Sodexo bets big on technology to drive its facilities management portfolio
Sodexo says it is using cutting-edge technologies such as Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and robotics for its FM service.
Facilities management (FM) is dubbed as one of the fastest growing industries in the world. Estimated to grow to $59.33 billion by 2023, more businesses around the world are looking to invest in the FM. The FM industry, however, is now betting big on technology for the future growth.
Sodexo, one of the top players in FM, says it is using cutting-edge technologies such as Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and robotics to improve its services. The company is also working to leverage technology in critical things such as asset management or space management at workplaces.
We spoke to Rishi Gour, Country President, Sodexo India and Ankur Arora, Director Digital & Innovation, about how the FM industry can benefit from the modern technology, and challenges and opportunities. Here are the edited excerpts.
What are the cost challenges involved in using technology in FM? Is it more cost effective than using manual labour? Also, please shed light on know-how of the relevant technology. Do enterprises see a value in investing in FM?
You can add to that a third challenge, which is the Data Privacy. This is also a key factor which drives scalability in the type of solutions offered by us. While consumers may not look into it as much, when we deal with clients, data privacy is a big factor.
Now, there are various companies that are innovating in this space, and we at Sodexo are also driving some bit of this innovation internally. We do believe in open innovation and while we develop some solutions ourselves, we are open to collaborations with certain partners. These can be with big companies such as Microsoft, where we are developing an end-to-end FM platform. It not only enables the services but also feeds the data collected back to us both the client and us. This way the client gets visibility and access to the services being offered directly. The tool also helps us further optimise and improve our services.
We are also partnering with various start-ups and smaller companies, working in niche areas. Part of the engagement model is a partnership with them and we have also taken a position of these companies and invested in them. Typically we do not want to own them and we want to be there as an investor but something which creates interest at both ends.
For example, with Rydo, the carpooling app. In most organisations, people are commuting from the same place and going back to the same place, but they do not know how to collaborate. Through this app, employees can easily commute by simply carpooling.
The other major issue clients face is the cost management of such solutions. When we deploy it at the right scale, this energy management solution by Sodexo helps consumers save upto 30-35% cost. While there is a cost involved in implementing and maintaining this system, the solution pays for itself, at the right scale, in less than a year.
Each company may have a different FM requirement. How do you customise? Does it require changes to software for each company or is it automatically scaled?
Space Management is more about configuring rather than customisation. Because every company would want to define their parameters which should inform the software as to how to manage them. For example, if you look at an IT company, people have different timings and shifts, and have certain areas allocated for certain teams. Such parameters are fed into the software and the right seats are then offered to each employee.
Do you think there's a perception that FM is more of a novelty than necessity?
Some of them have moved beyond that. For example, when you talk about Robotic cleaning, people still fail to see the need for it, especially when it comes down to the efficiency and cost associated. But, in other areas such as Space Management, you cannot do it manually in a flexi work environment in an intelligent way.
On the other hand, an example in the Energy management space would be, if on any given day, you are feeling cold, you will call up the technician and ask him to turn down your AC. The technician will go, spend the time to do it, and yet the outcome won't be exactly what is needed. The Energy management solution will not only help you take care of the labour intensive part but also it enables you to do the kind of analysis, which you cannot do without having the system.
How much of your work is automated and manual? How do you ensure data input is error-free and more accurate?
To answer this, I would like to share two contrasting examples. When you take the issue of Asset management, we have a platform called Maximo. This platform allows us to break the traditional route of scheduling the maintenance check every 3 or 6 months. Maximo helps you predict when a system will break down. How it works is that we have sensors on the assets, which sends back data to the software. This helps you monitor the assets on a real-time basis. Accordingly, it will predict when a technician is needed to go and check it for maintenance. Since each office site has thousands of assets, including light bulbs, AC units etc, we usually take a time frame of 3 months to set up the entire system at a site.
You can contrast this with something like the Energy Management solution, where such sensors are collecting data in the first 2-3 months of installation. Here, the software is performing in a reactive manner and not in a predictive manner. Over the course of these 3 months, the software learns and slowly shifts to a predictive model.
Can you tell us more about your partnership with IBM? IBM also offers its own AI solution.
Our Maximo platform for Asset management is built on an IBM platform, so that is the connection. But we have also worked with Microsoft and other companies in different areas of technology.
How is Sodexo using Virtual Reality?
While deploying the VR technology, we wanted to make sure that our people (45,000 employees) and our clients are safe. A lot of the workforces who work at the front line do not come with the understanding of health and safety that you need. It is important for us and we make a lot of investment in coaching them to ensure they are aware of the right and safe working practices. We operate for 11,000+ clients in India and over 45,000 employees, which makes it a herculean task to do, and we do not want to compromise.
For this training, we are deploying through VR, a comprehensive module for health and safety. Once you put on the glasses, it shows you the exact location where you will be working, and you can simulate situations that may not be present at a particular site unless you are actually working at that site. It is difficult to do theoretical training where a lot of practical work is needed.
Please tell us what VR devices you use.
So we have a couple of VR devices that we have shortlisted. For example, in India, we work with Lenovo and HTC for a device we have deployed here and in China. Based on the country we use different technologies in VR delivery. For India, we talk about the 2 types of VR delivery- one is a really sophisticated technology, which requires really high-end graphics and costs about 3,000 euros per set.
How do you plan to use Augmented Reality?
In our context, AR has a very different use than VR. In VR, for example, we are using it more for a more immersive experience. AR we will use when it comes to the facilitation of a more technical job. If it is a more technical job, what is the additional info we can supply to him to this job? It's fairly good because we do not use high-end graphics in AR, but we really use them in VR. So the use is different.