real-time analytics. It also has seamless meet scheduling, simplified room booking, enables employees to view desk availability, map occupancy levels & reserve desks instantly or way in advance via mobile or web as well as touchless check-ins, thermal scanning, contact tracing, heath declarations to ensure return-readiness at all times.

Similar workspace management solutions that emphasize transparency in occupancy and air quality data creates are offered by Spaceti, an FM Tech aiming at implementing a hybrid workplace safely. Another FM Tech providing innovative solutions in the workplace is Metrikus, with its ESG solution in addition to occupancy and capacity monitoring and indoor air data.  For enormous workspaces and built environments like shopping malls, hospitals, concert venues and airports; we have indoor positioning and wayfinding from Situm and MapsPeople that do not only help employees navigate and follow social distancing protocols but more importantly allow for people to find their way around.

In hospitality industry that is hugely affected by the pandemic, greeting and conciergerie robots are being used to limit in-person exposure of visitors and clients. Yunji Technology’s robot “RUN” delivers food and items to hotel guests – substituting part of the regular staff. It independently takes in commands from the guests, communicates to the elevators and calls the guest’s room telephone to announce its arrival.

IoT is the key-enabling tech is the development of all these applications; sensors (such as those provided by PointGrab) are quickly becoming smarter and are feeding algorithms with more and better data to increase accuracy.

 2.  Data-driven, dynamic cleaning as opposed to static fixed route for cleaning

Before the pandemic, data-driven cleaning was already starting to get recognized due to the rise in co-working spaces. The pandemic and hybrid working do not only necessitate extra cleaning but will bring addition to dynamic cleaning as opposed to static fixed route for cleaning. Where before, we knew the peak hours – the time where there is maximum number of people in a given area – with hybrid working, this is no longer the case. Cleaning will become more of on-demand, especially in areas where you have the highest potential concentration of viruses and bacteria – like desk spaces (complicated further by “hot desking”, with different people using each desk), keyboards and doorknobs. Digital solutions like sensors on desks, counters on spaces (people counters for example to count number of people passing through a desk and cleaning it after a certain number) and cleaning requests buttons (either physical buttons on desks or via apps) are now readily available.

An example of an FMTech providing this is Wowex which integrates technology, data and services towards  a flexible and collaborative solution designed to make the building user’s and also cleaner´s experience more positive. Cleaning robots are still big devices and are more common in big spaces like airports or hotel lobbies. There are other kinds of robotic cleaning solutions like Skyline Robotics that take care of window cleaning of large buildings  and skyscrapers and is easily moved from one facility to another.

You will not see cleaning robots in confined spaces so with the hybrid workplace, trend is towards empowering human cleaning staff with technology driven by for example, AI and big data.

 3. Intelligent maintenance management platforms, energy management systems and digital twins

FMTech presents two clear tendencies in the asset and buildings maintenance area.

First, the complete process of maintenance workflows is being automatized and optimized, using digitalization as a smart liquid glue to merge all information and communication flows together. User experience of these maintenance platforms is key; the solutions are set up in a way that they are both attractive and easy to use by the mechanical engineer doing the job on site as by the FM director having to report to the Board. Inefficiencies are eliminated and predictive maintenance is set in place. Infraspeak , Facilio and Enertiv lead the pack on providing operations and maintenance platforms like this.

The same is true for energy consumption and management, AI-based software solutions like the those from The Predictive Company, for energy efficiency give personalized prediction of energy demand with the software setting-up heating, ventilation, and AC machines (HVAC) for their optimal use. Another energy and sustainability platform solution in this league is Faradai which in addition to energy optimization also provide solar energy and sustainability management for its customers.

A second group of FM Tech startups like OrthoGraph focuses on creating digital twins of a building, aiming to give facility managers an “operational BIM” accessible in the cloud, with data easy to be updated to the real situation if changes in the building or asset occur. These digital twins are enriched with data of the assets installed in them, through documents digitally “stuck” to the asset (think manuals, maintenances schedules and updates) or by these data to be visualized through augmented reality.

 4. Food and Beverage in the Hybrid Workplace

In times when remote working is happening at a large scale, gathering as a team will feel like a moment to celebrate with good food and drinks catering to everyone’s preference. Moreover, as these gatherings can take place at any moment of the day, catering has to be available at any time. Individuality plus all-time availability --  not an easy one to solve.

In the last few years, startups specialized in “corporate catering marketplaces” are helping solve this puzzle. These startups have created digital platforms in which all kinds of local catering companies can offer food and beverage packages to the corporations in their city.  Facility managers can leave it up to the department managers to order the F&B they would like to receive at the hour that suits them best. The company  then receives one centralized invoice from the startup. The startups running the corporate catering platforms take care of curating their individual catering and have an account management team to assist facility managers with a quick and easy set-up.

Catevering is an FM Tech startup from Barcelona is an example of this catering platforms.  In Germany, we can find heycater and Bella & Bona; in the UK and  City Pantry and Feedr and in the US. With part of the workforce working remotely at home, these platforms now offer corporations packages of F&B delivered individually to each employee’s doorstep.

The “concept of corporate townhalls” is also being increasingly adopted in the workplace. The corporate town hall idea was branded this way in a 2019 study of Sodexo in collaboration with Wyman. The study revealed that: “The workplace cafeteria is no longer viewed as just a place to have meals; instead, it is now looked upon as a space to encourage interaction, collaboration and employee engagement. Therefore, the entire design of the cafeteria has changed; the concept of corporate town halls is trending, so that employees can move around the workplace with ease, and even work in the cafeteria while sipping a cup of coffee.”

Think of it as an office where people come in when they feel to or when they are asked to do so. Imagine workers can take a seat in a blue-zoned hot desk for full concentration or a red-signaled meeting area with more informal, even sofa-like seating. Coffee corners all around with those coffee machines that are missed so much for informal but constructive chatting. And a food corner. An informal, easy to reach food corner, no need to pass through doors into a canteen-like area, with its typical smells and sounds.

Leading the charge in providing easy access to food in the workplace is French startup  Totem,  with their food corners. Dubbed as “office convenience stores”, Totem food corners serve anything from coffee, tea, chilled drinks, cereals, breads, fruits, and quick meals that are organic, healthy and gourmet quality.  Also available are small convenient articles like umbrellas, batteries, and headphones.

These new demands brought about by the pandemic may very well usher disruptive innovative solutions in the FM industry and change it for good, and permanently.

About the Global Alliance of Facility Management Innovators  (FM Innovators)

The Global Alliance of Facility Management Innovators (FM Innovators) is the meeting point where FM decision-makers can stay abreast of the industry's evolution – from latest (and long-term) trends to innovative solutions fueled by startups. Membership is open to board members of FM service providers, corporate FM directors, heads of innovation, business transformation managers, and FM consultants who we collectively call FM Innovators. On a weekly basis,  there is new content on the FM Innovators' membership hub, providing future proof, practical and comprehensive tech knowledge for FM professionals.

Guided by the mission of giving easy access to FM startup innovation, the Global Alliance of Facility Management Innovators offers a Free Basic Membership program to any facility manager wanting to get acquainted with digital solutions, empowering their knowledge, companies, and personal careers.

The extensive “Boost-Your-Innovation Program” is aimed at industry leaders and decision-makers. It is not an individual, but a company membership, in which five members of a corporation gain access to the program. Through this program, Facility Managers and FM Industry leaders can immerse themselves in FM Tech without the high risks and costs associated with running their own innovation program from the ground up.