13 March 2017 | Martin Read
Professor John Hinks, speaking at last month's Workplace Futures conference, spoke of how technology is presenting the FM sector with a trick-or-treat moment for a next-gen, data-led, service-led model. But, writes Martin Read, is FM ready to respond?
Workplace Futures has the air of one of FM’s ‘classic’ annual events, and certainly one of the first conferences of real muscle in the calendar year. This year it was the turn of research specialist Professor John Hinks to set the tone of the event – and in a richly detailed presentation, he certainly achieved that.
At its heart, Hinks’s presentation was a call for the FM sector to come together and embrace the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) that characterises the world of work in 2017 - and present a new approach to the emerging decentralised and more individual-centric workplace.
Painting a picture of a world in technological and political flux, Hinks identified growing automation as a potential ‘black swan’ – a seismic shift in the way business is conducted, and one with an impact only fully in retrospect. He pointed by example to the growth of giant ‘disintermediator’ businesses – Amazon, Uber, AirBnB, Google, Dropbox and the like – all ‘meta-level organisations “taking data and drawing out complex, integrated, synthetic analyses of what is going on”.
Disintermediation, said Hinks, was when a third party “gets between you and your client, the supply chain or even your colleagues, operating the interface that you would traditionally have controlled and changing it into something they control through use of intelligence and data analytics at a macro rather than person-to-person level”.
“How their customers travel, commute, purchase – the pictures these organisations are building put them in a position where they can seriously influence the service experience of consumers, allowing them the ability to curate their own work style and lifestyle.”
This shift, said Hinks, “changes managers’ and leaders’ responsibilities; it shifts power to the democracy of ‘the network within organisations’; and it takes people off the corporate footprint.”
Hinks’ view was that FM is at risk of having these giant disintermediators coming into the sector, automating such processes as compliance, liability and response management. FM firms would then be in a position where they were doing no more than “gigging” FM on the disintermediators behalf.
“The threat is that FM service providers become marginalised as mere providers of commoditised service – making us just a part of the picture rather than a controlling element.”
Hinks warned that developments such as as the Internet of Things, with the cataloguing and programming of anticipated maintenance, for example, would take the service close to ‘AI-augmented FM’, “where you would only need a para-professional FM to provide [service].”
How, then, to respond? Technology, says Hinks, is presenting the FM sector with a trick-or-treat moment for a next-gen, data-led, service-led FM model. There is, he warned, “the near-term risk of losing control of key value and differentiation pinch points”.
The FM sector needed to focus around the person rather than the building, “because the service you provide is coming from the technology in their hand”.
A future next-gen FM model would demand common protocols and standards, “but the big lesson from all the disintermediation so far is that it requires industry-level coopetition to protect an industry overall.”
A particularly far-sighted vision perhaps, but Hinks’s focus on the ‘black swan’ phenomenon – dramatic change identified too late – was not lost on his audience. Hinks suggested the entire sector having a shared vision and intent (“moving as a network is the only way to find the bandwidth we need”) and “an industry-wide innovation framework to sustain the shared focus that we need to become more than the sum of our parts.” It’s quite the vision for FM’s future, and whether the sector could adapt was left unsaid.