The Facilities Management (FM) industry in Singapore is at a crossroads. Singapore being an open economy is vulnerable to global pressures including the US-China trade war and rising interest rates that may impact its growth. The Singapore government has always made it a priority to invest in infrastructure and the built environment so that the city ranks amongst the most liveable cities in the world. It hopes that with these accolades, corporates will continue to invest in and operate out of their offices and plants in Singapore. To this end, the quality of its buildings and facilities within are constantly being transformed to meet global standards in sustainability and liveability.
Keeping up to date with the latest trends in the Facilities Management industry would therefore help FM managers to meet these global standards.
Key Trends in Facilities Management to Watch Out for in 2019
FM Skills Crunch
Technology in facilities management is only as good as the people handling them. Technological advances demand people using these equipment to be trained to operate them to exude its full potential. For example, the value of drones can only be fully realised if the facility technician is not only trained to fly them but more importantly, able to harness the video images and data gathered to make meaningful assessment to upkeep and resolve facilities issues while keeping operational costs manageable.
Singapore is always challenged by a very tight labour force. The issue has become even more perplexing as local authority exercise very tight control in hiring foreign labour. This is to motivate resource owners to be more productive as Singapore positions itself to become a smart nation. The government has identified a number of industries that are primed to take Singapore to the next level in terms of automation, digitisation and Artificial Intelligence. The FM industry is one of these on the transformation path to be part of the nation’s smart framework.
Such a move has cast light on the skillsets of FM workforce in Singapore. The gap will widen before it can be narrowed as technology advances faster than one can catch up. The sheer number of buildings and facilities that have emerged in the densely concrete island in the last 20 years has put pressure on the supply of labour in the FM industry. The labour force in soft services sectors like landscape, security and cleaning services which have always been anchored by mature workers are feeling the heat now as workers have to constantly go for training to upgrade their skills as facility owners begin to automate to manage costs.
On the other hand, attracting and retaining FM professionals is proving to be another set of challenges. Younger graduates who majored in FM and current FM practitioners are switching careers outside of FM as the industry is usually encumbered by long working hours, 24/7 standby, shift work, and always being at the receiving end of customer complaints and problems.
The roles played by institutes of higher learning such as National University of Singapore (NUS), industry bodies like IFMA, and government agencies like the Building & Construction Authority (BCA) will be critical in helping the FM industry to bridge the skill gap of the workforce. While the government governs the quality and standards of the built environment. Learning institutions have to nurture a generation of FM professionals with the competence to identify, diagnose and rectify facilities issues speedily. Over and beyond technical competency, a paradigm shift in the mentality of FM professionals is also needed – to build a culture of innovation from within, and from ground up in the FM organisation.
FM practitioners working on the ground daily have an intimate knowledge of the real problems and issues that the facility faced daily. They are people in the best position to diagnose any facility issues and experiment with technology to solve problems. This innovative spirit is amplified when leaders put in a supportive structure that encourages staff to adopt fresh approach to resolve problems and provide occupiers a safe, healthy and positive experience that in turn will most likely improves productivity in the FM operations.
Facility managers will thrive in a culture where leaders believe in the value of constant training and re-training of staff, and one that fosters experimentations with new technology. An example is the investment in Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to enable facility managers to be more efficient in troubleshooting problems or even alerting technicians to possible defects ahead before the system fails. What is critical is that staff are forward thinking, agile and innovative professionals who dare to experiment new ways of doing things to provide occupiers a better experience.
Adoption of New Technology
At some facilities, technicians and site managers sit together to brainstorm different types of technology and methods to solve problems. In many cases, the solution is practical, easy to execute and affordable. Simple and ready-to-use equipment such as surveillance cameras sold on the internet can be used for a variety of FM functions to improve staff productivity. That is, FM staff can deploy cameras on the ground and from their office, monitor work progress across multiple sites simultaneously, ensure proper execution of maintenance tasks by vendors, and even deter illegal dumping activities on site.
With increased automation, facility and engineering professionals will be able to spend more time managing tenants and occupiers’ needs and probably oversee a bigger portfolio of buildings. The skill required to handle customer feedback, manage third party vendors and contractors on behalf of clients is an intricate blend of customer service, transactional analysis, negotiation and often, a keen sense of intuition which are skills that machines and Artificial Intelligence will not be able to learn for a long time to come.
An Increasingly Competitive Landscape
Every year, the Singapore government procures $20 billion in goods and services, opening up tremendous business opportunities for service providers including those in the FM industry.
Competition in the industry has now become more intense as the pool of players has diversified. Construction and building engineering firms are beginning to diversify into facilities management as a means to hedge against the declining construction economy.
The widening of the service provider base has therefore resulted in the race to the bottom on facility management fees. The Singapore government is cognizant that a healthy balance between price and quality must be maintained in evaluating FM tenders. It has also recently reinforced its vision for innovation and enterprise as the key principle underpinning procurement practices and spelled out concrete ways in which it will promote innovation further.
One of the steps is to adopt outcome-based tender specifications where bidders propose solutions to achieve desired outcomes as opposed to just meeting certain specifics or designated headcounts. What is encouraging is that the government is looking for fresh approaches to facilities management and has given more weightage to proposals with innovative solutions. This will certainly nudge FM service providers to test their boundary and limits, opening up possibilities for partnership with start-ups and service providers in other markets to develop the most cost effective solution.
Remote Management and Outsourcing as Means for Efficiency
The buzz around sensors and its ability to detect movement and optimise energy usage will soon give way to better and more sophisticated technology. FM service providers are already experimenting Internet of Things devices to monitor buildings’ electrical and mechanical systems remotely from a central command centre while reducing the number of manpower required on site. Facility owners are won over by the 24/7 monitoring systems that give them peace of mind and the speedy response promised by mobile FM teams who can see to any incidents on site.
FM service providers and vendors who have performed satisfactorily can continue to do more of what they are good at and improve further. Overall, the FM outsourcing market place will be driven to innovate further and experiment more, raising the quality of their service offerings through healthy competition.
These recent developments augur well for the FM industry. Ultimately, facility owners and occupiers stand to benefit the most as they are assured of quality that is an aggregation of best practices. Enterprises that chose to take FM in-house because of cost, might begin to reconsider to outsource FM.