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Digitising of property operations is transforming the way buildings are run, enhancing visibility, efficiency and sustainability across portfolios. Forward-thinking owners and operators are embedding data, analytics and technology into the operational management of properties as part of a modern approach.

There is little doubt that such embracing of innovation is the way forward for effective property operations, but it can be complex. And some fail to reach their full potential. There are a wide range of underlying causes, from underestimating the complexity, failing to focus on the employee experience, or a lack of commitment to break out of existing operational silos.

To give your portfolio every chance of success when planning, executing and embedding a digitised operational model, there are some key things to consider.

1. Think of it as a people project

The most critical success factor is people. Addressing buy-in and ongoing engagement of site teams and contractors will make or break the initiative. You will inevitably encounter those that are excited and enthusiastic and others who are sceptical and resistant to change.

Both groups of people are critical to success. While the more enthusiastic people are valuable, spending time to really understand what’s behind the scepticism of your more resistant stakeholders will be immensely helpful. And, if you can successfully bring them on the journey, they can become your most powerful advocates.

Facilities Managers are critical. They play a foundational role in the everyday management of their respective properties, so their buy-in and ongoing engagement will have a major impact on the project’s success. They have the skills and resources to execute the refreshed operational model, so should be afforded champion status in its delivery. The same goes for strategic partners like mechanical and BMS contractors, whose active engagement and support will go a very long way.

2. Eat the elephant one bite at a time

Many projects fail because the scope is too broad or all-encompassing. Choose one activity or process, document the desired outcome and work from there. Don’t choose the most complex process in the business as the initial project in your journey. Choose one that is a pain point but a relatively self-contained one.

For property operations, there are two main phases in the process of digitisation: monitoring and optimisation. When getting started, these should be segmented so that one can build on the next and to avoid the pitfalls linked to trying too much at once. Monitoring and analysis should be prioritised initially, so as to develop a robust understanding of property performance. Then, the initiative can be augmented with optimisation activities. In this way, the two phases are staggered, so that a foundational process precedes a more complex one.

Monitoring of plant and equipment across properties should remain the foundational and ‘always-on’ piece of the digitisation puzzle. It provides a building safety blanket by limiting system inefficiencies, and in turn minimising energy consumption drift. This should then underpin all additional activity or change, simplifying their implementation in the process.

3. Success starts from the top

Support from property fund managers, executives and the board is critical. Aside from the obvious support they give through budgets and resources, having an engaged and committed leadership team ensures that everyone in the business is aware that the initiative is in progress and that it is of company-wide value. Senior leadership support can help clear roadblocks and break the barriers between operational silos, while fund managers can help to validate the initiative through the lens of superior financial performance.

By taking a bigger picture view across a whole property portfolio, the alignment to overarching strategic imperatives becomes clearer. Senior stakeholders must use this in their decision-making process, while maintaining a focused and active commitment to the digitisation initiative. This support from the top will cascade down to all levels, maximising team engagement and the project’s chance of success.

4. Centralise information

Large commercial properties produce millions of data points, adding to the complexity of their operational management. This is further complicated when amplified over a vast portfolio. Traditionally, access to this information in a digestible format took far too long, impeding our ability to actually get things done.

Consolidating these data sources, removing data silos and normalising disparate sources is critical. All decision-making stakeholders should have access to variable degrees of portfolio visibility, from granular to high-level. “It is time to start consolidating (or at least pointing) data sources into a single place where teams can access the data they need to do their jobs, in a self-service, real-time fashion.” explains Forbes.

With all internal and external site stakeholders singing off the same hymn sheet, the implications for a more productive working dynamic are powerful. With everyone leveraging the same tools and trusting the same data, collaboration becomes much simpler and more effective.

5. Work with experienced partners

While internal teams have great domain expertise and knowledge of the business, having experience in sophisticated digital initiatives and a deep understanding of how specific technology can help is a far greater challenge. Find an experienced partner that takes the time to understand your property business and can help you choose the right technology to support your goals. They’ll also have their finger on the pulse of what’s new so you can leverage emerging technologies in a way that makes sense for your business.

Consider if your prospective supplier has already supported the digitisation of a property portfolio. Was it successful? Do they understand the nuances of your properties? Does their solution align to your strategic objectives? Start with these questions to ensure you have engaged the right partner for what can be a complex yet incredibly valuable undertaking.

As property owners and managers embrace the power of a digitised operational model, there are some common pitfalls to be aware of. More importantly, considering how to avoid these through adequate planning and ongoing management will ensure long-term success.

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