Inside the business of well-run buildings

/ EdgeProp
January 29, 2019 11:00 AM SGT
Sochi: We now have nine certified drone pilots. You can imagine someone young who’s into gaming – they’re probably pretty good at driving drones. Ten years ago, there wouldn’t have been such a job description in the industry. (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
On March 11, 2011, an earthquake sent tremors throughout northeastern Japan, setting off a tsunami that claimed almost 19,000 lives and inflicted irreparable damage across coastal ports and towns, estimated at US$199 billion. This was a particularly stressful time for Jun Sochi, who was based in Japan then, overseeing the facilities management business in Japan and Korea for Johnson Controls.
With rolling blackouts during the disaster, “we had to make sure that the buildings continued to operate and have backup power”, recalls Sochi. “It was also at a time when it wasn’t clear whether there was going to be another earthquake following right afterwards.”
Today, Sochi is the managing director of C&W Services Singapore, the facilities and engineering arm of Cushman & Wakefield (C&W).In his line of work, Sochi ensures that buildings are run well. This determines the comfort, safety and efficiency of a built environment, and covers aspects from plumbing, structural engineering, and electrical circuitry, to cleaning, security and reception services. For some of these services, such as security and cleaning, C&W works with third-party contractors.
Clients range from government agencies to large MNCs. Facilities managed by C&W Services cover a broad range, such as schools, retail malls, townships, sports venues, industrial sites, commercial offices and buildings with research and development (R&D) facilities such as Biopolis and Fusionopolis in one-north.
Fusionopolis, an R&D complex at one-north, is managed by C&W Services (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
The industry’s tectonic shift
Sochi believes that there are three trends underpinning a shift in the facilities management industry. First, technology has freed up manpower and made roles more multifunctional. An example is the use of drones that are flown across rooftops, scouring the surface for clogs in rain gutters. This is especially useful for maintenance across skyscrapers, removing the need for setting up boom lifts and scaffolding.
“Rather than sending a person up to inspect visually in each area, we fly the drones across the hotspots, and then direct the technician to the problem areas,” he shares. This saves time, cuts cost, and improves worker safety. Besides cleaning and maintenance work, this allows Sochi’s team to scan for issues like encroachment. Such technology has already been deployed at the Singapore Sports Hub, one of the firm’s clients.
The use of such technology has given rise to new jobs. “We now have nine certified drone pilots,” he says. “You can imagine someone young who’s into gaming – they’re probably pretty good at driving drones. Ten years ago, there wouldn’t have been such a job description in the industry.”
Then there are more “subtle” aspects, like the installation of sensors to track temperature and vibration. These are the leading indicators of whether a piece of equipment requires maintenance. His team collects such data and compares this against the performance of another building, improving and tweaking their maintenance work along the way.
Second, the focus on workplace experience and design is also transforming the facilities management industry. Sochi believes that employees now have more say in workplace design. “Companies are thinking about attracting and retaining talent,” he says. “[Work environment] is increasingly something that young people take into consideration when choosing jobs.”
To this end, C&W has dedicated roles for improving workplace experience. For instance, chief experience officers are hired at its US office to map the journey of people as they enter office buildings, and track how and at which points they interact with the management of the building. The resulting data is then used to alter the look and feel of a space in the building to improve the overall workplace experience.
In the US, C&W manages Google’s headquarters in San Francisco, where the team has incorporated hospitality training into the services they deliver.
Third, more clients now have an emphasis on sustainability practices. “This used to be something that you have to convince the customer to incorporate,” observes Sochi. “But we are now finding that that’s part of their mandate.”
C&W Services manages Biopolis, which caters to R&D companies involved in medical sciences at one-north (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
Asia Pacific outlook
In the Asia Pacific, demand for high-value facilities management services comes from more developed nations such as Australia, Singapore and Malaysia due to an emphasis on smart buildings, Frost & Sullivan highlights in its 2018 industry report. The research consultancy estimates there are 70 to 100 Integrated Facilities Management (IFM) players across the region.
“More mature markets will be growing at [a] much slower rate than the developing markets,” observes Frost & Sullivan. Of these, the mature markets are moving towards long-term contract partnerships with IFMs, especially in cases where technology is provided to lower costs and energy consumption, it states.
In Southeast Asia, Singapore has been a fairly early adopter of sustainable practices, notes C&W’s Sochi. “I think Singapore has been ahead of a lot of other markets. The Building & Construction Authority’s Green Mark rating and the regulations around building efficiency and sustainability have set the standards in the market.”