The transformation of FM

12th of December 2022
The transformation of FM
The transformation of FM

At the heart of every workplace is the technology transforming the facilities management industry and powering its future. New and emerging innovations bring the promise of more efficient and environmentally sustainable organisations and more engaged, more productive workers. Markus Sontheimer, group chief information and digital officer at ISS in Denmark, writes exclusively for ECJ.

As we emerge from the global pandemic, the world has never been more interested in the workplace. And right at the heart of the workplace is the technology that is transforming the
facilities management industry and powering its future. New and emerging innovations – from machine learning to AI, blockchain, chatbots, mobile apps and the cloud – bring the promise of more efficient and environmentally sustainable organisations and more engaged, more productive workers.

In facilities management, new technology can help our customers meet some of the biggest challenges we face as businesses. Across the world, industry by industry, leading companies are launching sustainability targets and commitments. They need data to transform, measure progress and reach those targets. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) commitments cannot be met without the tech capability to apply mathematics and intelligence to reduce energy consumption and waste, improve diversity and monitor governance.

For a global company with half of our revenue relating to cleaning and a clear ambition of becoming the technology leader in this industry, we also need to adapt to these changes at ISS. And ensure that tomorrow’s cleaning solutions are build on the investments we are doing in technology today.

The growing importance of workplace, cleaning and technology

The global pandemic brought about a huge amount of change and disruption across all walks of life. And there was significant change in three areas of huge importance for the facilities management industry: the workplace, cleaning and technology.

Millions of employees had to work from home for the first time ever, leaving workplaces empty for months on end and changing forever how staff interacted and communicated with each other. Technology became even more important, allowing businesses to continue functioning despite the disruption and providing new ways for companies to adapt their services.

And finally, as restrictions began to lift, cleaning was absolutely key to unlocking workplaces again and giving employees the confidence that they could return to these shared spaces safely and responsibly. As a result, many companies across different industries invested in deep cleaning and disinfectant solutions.

Now, with more and more of us all around the world back in our workplaces, we must maximise the opportunities created by these changes. The FM industry should continue to innovate cleaning so the workplace can become ever more efficient and sustainable, as well as helping to facilitate more engaged, productive employees.

Transforming cleaning with technology

Cleaning is viewed by some as a manual, traditional function, but new technologies have the power to transform this aspect of facilities management. The use of technology can relieve cleaning staff from time consuming and physically tiring work, freeing them up to focus on other important tasks.

One example is the use of robots. At ISS, we are part of a project called FacilityCobot, a co-creation project to develop a mobile robot that will combine a smart building sensor system with a human robot interface. It will travel independently around workplaces, removing dirty dishes and empty bottles from canteen tables and desks.

What may have once been viewed as a scene from an office of the future is now well within reach. These robots will be quicker and more efficient than more traditional ways of operating, ensuring shared spaces can be maintained at the highest standards at all times. While canteens are the initial focus, the robots could be particularly effective at clearing larger spaces such as airports or exhibition halls.

If smart robots can help with specific cleaning tasks, smart buildings can help to predict behaviour and provide even greater efficiencies. Smart systems and booking apps can monitor employee patterns and movements, identifying the most used areas that may require more cleaning than quieter parts of the office space. This highlights the power of data – just like so many other parts of a business, information is key. The more a business can know about how its services are used, by whom and when, the more it can plan its cleaning around this information to drive efficiency and improve results.

Environmental benefits of new technologies

Robots such as the FacilityCobot and other technological solutions can also play a significant role in improving the sustainability of shared workplaces. The use of smart cleaning solutions can significantly reduce the amount of water used in cleaning practices. And the use of data can help a business know when and where an area needs to be cleaned, meaning we can cut down on any unnecessary waste created by cleaning processes.

This could be of a significant benefit for businesses. The global march of the ESG agenda means that almost all large businesses have sustainability commitments – and cleaning and maintenance is one area they can look to where significant improvements can be made.

Challenges to overcome

We have seen how the roll-out of these initiatives and technologies can provide efficiencies for cleaning staff and lead to a greener cleaning practice. But what are the potential barriers to the wider adoption? Business leaders must contend with multiple issues day-to-day, so cleaning and technology must grapple with other priorities on their to-do lists. Inflation remains high across Europe, and with further economic disruption predicted for the months ahead, businesses could be reluctant to continue to invest in future technology enhancements.

During the height of the pandemic, many workplaces introduced thorough cleaning practices to make their staff feel safer and more comfortable. A survey conducted by ISS earlier this year found the majority of staff are now back in offices after the lifting of lockdowns around Europe. Some business leaders may be tempted to take this as an opportunity to revert back to previous cleaning techniques and practices to save on costs.

However, this might not be the right approach. The pandemic shone a light on the importance of employee wellbeing, both from a physical and mental health perspective. Employees demand, and indeed deserve, to feel comfortable and safe in their working environment, and so maintaining a clean shared space where they want to come on a daily basis is of the utmost importance.

The physical workplace can play a vital role in employee engagement and sense of belonging. What kind of message would it send if the business was seen to be cutting back on something as important as cleaning? In the current environment, where more employees are considering their careers and recruiting staff is extremely competitive, maintaining a welcoming workplace could be the deal breaker for a staff member.

Investing in technology

There is not one size fits all when it comes to introducing new technological solutions to a workplace. It is important that they are tailored to the specific needs of the business and the employees. At ISS we work alongside our clients to ensure we are providing a solution that works for them. As we develop each solution, we ask ourselves simple questions: does it contribute to great workplace experiences for our customers and users? Will it help them to reduce their impact on the planet?

How can it deliver insights that will advance their people-focused goals and ultimately deliver benefits for society? Collaboration and understanding are key to build a practical outcome that can drive efficiencies, reduce waste, and create better workplaces for all.

Technology will drive all of these changes, and the businesses which take advantage of these trends early on in the process will reap the benefits further down the line. We believe technology and innovation have the power to make people and places smarter, more engaged, more efficient, and more sustainable. This is why we continue to invest in technology and recently launched a new, dedicated software development centre in Porto, Portugal.

This will be focused on developing differentiating high-quality and scalable digital solutions for our customers and will complement our existing technology headquarters in Copenhagen and Warsaw. Approximately 100 highly skilled software engineers are expected to work at the centre by end of 2023. This adds to ISS’s current technology team of more than 750 employees.

As facility management companies our core services, whether it be cleaning, catering, technical or workplace services, remain our key deliveries towards our customers. But none of these can stand alone without adding in the benefits of technology enhancements. And as an  industry we must be able to attract the right talents with an innovative mindset and technological capabilities to be frontrunners of this inevitable transformation of our industry.


Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited