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On May 18 2020 / by Wyoming Paul

How will Covid-19 impact facilities and asset managers in the future?

Toby Littin (Parkable CEO) and Simon Yock (Forsite CEO) sit down to talk prop tech

Interview summary:

1 Increasing operational efficiency using smart tech will be extremely important, as businesses need to cut costs and facilities managers have more on their shoulders

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2 Opt-in contact tracing isn’t as effective as prop tech apps like Forsite that automatically notify you when people enter a location

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3 With more people driving to work instead of taking public transport, there will be substantial pressure on staff car parks. Prop tech apps like Parkable remove the administration from parking and commuting uncertainty from employees

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4 The effects of Covid-19 will have a long tail; contact tracing may become a norm longer term and more changes are to come for facilities and asset managers

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Full interview:

Toby Littin: Great to connect, Simon, during these strange times. To set the scene for the facilities managers and asset managers who read this, you and I both have businesses in the prop tech space and we’re getting quite a lot of questions from our customers and partners around the future of facilities and what we’re seeing in terms of trends and the solutions being adopted. So we thought it would be a good idea to have a conversation and answer a couple of those questions. First of all, tell me about Forsite.

Simon Yock: Thanks Toby. Well, Forsite is a facilities managers’ best friend. The challenge that facilities managers have is that they’re responsible for managing assets 24/7, they have a large array of obligations around health and safety, and they need to know where people are over multiple locations. By using our system with the Forsite app, they know in real time where everyone is, and they can manage the health and safety obligations down to the individual, without working 24/7 or having to clone themselves. It’s automatic contact tracing at a site level. Once that part of their job becomes manageable, they can start to focus on higher-value activities rather than just knowing who’s where and whether they’re health and safety compliant.

So Toby, tell me a bit about your business, Parkable.

TL: Well, Parkable came from the idea of finding a better way to park cars. We started out as a sharing economy app where people list their empty parking space to generate revenue, and people can find and park in it. However very quickly our asset manager friends told us that they love what they do, but they want it to operate in a private parking environment. So we adapted our product to help asset managers to run their car parks better, and there are three benefits that that delivers. The first is reduced admin time, so things like automatic problem resolution if there’s a problem in the car park, and directing vehicles to the right spaces. The second is better optimisation of parking assets - by enabling permitted users to see when the space is available and to come and go from the park more readily. And, of course, if there’s revenue being generated, then there’s improved revenue from the site.

SY: Is it fair to say that your asset managers have too much to do, and too little time to do it?

TL: Definitely. And parking falls high on the list in terms of frustration, but low on the list in terms of priorities. So we take care of all of that frustration and take care of all of that time that gets invested into solving those problems. That’s the power of prop tech, and it’s an interesting space to be in, especially coming out of Covid.

So tell us what you’ve seen in terms of trends during Covid, and how Forsite fits in.

SY: I think we’ve seen trends of real pressure for facilities managers, because they live off the rent roll and we’ve seen pretty clear trends across both our core markets - New Zealand and the UK - that rents and service charges are down, typically to about 54% across the UK. That trend can’t continue long-term. These businesses didn’t have 46% profit margins, so they can’t sustain 46% revenue loss. What a lot of them are planning to do is adopt prop tech, because they’re needing to find ways to be leaner, meaner operations. And that means employing fewer people. If you’ve got the same volume of things to do, and you can afford less people to do them, you’ve got to use technology to make those tasks more efficient. And that’s something that we can do to help.

TL: So it’s really all about driving operational efficiency for the facilities managers.

SY: Absolutely. You know, after the GFC they were heading toward a model in that direction anyway, and I think this is just going to further accelerate that. There’s also so much commentary about the need to do contact tracing, which is another thing prop tech like Forsite can do.

TL: Definitely.

So what sets Forsite apart when it comes to contact tracing?

SY: Look, the key to contact tracing is the completeness of records. If I use a system that’s based off a QR code, how do I know that everyone has scanned the QR code? The simple answer is, I don’t. That means incomplete records. With Forsite, when a registered user arrives at a monitored location, a record of arrival occurs automatically. It’s not actually opt-in, so we have complete records of contact tracing, in a completely contactless manner.

TL: And you’ll also have records of things like, am I appropriately trained in using PPE?

SY: Yes - am I appropriately trained, do I have risk symptoms or asymptomatic issues that may mean I could present Covid-19. And because that’s coming through a mobile device, you can communicate with users in a contactless way and tell them not to enter the site.

So, tell me about your asset managers and the trends you’ve been seeing.

TL: We’ve actually just completed quite a big survey about the behaviours of employees. In staff we’re seeing this really strong trend where over a third of regular public transport users are expected to no longer use public transport. That’s an awful lot of traffic on the roads, and an awful lot of pressure on the car park.

As asset managers know, parking can be very emotional, and we anticipate that more commutes by car will create a lot of frustration. That’s where we come in. Parkable lets staff know in advance if they’ll get a car park, they can reserve a park, and if they do turn up and someone’s taken their spot, then our system will automatically allocate a new space and sort out the problem parker. People with an allocated park can say, ‘Hey, I’m going to work from home tomorrow, so I’ll share my bay with colleagues.’ And the system is extremely easy to implement, and once it’s set up it’s almost frictionless to operate.

We’re also seeing the desire to derive revenue from vacancies. People are using our platform to sublease car parks out as public parking, so they can generate revenue from vacancies. That’s an immediate shot in the arm of revenue that they previously didn’t have. It’s super fast - they can have the car parks turned onto the platform in fifteen minutes, and then they can turn them off again when they need those spaces back.

SY: Interesting. I think we’re still learning so much in this process. You know, we really didn’t engage with construction prior to Covid, and now construction really needs contactless contact tracing across their sites. I think we’ve still got a lot of changes to come, because we’re all still trying to forecast the economic and behavioural impact. That being said, where do you see yourselves in six or twelve months?

TL: I wish I had a crystal ball! We’re incredibly optimistic ourselves. We currently operate in New Zealand, Australia and China, we have some customers in the US, and will soon have some customers in Scotland, and what we’re hearing across all of those markets is that the demand for platforms like Parkable is greater than ever. There are going to be more commercial vacancies and more requirements for planned commuting. There’s going to be more requirement to sweat your assets, not your people, and prop tech like ours enables that. So we’re pretty optimistic about the future in spite of the kind of dire situation the world’s in at the moment, and really excited about growing in those territories where we operate and expanding to new territories as well.

So we’ve covered a bit of ground, but to round things off - what advice would you give to facilities and asset managers during this time?

SY: I’d remind them that there’s a really long tail to this thing. Contact tracing isn’t just a ‘now’ requirement. I think it’s going to be an on-going requirement. I think we’re not going to return to the full employment we had any time soon, so people are going to be expected to do more. That makes operational efficiency an on-going requirement. There’s also going to be competition within the people who work in the business of property. Asset managers, facilities managers - the best will rise to the top and will be busier than they’ve ever been, and I think they’ll be using technology across more parts of their business in order to reach operational efficiency. So we’ll see the best asset managers, the best facilities managers, adopt prop tech and take stronger leadership positions. Unfortunately we’ll see some fall by the wayside, and we’ll have ongoing change out of this. Toby, what about yourself?

TL: I agree with you that change is going to be persistent for a while. There’s going to be a smaller number of people who are shouldering an increased burden, and that’s more than likely to be the leaders in the industry that we operate within. I guess I’m always cautious about giving advice, but what I’ve learnt is that the earlier you make those decisions and implement these tech systems, the bigger the benefit. Don’t delay and wait for the next big thing, because the need for that operational efficiency starts now. So find a product that’s flexible, find a partner that’s flexible, and crack on with it. That’s my learning.

SY: Toby, thank you for your time.

TL: You too. And I hope for those reading that this has been helpful too. Feel free to drop us a line.


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