#5QuestionsWith a Digital FM Expert

#5QuestionsWith is an interview series with RE experts to help the industry learn, grow, and be inspired. Read on as IoT and PropOps leaders talk to us about the highs and lows of what it means to be a change-maker in the smart buildings arena.

Cindy Hermsen is the CEO of the Global Alliance of Facility Management Innovators—a meeting point for FM industry leaders and FM startups worldwide. Cindy coined “FMTech” for all digital solutions covering a complete spectrum of FM activities. She is now on a quest to bring these solutions to the attention of any facility manager interested in preparing their corporations and personal careers for the coming years.

1. You’ve been a strong advocate for tech in FM. What benefits did you see that prompted you to rally for FMTech so strongly?

In the fourth industrial revolution that we are in, we organize our life -all our daily tasks, with a device, be it a smartphone, tablet, or PC. The same expectation for accessible, quick, and transparent services is penetrating our industry with the pandemic. Likewise, building stakeholders expect facility managers to respond in the same swift, real-time, and digital ways and these expectations are here to stay.

FM needs brought about by the pandemic, and the sustainability requirements for climate action are challenging facility managers. They will be asked to contribute to the organization of hybrid workplaces and the improvement of ESG-ratings. Energy management will be key to lower CO2 footprint. Buildings are used in different ways—shifting from static, inflexible use to dynamic or variable use – affecting everything from cleaning services to catering food and even waste management.

This combination of the industry stakeholders having high digital expectations and the sector facing all-time major challenges is why I am advocating for tech in FM.

Without FMTech to the rescue, we will not be able to stand the test of time.

2. How would you describe the impact of the pandemic in the facilities management and operations space? How has the perception around Digital FM changed since then?

The pandemic propelled facility management into the limelight, especially in the face of health, safety, and hybrid working challenges. These challenges have stimulated newcomers to enter the FM market and have given a boost to those already penetrating the sector before the pandemic.

We see this as a huge opportunity to refresh USPs and business models, which can be a bit archaic and unsustainable in FM. The focus on cost-cutting instead of value-added practices is still there but digital tech can alter this landscape. Soon, we see that FM’ers will have easy access to smart contracts based on blockchain, making outcome-based business models the norm and creating transparency among stakeholders. The industry is also fully aware of the influence digital innovation wields on the other great challenge it is facing – attracting younger talent into the profession.

3. What are some of the immediate challenges that FM professionals face daily that tech can help solve?

Hybrid working has been dominating the conversation in FM these days. It may make workplaces smaller but can be more demanding in space and comfort management because employees’ workspace experience now competes with the home experience. FM needs to collaborate with HR to provide remote workers the right set of tools, like furniture, IT installations, even cleaning and catering services. It may come to the point that FM will need to procure co-working offices. Hybrid and remote working emphasize inclusion and engagement, and FM has to contribute to this. We also see a clear shift in focus on employees’ well-being.

FM will need to deliver health and wellness practices to building users – like air quality monitoring, ergonomic furniture, inclusive, healthy, and diverse food.

Without the help of FMTech, like workplace management solutions, it will be difficult for facility managers to take on these challenges.

We see the same scenario with corporate FM departments who will need to adopt integral digital platforms where all their functionalities are managed. There will be less firefighting, more monitoring dashboards resulting in more strategic decision-making.

ESG will no longer be a buzzword but will be required by bankers and customers. The younger generations expect their service providers and their products to contribute to climate action. Facility managers will have to be specialists in energy management and transition to sustainable practices in buildings under their control or buy goods with a lower carbon footprint.

What do you see as a strategic approach to begin for newcomers into FM tech?

First is to get past the fear of tech being too complicated to adopt. It is a good idea to delve deeper into IoT devices as they are used everywhere in FMTech, but it is not necessary to study them fully before starting. A recommendation on further steps largely depends on the role in the FM industry and what activities are managed.

Facilities management has such a wide variety of activities and there is also a very broad range of startups working on FMTech solutions.

There are startups specifically working on all aspects of the cleaning sector—from engagement and inclusion of the workforce by gamification to tracing of high-value cleaning equipment with IoT to organizing data driving cleaning with AI. Others specialize in the maintenance of utilities, from big data extraction of assets to the creation of digital twins to the organization of workflows, reporting, and communication. In waste management, IoT is helping in emptying containers, and computer vision optimizes food waste in corporate kitchens. All this is just the tip of the iceberg; we are standing at the beginning of a new era.

It is normal to feel a little lost and not know where to begin or how to reach out. This is why the Global Alliance of Facility Management created its meeting point—all FMTech startups in one online platform, the place to go to for any facility manager wanting to stay abreast with the digital evolution in FM.

4. Which innovation around digitization in operations and smart building initiatives most excites you?

Rather than a specific innovation, it is something specific in the vision that all FMTech startups have in common that I find a true game-changer. I am talking about the ability and mission to empower all FM stakeholders – from directors, middle management, technicians to frontline workers. Our conversations with both FM service providers and tech companies have shown me that the true ingenious factor, the X-factor, lies in the combination of various smart technologies and the workforce, using the technology comfortably. Tech is for everybody working in the industry.

5. What was your motivation to start a company like the Global Alliance of FM Innovators? What has your journey as the CEO been like?

The first steps were taken in 2019 when a major Spanish FM Service Provider asked me to set up a corporate innovation program to scout startups with digital solutions for the FM industry. Finding these innovative emerging companies was not an easy task.

I found that various factors influence the innovation journey of FM service providers, corporate departments, or consultants. First, facility management covers various activities, transversely passing through numerous industry verticals. Second, startups involved are to be found in many different countries. Third, although managing a high-value portfolio of services and assets, many FM providers are smaller and even local parties. Most of them have no in-house specialists available to find and evaluate digital solutions. Fourth, there is usually no innovation budget available, as such budgets typically go to a company’s core activity.

It leads back to four words: “lack of easy access”.

So, in the summer of 2020, I decided to bring the learnings from the scouting program into the entire FM industry and go global: the Global Alliance of Facility Management Innovators (FM Innovators) was born! Shortly after that, I coined the denomination FM Tech. By 2021, FM Innovators completed the first phase innovation program, bringing over 150 facility management members on board by giving them access to FMTech startups, innovation concepts and FM Trends for 12 weeks.

Today, FM Innovators is embarking on the next phase of the program, focusing on FM decision-makers and the innovation ecosystem. It’s just the beginning, and we are excited to take on the challenges and live up to our mission of being the meeting point for FM and FMTech.

The journey has been exciting! We hit a sweet spot and saw how much interest there is for FMTech. Our goal is to become the trusted meeting point for all stakeholders in the FM industry. I would like to be in the front seat, with the other drivers in the industry, to realize this goal and at the same time see innovation as the norm rather than the exception in FM. We have started the conversation, the first steps and there is still a long way to go!