The Temptations and Triumphs of Technology

By Rob Almond, Jr., CEO

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There is no doubt that over the years the facilities management world has come a long way. We can now joke about the days of manually created purchase orders on spreadsheets, faxing in work orders, and my favorite: “after hours” calls going to an answering service. Let’s face it, in our environment, there is no such thing as an after-hours call…we live in a true 24/7 environment. Just look at how many retailers opened their doors this past Thanksgiving. In addition to improving our processes, today’s FM technology has no doubt made us better business people all around as well. After all, in the FM world, where margins are razor-thin, every dime counts – a cliché that is equally true for the retailers. And we all use every tool at our disposal to control costs while getting the job done.

Theoretically, technology can help make everyone more efficient, from scheduling, to sourcing to data analysis. But technology, if not carefully monitored and used for its most important goal – creating and maintaining strong personal customer and supplier relationships – can also create some unforeseen costs and overhead for both a service provider and the customer.

Some examples we’ve seen include using technology to create new revenue streams, such as invoicing fees, unforeseen pay discounts and more. While these charges may seem nominal, they still eat into the profit margins, which we all know are much tighter than in years past. And much like those mystery charges that always seem to find their way onto your cable TV bill, it’s very easy to see fees slip in for services that a customer didn’t even request.

Years ago, before we built our own platform, we used a provider for our work order system. A few years into using their software, they wanted to charge our Independent Service Providers a monthly fee. We refused to go down that path and eventually moved off their system. NEST’s vision is to do all we can to make the service provider as profitable as possible. Charging them additional fees hurts their bottom line, regardless of how small those fees might seem. It’s no secret that the marketplace is extremely cost-competitive, so much so that we have walked away from some large opportunities because price points were not profitable. If we were to add fees to the pricing we award, there would be less benefit to the ISP to provide services for us and our clients.

NEST offers our ISP’s complimentary technology to manage the book of business that we provide them, as well as several other perks to help them run their company at the highest margins possible. By looking at our ISP network through this lens, we become their partners, as opposed to viewing them as an additional revenue stream. These savings then allow those providers, be they plumbers, handymen, carpenters, etc. to grow their own businesses while elevating service quality that benefits everyone.

Clearly, they agree. In his own LinkedIn blog, Benjamin Timmons, owner of Grime Police Cleaning Services noted “I have worked for NEST for about five months now, and have loved the payment terms, and how you just upload your work order to get paid instead of sending a separate invoice.” Paying them promptly and making it as easy as possible for our reliable providers to embrace our technology allows us to be more efficient, resulting in keeping costs in line to our customers.

Recently, a client asked us for an interactive map to be built on his version of NEST Facilitate. The map, which is displayed on a 65-inch screen in his office, shows all of the high priority work orders across the country and their current status for their fleet of 2,000-plus locations. The reason? He wanted to show other departments exactly what he and his team deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Now when colleagues walk by their office they can see that the job is much more than just dispatching a tech. This small enhancement proves throughout their organization that facilities management is the heartbeat of any company with multiple facilities, the crutch that supports all other functions. The cost for this enhancement? There wasn’t one…to the client or to their providers.

The key word here is “support.” All technology can create data and information – but it takes human interpretations and personal relationships to turn that into the knowledge that propels the organization forward.

In our world, there are a lot of different platforms that FM’s can choose from, but the question we must ask is: How many of these platforms are people-oriented? We believe that ultimately, it’s not all about the technology or even information; they’re just tools. It’s about the suppliers, the retailers, and the relationships that are created through genuine customer service.