FMTech Insights: Digital Empowerment in Facilities Management as a Drive for Transformation


FMTech Insights is a series where subject matter experts and thought leaders in FMTech share their knowledge and opinions on the topic of their expertise; helping the industry learn, innovate and grow. The series will cover every sector in FM – from workplace management, operations and maintenance, energy management, waste management and everything in between.

Ignasi Casamada is the Co-founder & CEO at Optima Facilityan FM service provider specializing in the management and provision of a wide range of services (Maintenance, Security, Installations, Cleaning, Energy Services, etc.) with over 30 years of experience managing services for clients in the Spanish and international market. It offers a flexible service provider model and adapts to the specific demands of each client -- from a single service individually as a specialist provider, to an integrated FM services under an "Open Facility Management" model. Digital innovation and human empowerment is the core of Optima Facility's value proposal.


FMTech Insights: Digital Empowerment in Facilities Management as a Drive for Transformation

Creating new value through empowerment, innovation and people-centred technology

Data-driven organizations

Data in the form of accurate and instantly accessible insights is essential for any organization, whether it's to deliver a better-personalized customer experience, to optimize operations or to empower its teams.

Today's data can answer the questions of tomorrow. An organization with an appropriate culture of transformation can be ahead of its competitors in the race to identify and take advantage of new opportunities.

So did Netflix, which in its early days sent DVD's by ordinary mail and, today, it has become what we already know, a platform that generates digital content powered by artificial intelligence.

Nowadays, we talk about data as the gold of our time, the bargaining chip that brands are hankering to get, the key to reaching customers better and in a more effective way. Perhaps, one of the most interesting examples is 'Data Pro Quo', the first vending machine in which products are paid for with answers and information provided by customers.

As Cindi Howson exposes at the latest MIT symposium: "Data-driven businesses enjoy higher revenues, better customer service, better operational efficiencies, and higher profitability".

Closing the data gap

While we are all aware that data plays a critical role, a recent survey by Accenture proves that too many companies keep on missing out on their full value. Most organizations are not yet ready to focus on data as the centre of their business.

Let's see the case:

  •  An overwhelming 84% of organizations lack an adequate data platform.        
  •  81% of organizations lack a strategy to fully capitalize on their data assets.        
  •  Only 31% consider themselves data-driven and only 28% have created a data culture.

Where are the most relevant data in FM?

In Facility Management, as in other industries, it is customers who determine success and the only group that interacts with customers on a daily basis is the frontline teams - a huge community of more than 2 billion people across the globe.

Companies at the forefront of digital transformation recognize it as the first and most elementary step in their strategy to empower and equip, in terms of technology, their frontline workforce, so that these can effectively access data and make informed decisions at the moment.

According to a Harvard Business Review study, only 20% of companies are truly empowering frontline workers with data. As Cindi Howson said, "that is an unacceptable situation for the state of the industry after 25 years."

The great disconnect from front-line teams in FM

We have all heard saying that in the FM industry, people are the most important asset. This certainly makes perfect sense since FM is a business where front-line teams are at the center of operations and act the closest to the customers.

But I wonder: how is it possible that the FM Industry claims their frontline people are their greatest asset if this group of employees is usually placed outside the decision-making and corporate communication channels?

Without a doubt, the causes of this technological and emotional disconnection have real and deep reasons. Some causes are the following.

  • Frontline personnel work assigned at the customer's premises. This means that the employer, the FM service provider, has its workforce very geographically dispersed in hundreds or thousands of work centres causing complexity in terms of communication.    
  • A frontline job is often a solo job with night and weekend shifts, with little contact with colleagues or supervisors.    
  • In some countries, especially the European ones, labour laws dictate “subrogation” also known as Transfer of Undertakings and Protection of Employees (TUPE), which establishes that in the event that a client changes the FM service provider, the workers assigned to the service on the client’s facilities will retain their position and working conditions, simply passing on to the payroll of the new service provider. The frequent employer-rotation fosters a bond between the employee and the end-customer (which is a positive aspect) but a disconnection with their employer, the service provider.

The disconnection with the employer has a negative impact on absenteeism and employee retention.

In some countries, FM providers are experiencing staff turnover that can be as high as 200%, according to a SoftBank report.

Unlock the potential of front-line teams

In my vision, frontline teams are undoubtedly the most important asset, but at the same time the most undervalued. In most cases, the FM Industry has not been able to unlock its true knowledge and potential.

Frontline teams are the closest to the customer and we have to leverage the fact that they are a valuable source of information and knowledge.

Let me explain an example that illustrates the vital relevance of feedback from front-line teams, in what was our experience at Optima Facility when implementing the first algorithm to predict the need for cleaning. In this data-driven cleaning project, during the first phase, the effectiveness of the algorithm was not very encouraging: we reached a number as low as 58.5%. But one of the actions that allowed us to substantially improve the efficiency of the algorithm was to incorporate instant feedback from the front-line cleaning teams. The cleaners literally became “The Masters of the Algorithm”.

Therefore, the challenge we have as an FM sector is to empower frontline teams in such a way that it creates both a feeling of self-management and while not losing the appropriate controls for the FM organization.

What makes this possible is the combination of immediate availability of high-quality information and knowledge at the point of contact with customers and operations and the ability to receive high-quality instant feedback from the frontline worker in the same cloud-based digital system.

There are two critical aspects to creating an empowered and data-driven business. The first implies technological empowerment and the second implies a cultural change.

   A. Empowerment with technology and data

We must equip frontline teams with the right data, information and technology to enable faster, more distributed and higher quality decision making. We need to provide information to frontline workers digitally on-site in a way that is easy and understandable.

Training must be a priority, not only to teach workers to use new technological tools but also to show them how to effectively apply the knowledge provided by this technology.

We should provide tech tools and data to obtain data. This retro-alimentation of quality data pushes the organization forward on the right track and causes continuous improvement.

   B. Cultural change

In a worldwide survey made to leaders over the past year, Cindi Howson realized that 61% said that "culture, not technology nor people, is the biggest barrier to becoming a data-driven organization".

In addition to equipping employees with new tools and digital information, engagement from all parts of the organization is key, from leaders to middle managers and the frontline workers themselves.

Making decisions to take root in the culture requires moving from a hierarchical way of working to a more distributed one. Many refer to this as the democratization of data. In this cultural transformation, it should not be forgotten that managers and supervisors play an essential role (according to 91% of the surveys), shifting their tasks towards training and facilitating. In turn, these also require new tools and training so that they can empower frontline teams.

A more humanistic view of FM

According to a survey published in the report "The Future of Cleaning", an overwhelming 89% of cleaning staff do not feel sufficiently respected neither socially nor financially. Although the pandemic has valued the enormous effort of this group of workers, sometimes they feel invisible and undervalued. With high rates of staff turnover and absenteeism, it is critical that FM service providers keep their teams motivated and engaged.

So what are we waiting for? At Optima facility we are aware that our success is a reflection of the attitude, motivation and commitment of our frontline teams. That is why we are not only equipping our frontline teams with technology, we are also promoting a new empowerment paradigm that encourages participation, decision-making and the contribution of their valuable knowledge. Our disruptive “Engagement Program” is validated by experts in neuroscience, work psychology, gamification and positive psychology. This work team is led by Dr Meritxell Obiols, professor at the University of Barcelona, coach, trainer and writer. The goal of this program is to promote the recognition, gamification and reward of a group of more than 7,000 people in our organization who are the key for us to creating a more efficient operational model focused on the customer experience.

In the future, FM's leading organizations will promote this more humanistic vision where frontline teams will be at the center of the value proposition. They will not only be able to make decisions based on data but will also be encouraged to go beyond the scope of their usual tasks to operate in a more autonomous and proactive way.

As we become more versed in how data drives decision making, we will see new ways of working. But let's recognize that it will not be an easy road.

It requires a big change in organizations: to adapt their hierarchy and culture to a new way of doing business. It is certainly a major challenge, but facility management leaders who embrace this more humanistic vision will be the ones who will succeed in the future and will open the way for others to follow in the evolution and transformation of the FM industry. 


Disclaimer: the opinion of the author does not necessarily reflect that of the Global Alliance of Facility Management Innovators.