Unlocking the power of workplace technologies for better business outcomes

How are new workplace technologies impacting our industry and how can we best take advantage of them? Read this interview with ISS COO, Martin Gaarn Thomsen.

How are new workplace technologies impacting our industry?

Workplace technologies have a tremendous impact on our industry and bring great opportunities along. I think that all companies with a Facility Management function should embrace the technological development. Especially in times where the availability increases, cost of technology decreases and the number of valuable user cases rises.

It is however not technology in isolation; its shape and form, technical performance and capability, that is of my interest. From my perspective technology is only interesting to the extent that it helps businesses to deliver on their business purpose.

So, what we are greatly focused on at ISS is asking ourselves; “How can technology help ISS enable and improve what we’ve been trying to achieve for the past 100 years?”

Nowadays our business is increasingly shifting from single-service provisions to integrated facility services. This means that we take responsibility for all service touch points from the moment the user arrives at the location, enters the building and goes for a meeting - to the time the user orders and picks up the takeaway and exits the building premises.

Technology helps us to improve the customer interaction throughout that journey by foreseeing where service is needed at any given point in time. Nevertheless, by learning from past user behaviour and user preferences we can personalize the human service interaction at every touch point.

So, technology in this context is not applied to replace the human service interaction, but to enable it?

Correct. Technology allows us to focus on the service touch points that provide end-users with the highest value and based on historical learnings helps our front-line employees to personalize the service experience at hand.

Apart from service experience optimisation, we are using data to increase efficiency and drive down the cost of building maintenance.
In a building, a maintenance regime is often dictated by the installation and the warranties provided by the suppliers who installed the technical equipment in the first place. Instead of reactively following such regime, technology can get those installations to “speak” to us when an actual replacement is needed (in contradiction of replacing parts after a year or two based on what a manual dictates).

In those areas, we see a great deal of efficiency improvement. Test and trials show that this level of proactivity can save between 15-25% in technical maintenance cost.

Both in the service and maintenance example, you refer to the fact that workplace technologies can predict actions or service needed. How is that working in real-life?

A simple practical example is; a building user applies our concierge service (which is supported by the cognitive technology) to order a taxi. Recognizing the end-user, the system knows that the visitor ordered a taxi for the airport during the last interaction. Therefore, the system asks proactively; “Do you need a taxi to the airport? The travel time to the airport is currently 25 minutes”. That proactivity gives a very strong user experience for the end-user who feels recognized, special and in control of time.

The second example I can give is related to, when we together with our clients make capital investment budgets for the coming 12 to 36 months. Based on data points from thousands of sensors we can make budgets much more accurate and detailed.

Even though workplace technologies hold many opportunities, they also seem complex and it can be assumed that connecting the workplace to thousands of sensors isn’t the cheapest investment to make. So, what is the ROI companies should look for?

Before going into an ROI discussion, I think business leaders must make up with themselves what their main drivers of value are and how technology, among other tools, can help them enhance that value.

Secondly, I think you need to keep it very practical. A known example at ISS is that 50% of the clients we’re measuring experience a lack of workspace. When analyzing their facility data, however, it appears that the same 50% underutilize the workspace that is available.

In many of those instances, the issue is the mindset and perception – not the size of the facility.

In old days, those perceptions would trigger two different actions; either you would expand the physical workspace or you would cram more people together to free up meeting rooms and spaces.

By using sensors and heat maps, Facility Managers today can have a real-time view of what type of building space is in use and what types of spaces generally are in demand at which time.

Our case examples show that using these insights can improve the actual space utilisation rate with 20% and positively impact how space is perceived. That is a very fast ROI on a very practical problem.

Aside from the optimization of workspace, sensor technologies help us to better integrate our front-line employees and allow them to focus on the task that creates the highest value added. This can decrease wage costs by additional 10-15%.


Bringing these technologies inside of a building can possess a big change for an organization. What is required from the organization to make the technology utilisation a success?

There is one big element that we simply can’t underestimate when enriching the workplace with new technologies and that is the change management process.
If proper communication and change management aren’t established and you just start installing sensors everywhere, people can get a wrong impression of what we want to achieve.

So, we need to start with communicating the purpose of why we are doing, what we are doing and how those new technologies positively can enable both the organization, the Facility Manager, the front-line employee and the end-user.

In this process, we need to be fully transparent about what is being tracked and what is not, take concerns seriously and make continuous improvements so everyone feels secure and safe.

The second part of making the workplace technology implementation a success is to have the right people in the right positions to make sense of the millions of data points and translate the insights into better user experiences or lower capital investments for the client.

At ISS, we continuously invest in employee upskilling and training to secure just that. Because no matter how you turn in around, our employees are and in the future will continue to be our greatest and best assets.