Smart asset tracking apps for property & facilities businesses
The UK boasts one of Europe’s most mature property and facilities sectors. House prices are up 10% on the year, and some estimates suggest that the facilities management [FM] market is now worth 7.5% of GDP. Robust demand, a progressive approach to outsourcing and a low interest-rate environment have all given this corner of the economy a healthy glow.
However, beneath the surface-level optimism, there are underlying issues. Even without Covid-19, which has placed new restrictions on physical proximity and created reams of red tape, there is the uncertainty around Brexit, which has created disruption for labour forces, and many commentators are pointing to skills shortages in key areas.
Amid this fog of uncertainty, technology provides a lighthouse. And we’re not just talking about the technology that powers smart building or HVAC systems; we’re talking about asset and job management, which is powered by the same underlying innovation.
In this blog, we’ll talk about how asset management solutions can plug into the modern breed of property and facilities management systems. We’ll analyse:
- The various asset types that property and FM firms must consider
- The unique challenges and requirements each of these asset types create
- How asset and job management solutions, particularly all-in-one packages, provided a new-normal solution
The assets required by property and facilities management firms can be divided into four principal categories.
Properties and facilities:
This is the ‘top line: the buildings themselves. Houses, apartments, offices and public amenities are the lifeblood of the industry, and each premise has its own unique requirements. It is crucial for business managers to understand the costs and revenues they generate for them.
Essentials systems and infrastructure:
Buildings rely on a variety of systems to function effectively. These include boilers, heating systems, water pipes, electricity installations, temperature monitors, air conditioning units and security devices. For some properties, the outdoors, garden and pools for example, must also be well maintained.
Furniture and equipment:
Even when equipment is not fundamental to the day-to-day operation of a property, it can have a direct impact on the people using the facility. As well as fridges, microwaves, televisions and WiFi connections can all make or break the experience of a property, and may be the responsibility of the building manager. Then, of course, there’s the old-fashioned furniture like chairs, tables and beds.
Small items and supplies:
Kitchen utensils, cleaning products, bed linen… These things need to be accounted for and it is important to keep track of – or better, anticipate – their stock levels to provide quality service to tenants or customers.
To manage each of these different asset types effectively, companies must complete the following six objectives:
Accurate asset registration:
This is crucial for all four asset types, but particularly for the buildings themselves. Firms need a register of all their buildings (whether they are residential, commercial or industrial), with a complete description. They also need to keep track of their useful in order to renew them at the optimal time (before they start damaging the tenant experience and costing too much).
Constant, effective physical monitoring:
Everything must be monitored constantly – the properties, the core infrastructure and the accessories. Owners must ensure that buildings are being used appropriately (avoiding, for example, sub-letting) and prevent the theft of equipment.
Regular reading of meters & core systems:
Any signs of unusual consumption must be identified, both to undertake essential repair work (if the consumption is caused by a leak) and charge the cost to tenants if appropriate.
Forensic stock maintenance:
The quantity of all small items and supplies must be tracked and managed. If these items run out, it can be a source of considerable frustration for the tenant.
Accurate warranty records:
The property and FM industry has to deal with a whole raft of warranties. This is a crucial part of the overall management process; by replacing equipment when it is still in warranty, management firms can realise huge savings.
Much of the property equipment stack, from boilers and pipes to key electric installations, requires regular maintenance. These maintenance schedules and other repairs activities must be properly co-ordinated to prevent downtime and outages.
Additionally, companies need to carefully plan and track all staff and supplier hours working on the property in order to accurately invoice their customers.
In the past, handling the various functions outlined above using old-school pen-and-paper records may have been very time-consuming and ineffective. However, this is now trickier than ever. For one thing, the financial constraints of Covid-19 have forced many companies to downsize; for another, the new age of distance and flexible working means it is impossible to run a property company by traditional means.
Today, every member of the company needs access to all the information.
Where asset management software comes in
Since facility and property management activities are asset-intensive activities, most SME businesses in these sectors find that asset management software delivers the most value for them.
Furthermore, asset management software allows them to benefit from IoT i.e. the global network of connected devices which share information with one another. There are billions of these devices in the world today, and they now underpin the property industry.
When data from an HVAC system is fed to the radiator, when a security system is used to control entry to the property or when a smart thermometer powers a garden sprinkler system… all are examples of IoT at work.
Asset management technology pulls data from the various IoT devices… their location, their performance, their maintenance requirements and even their compliance with environmental standards.
The benefits of modern asset management can be divided into four key sections.
A full spectrum of assets, all with their own characteristics, management methods and useful features can all be managed from the same central portal. Using the EAM app, the company can track the location of every single asset in real time.
- Key benefit: Loss and theft is kept to a minimum. At the same time, the company can establish when an asset is available and allocate it to the nearest available operative.
As well as tracking location, IoT devices can send reams of extremely relevant and useful data to the central EAM platform. Crucially, these devices can send information about the performance of equipment in real-time, and alert the company to potential outages.
- Key benefit: Managers can schedule the right maintenance for each asset, and even move towards the holy grail of predictive maintenance – fixing an asset before it breaks down.
Scheduling & workflows
Smart notifications and centralised project management boards can bring the various stakeholders (team, suppliers and customer) together. At the same time, field employees have ways to easily feed back to the office thanks to mobile apps. For example they can easily log their hours or upload a picture to show a potential fault and allow tenants to log service requests into the central system.
- Key benefit: Even if companies are spread over hundreds of miles, their entire workflow is now streamlined.
EAM software doesn’t simply keep track of physical assets: it can help companies manage their human workforce, too.
Modern EAM systems can easily plug in to HR and payroll software, and they can track a host of financial metrics from staff costs to customer invoices and revenues.
- Key benefit: For property firms which have felt the force of Covid-19, EAM allows them to keep track of their finances and deliver a better experience to their staff.
The final frontier: 360° smart asset management
All-in-one asset management software allows facilities managers to effectively manage the wide range of assets we’ve described previously: from stock items managed in quantity to property furniture, equipment to building infrastructure, even their fleet of vehicles. Key features cover inventory, lifecycle and maintenance management of these assets, but they also enable tracking of human resources required to maintain these assets (thanks to real-time time and attendance tracking) as well as the financial management of properties (both costs and revenues).
Now, every part of the business (property managers, surveyors, maintenance teams, contracts specialists, client-facing staff) have to input their core information once and once only. The entire data lake is concentrated in one central reservoir, rather than being bottled up in different siloes.
This means that any query regarding the company’s assets can be resolved instantly. How much is this property actually costing me? There is no need to go digging into different applications or spending countless hours trying to reconcile the data. You can now have a true understanding of the financial picture: every single cost, from every physical aspect of the business, can be seen at a glance.
This is, we believe, the future of the property industry. It’s fast, co-ordinated, agile and proactive. The industry has always functioned on huge staff rosters pulling together, but the Covid pandemic has made it practically impossible. Joined-up, smart connected asset management software provides a better way forward.
Where Bulbthings can help
Bulbthings offers an easy, smart asset management app for SMEs, helping them automate their asset and facility maintenance activities. Our modular offering means they can easily enable the features they need as they grow. Find out more about it now.