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Dubai’s Smart City goals march ahead
June 30, 2018
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As Dubai gears up for Expo 2020 and the fulfillment of its Smart City & Sustainability goals, it has brought into sharp focus the strategic need of reimagining its built environment, and how advanced technologies like AI & IoT can optimally transform the way buildings and facilities are managed. US-headquartered start-Up Facilio is addressing this exact need, helping disrupt how Dubai’s existing, and upcoming pool of buildings are managed. Combining Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and IoT, their software driven approach is helping buildings operate better, while enhancing their energy efficiency and occupant experience. Inayat-ur- Rahman of The Gulf Today spoke with Prabhu Ramachandran, CEO and co-founder  of Facilio to better understand the vision his  firm has for software enhanced facilities and Sustainability management.

 
Q: In light of Expo 2020 as well as Dubai’s Smart City & Sustainability objectives, what role do you think Dubai’s built environment can play, both its existing pool of buildings and those coming up as part of its booming construction sector?

A: Given their pivotal role as highest consumers of energy, as strategic components of a connected city as well as essential contributors to the happiness and wellbeing of citizens, buildings and their efficient management is becoming a critical need in the drive to meet Dubai’s Smart City and Sustainability goals. And advanced technologies like AI & IoT are being acknowledged as prime enablers of this change.
 
Regulations and mandates apart, to transition into Smart Buildings what the built environment needs is predictive facilities management, versus the conventional reactive approach to maintenance. By combining asset management with the technical analysis of key indicators of the health of a building and by efficient use of resources, buildings can become cost optimised, reliable and sustainable.
 
Additionally, IoT based facility management systems can enable a unified view of maintenance across several portfolios, helping produce real-time actionable insights and providing real-time task collaboration. And this can greatly improve workforce productivity as well as sustainability metrics.
Smart Buildings are important components of a Smart City. Buildings that are intelligent, run efficiently on autopilot, are sustainable, and connect back with the municipal and city authority networks, are true enablers of a Smart economy.

Q: Tell us about the origins of Facilio as a company. What inspired you to identify an opportunity to improve upon the status quo and to offer the solutions you have developed?
A: Buildings are ubiquitous assets, and their ability to shape and be shaped by our lives, boasts age-old synergy. Humans today spend nearly 80% of their time inside buildings. This has brought into sharp focus the need for efficient building operations due to its impact on the wellness of the occupants, as well as the environment.
 
Historically, real estate investors, asset managers, facility manger or building owners, have adopted numerous standalone solutions for enhanced management of real estate, maintenance, energy and equipment needs. Up until now, building owners did not have technology available that could enable them to centrally run their entire building operations, from workforce to assets to sustainability, which could enable them to operate at scale and at a high level of efficiency.
 
And this is how Facilio was born, with the clear objective of providing a solution that puts building owners in the driver’s seat when operating and managing buildings or building portfolios. The idea was to reimagine and transform building management, enable efficiencies and optimize the facilities experience for end users as well as CRE’s and building owners.
 
The founding team – which includes co-founders Rajavel Subramanian and Yogendra Babu and myself – had gained substantial insights into the entrepreneurial/start-up milieu, during the nearly two decades of our professional experience. Our shared knowledge reinforced our collective faith in the power of technology to create a positive impact in the built environment through optimized systems, and intelligent, real-time control over the use of resources.

Q: What response has the company received from the markets and its target audience? How do you intend to go about generating interest and brand awareness?
A: Fortunately the benefits of the services and technology we offer are readily apparent to most of our target audience. The advantages are so dramatic, and the solutions on offer so readily deployable, that the excitement around our company has been quite unanimously forthcoming. Buildings are an element of our civilization that we tend to take for granted. However, it’s readily apparent that wasteful use of energy, inefficient operations and ad-hoc deployment of technologies in our living and working spaces, directly affect billions of lives and the collective footprint of the human race, literally every single day.
 
Modern buildings are a massive arrangement of systems that need to work in a complementary fashion. The software based unified administrative functionality that Facilio offers, is a no-brainer. Our facility management solution harnesses Machine Learning models and IoT deployment to align operational, energy, security and maintenance functions into one unified and efficient ecosystem.
 
Within a month of launching the company, the venture capital community responded with active interest and quite soon thereafter, we were able to secure substantial funding from Accel Partners - a VC firm that had already backed companies likes Facebook, Dropbox, Slack etc. And the idea is now rapidly moving to commercial maturity, with customer engagements across India, Middle East and the US.

Q: The scope and scale of the vision at the heart of your company is extremely ambitious. What do you perceive as the size of your market, now that you have generated both interest and initial funding?
A: Our aspirations have been extremely ambitious from the very gestation of the initial idea behind Facilio. From the outset, we knew how big the potential impact of our solution could be – on humans, and the sustainability of planet.
 
Globally, Facilities Services spend stands at close to 1+ trillion today and energy spend too is close to a trillion dollars. Therefore the potential to bring in tech-driven efficiency in building operations and thereby create economic value for owners as well as a superior customer experience for occupants, is huge. And this is the market we are targeting to transform.
 
There are several reasons, why ‘now’ is the right time for this disruption. Customer expectation in real estate is fast changing and CRE’s are looking to adopt latest tech to enhance the value of their buildings and provide a superior tenant experience. Rapid emergence of co-working spaces is a validation of the trend. Additionally, operating costs have always been a primary outlay for building owners – across commercial, residential and industrial segments. The adoption of technology to portfolio buildings, centrally, in real-time, can facilitate energy and operational efficiencies – while concurrently optimizing performance. This directly benefits Capex bottomlines, as well as considerably enhancing the value of the property. Plus our technology can easily scale globally, so even the huge numbers I have just laid out, are really only the beginning of possibilities.
 
Our vision is to facilitate a disruptive evolution in the facilities management space, similar to what Amazon, AirBnB, Ola and others enabled in their respective industries.
 
Q: How do you differentiate your offerings from those of the numerous other smart building operators in the market? What is it that your solution is offering that has created such a buzz and interest?
A:  Facilio offers a single platform for facilities and sustainability management to run a portfolio of buildings centrally. We put Owners and Facility Managers in the drivers seat. We leverage technologies like IoT and AI to help every stakeholder — from Owners & FM’s, to Technicians & Tenants — do what they do, in a smarter way. Our solution complements the existing automation infrastructure within buildings and makes insightful sense of all that available data.
 
 The current building management approach is dominated by vendor specific hardware systems and legacy software systems that cripple customers from innovating and from focusing on efficiency and occupant experience. Facilio however enables continuous and proactive management of operations and performance, through the means of an IoT and Machine learning led solution — scalable across a gamut of real-world conditions and requirements.
 
From enhancing workforce efficiency to avoiding manual errors; from enabling predictive maintenance and management of buildings, to providing energy savings and sustainability management, we feel our comprehensive solution allows FM’s to transcend into value players, and puts CRE’s in the drivers seat by offering portfolio-wide transparency.
 
Q: What do you see as the challenges facing the facilities management market and what is the role and strategy you envisage for building transformation, moving forward?
A: The facilities management market is undergoing the early stages of a disruptive transformation. As momentum gathers around the solutions that are emerging, many of the current challenges will instead be seen as opportunities.
 
A well-serviced building has a crucial effect on both the environment and also on tenant business continuity, impacting end-user perceptions, and thereby eventually impacting the real and perceived value of the property. Commercial Real Estate Owners are constantly trying to enhance the performance of their existing, and new buildings, in order to realize economic and value benefits as well as align with the Smart City & Sustainability objectives of the UAE leadership.
 
Facilio wants to be at the forefront of this transformation of Dubai city and its buildings, helping its customers to transition to tech-enabled, modern facilities, that are well maintained, efficient and sustainable.
 

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