It will not be an understatement to state that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the ways of working for good and has compelled us as individuals as well as organizations to break away with the past and re-imagine a new way of being.
By all accounts, this pandemic is not as yet over, its unfortunately still raging in many parts of the world, requiring reimposition of full lockdowns in many countries.
In light of everything that we have learnt over the last 20 months, it would be safe to say that while the world opens up, facilities of today, be it infrastructural facilities like airports, cruise terminals, hospitals, railway stations, industrial facilities like warehouses or factories, recreational facilities like cinemas, clubs, restaurants, sporting arenas or private spaces like buildings and homes; all will need to incorporate these new ways of working, bringing with it an opportunity for a more diverse imagination, variety and efficiency.
We have seen a wave of innovations across the spectrum of facility management, be it for lighting, security, health & safety, housekeeping or central HVAC operations. Consider housekeeping for a moment - in the good old days, with steady influx of people visiting facilities, we had janitors attending restrooms all around the clock at most of these 'public places.' Today, fluctuating traffic and subsequent usage are requiring Internet of Things (IoT) embedded devices to monitor use and to deploy manpower based on usage. Sensors and software applications have been deployed to monitor almost everything, from the use of flush in restrooms, to tracking of supplies. Technology has enabled supplies management to be more efficient, scheduling of cleaning activities, thereby reducing overheads, as well as help in water management and preventive maintenance of equipments. It is a period of great unlearning, and something, with all its realized benefits, here to stay.
On aspects of embedding and adopting automation, the key question has always been the capability of these new age devices to retrofit on the existing systems, since most of the buildings are not that new. The good news is that the latest generation of IoT and sensor devices are helping to monitor various capital equipments, be it firefighting systems, older HVAC, DG Sets or Parking systems.
Automation and integrated telecommunication solutions are in high demand for remote facilities, especially in areas which are higher hazard risks, due to nature of the work being carried out. In addition to breach detection and control of premises, applications in tandem with RFID's and smartphones are being used for emergency evacuation by tracking employees who haven't yet reported at a refuge area from the time of an emergency event alarm. Similarly, tech enabled devices are being used to monitor occupancy of office desks, controlling crowds at public places and space usage (eg. meeting rooms, food courts etc) along with monitoring indoor air quality and lux levels for lighting. Most of these automations also supports the larger ESG goals, by ensuring baseline data availability and tracking of improvements over the baseline.
Adoption of robotics is another key across the FM value chain. The pandemic has put tremendous pressure on the entire spectrum of facilities management regarding hygiene while maintaining safe working conditions for the entire workforce. Delivering enhanced cleaning requirements, managing stakeholder expectations and regulatory requirements, without increasing costs or risking the delivery teams is a tough act to balance. Using self-driving robotised cleaning machines, cleaning operations are being monitored with data collected on performance against various parameters such as coverage, while enabling usage-based scheduling of cleaning ops. Further, these robotised equipment's usage enhances perception across stakeholders with respect to prioritized cleanliness, smart operations, workforce safety and innovation.
Use of video analytics across the FM spectrum has demonstrated limitless potential use cases. From surveillance and crowd control to detection for compliance (eg. mask detection or temperature scanning). Integration of multi-spectral camera hardware with edge computing as well as analytics' tools have far extended the conventional CCTV roles.
Indian start-ups, are at the forefront of this new wave of innovations. Many Indian start-ups, founded over the last few years, have developed India centric solutions using local innovations and applications, with significant use cases for the Facility management operations.
These start-ups are leveraging a combination of frontier technology, along with new age hardware components, infrastructure and cloud networks, supported with a robust backend, data science and analytics to deploy these solutions for the user businesses, like FM. However, this requires decent amount of funding for R&D to build out the innovative solutions and to then deploy these at scale.
Today, India's start-up ecosystem is powered by incubators, accelerators, mentors, but the sources of funding are still limited to a handful of VCs, venture debt and a lot of angel investors (who want to fund growth capital). Angel investors are generally HNI's/ UHNI/ Family offices and mostly looking to finance high alpha opportunities and not invest for modest yields.
When it comes to adoption of new tech through capital equipment purchase, most Indian business, established or start-ups, are still dependent on traditional modes of fund raising, through banking or high-cost venture debt; which turns out to be impediments for technology adoption and transformation in low margin, high volume business, like facility management. Further, banks and traditional equipment finance is not geared with knowledge and processes to underwrite debt for such frontier tech, forcing Start-ups to either not focus on the FM sector as a market, or for the FM operators to finance such asset acquisitions through debt.
This problem, and therefore an opportunity is what many fintechs are starting to target and are curating solutions for. The start-up ecosystem has thus expanded to not just include tech innovators and users, but also adoption financing.
Such fintech's (eg. www.Upcide.com) exists to facilitate the acquisition of assets from the tech start-ups and then lease to new age and traditional FM operators. Equipments like reach trucks, robotised floor cleaners, smart cameras, edge devices and integrated software, are an area of focus for such fintech platforms. These platforms are digital first, run by group of individuals with financial and professional services background, having strong knowledge of various equipment classes and operating technologies, and are founded upon independence, diligence, and transparency.
These fintechs enable the traditional FM Operations to quickly adopt new innovations and tech enabled equipments, without having to take debt on books or by diluting capital. An ecosystem where frontier tech is enabled to sell their products to low margin businesses and such businesses are enabled with lease financings, is bound to enhance adoption. Such ecosystem innovations and transformation will definitely impact the overall FM sector significantly, with better ESG readiness and overall profitability.
With the growth in innovation across the value chain, fast emerging frontier tech, regulatory alacrity to bring enabling rules that support development and adoption all point to a very bright future for start-ups in general, and with added advantages of fintech innovations, adoption of tech to improve quality of spaces is only just starting.
Upcide.com, is a direct-to-consumer marketplace for facilitating fractional investments and institutional grade asset management, in alternate assets. Upcide.com is reducing the investment ticket size, reducing entry barriers and bringing in more investors to the start-up ecosystem to facilitate purchase of equipments and allied assets. Upcide.com deploys these assets on a operating lease model (converting CAPEX to OPEX), providing the start-ups opportunity to sale and leaseback their equipments, or enables the FM operators to lease without debt on books and allowing them to deploy their capital and debt for further growth.