The rise of data-driven Corporate Real Estate Management

In the recent years, ABN AMRO has gone through a process of change in many ways. This has also affected the facility services that the bank provides. A strong focus on the collection and application of data has made it possible for the facilities department to transform itself from a cost centre to a value centre.

The global financial sector has to deal with increased digitisation of banking affairs and the emergence of disruptive players who are competing with the more traditional providers in the market. As a consequence, many of the local bank offices in the Netherlands (including ABN AMRO branches) have been closed or merged. At the same time, more and more employees are concentrated in the head office located in the Zuidas business district in Amsterdam. “Bank accommodations have grown a great deal more complex for facility management,” confirms Mark van Rijt, Managing Director of Facility Management at ABN AMRO. “By now, we have twice the number of people working than the office was originally intended for! You can imagine that this places a heavy burden on our shoulders to ensure that everyone can still achieve the most optimal performance in a pleasant working environment.”

In addition to the high occupancy rates, Van Rijt also notices a trend in which local offices and headquarters are playing a more prominent role in business processes again. “The concept of flexible occupancy rates up to 60% based on The New Way of Working has been left behind us. Newly introduced Agile working methods like Scrum involve completely different parameters in the working environment. Interdisciplinary teams are now used that can change their composition at the drop of a hat. From a facility management perspective, we are therefore required to come up with flexible solutions, so we can implement fluid working environments that basically adapt to the needs of our employees.”

Facility Management needs to become agile themselves, in how they work and in the services they offer

— Mark van Rijt, Managing Director of Facility Management, ABN AMRO Bank

Significant backlog

In order to make this happen optimally, there was an increased need for relevant facilities data within ABN AMRO. After all, it is impossible to make plans for accommodations and facility services unless accurate, up-to-date data is available. “Even though the use of data in other support departments such as Finance and Marketing has been commonplace for years, facility management still had a significant backlog in this area.” We spoke with Diedrik Broekman, Head of Business Intelligence FM, a completely new department comprising 7 employees who are dedicated to collecting, processing and analysing data and services. “We are pro-actively gathering questions from the business and then handing solutions back to them. Our added value can be found in the fact that we bring together all facilities data and can draw from that when we want to solve a specific issue in the business.”

A story precedes the establishment of this Business Intelligence FM department, which starts with an encounter with a young technology company: Lone Rooftop. Co-founder & CEO Marcel Lamers draws the comparison with Google Analytics as an online tool to track the behaviour of website visitors. “In this context, you can basically regard a building as a physical website. How many people are in this building and where? Just like with Google Analytics, you want to monitor movement in order to optimise how the building is used.” Using the Position Intelligence Engine (PIE) developed by Lone Rooftop, this concept is applied to buildings. Lamers explains: “We use existing WiFi networks in buildings. Organisations can use PIE to keep perfect track of the utilisation of their space. The data is anonymised to protect the privacy of the employees. We also give that data back to the end users, for instance through the Wally app, which employees can use to gain a real-time overview of available workspaces in the building.”

Preventive intervention at peak moments

Van Rijt echos in on this: “We have a clear focus on the end user; we want to help them from the perspective of facility management. We, therefore, take the results from the data we have gathered and connect them wherever possible to the concrete services we want to provide. Our general goal is to take customer experience to a higher level. As a pilot, we showed occupancy rates to our employees on screens in the buildings.” Lamers: “That was a nice experiment right off the bat to see how people perceived it. We showed various percentages at first, but people actually just want to have a quick overview where workspaces are available. That’s why we switched from numbers to words: ‘space here’, ‘busy there’ and ‘lively here’.

An important benefit was obtained when Broekman and Van Rijt gained insights in the logistics within the building around lunchtime. “Our company restaurant is in a central location, but this resulted in an frustrating rush hour around elevators and access points in the run-up towards lunch,” says Broekman. “PIE now lets us know exactly which locations are prone to traffic jams; we have set up lunch support locations to spread the traffic around a bit.”

Customer feedback

The cleaning services have also already been changed according to the data acquired. Van Rijt: “workspaces just need to be clean, so it is hard to surprise end users with this. We use PIE technology in this area to increase efficiency. For instance, which toilets are used more intensively than others? We schedule extra capacity for those.” Broekman: “And people regularly work here on weekends as needed. Unfortunately, employees do not always leave their workspaces as clean as they should. To prevent cleaners having to clean the entire building on Monday, they can now focus their cleaning on certain zones. Using that method, we achieve more results with the same resources – in this case cleaning services – and that is pure profit!” Broekman: “We can apply the same method for climate control: automatically linking the building management systems to the occupancy rates. In the long term, this could lead to significant savings in energy use.”

PIE now lets us know exactly which locations are prone to traffic jams; we have set up lunch support locations to spread the traffic

— Diedrik Broekman, Head of Business Intelligence FM, ABN AMRO Bank

Together with Lone Rooftop, Broekman and Van Rijt have started experimenting to develop the range of facility services at the bank. “For that purpose, we literally set up a separate lab inside the building,” says Lamers. “The PIE software is accessible to other systems and each discussion with facility management yielded productive new ideas. Since our developers constantly received quick feedback on new features, we could adjust as we went along. This was a relatively new way of working for ABN AMRO, but they just took the plunge into the deep end right along with us.” Broekman: “This is actually closely connected to the new ways of working that have already been introduced in our departments in the context of Agile management. Employees need to be able to collaborate closely on new products based on customer feedback, working in one room in changing team compositions. As Mark already indicated, the office environment needs to align with this seamlessly. What that means for us is that we need to measure usage and occupancy rates and adjust the workspaces accordingly as needed.” Van Rijt adds: “And facility management needs to become Agile themselves, in how they work and in the services they offer.”

Smart facility apps

The next step for ABN AMRO is to roll out the PIE platform across multiple buildings. Van Rijt: “We have currently hooked up five buildings in Amsterdam and started gathering information. All in all, we, therefore, have data from over 5,500 workspaces at our disposal. As indicated previously, our objective is to be able to capitalise on the rapidly changing housing needs and also to provide employees with more self-sufficiency in a building, so they are able to find an available workspace easily.” Van Rijt adds: “In future, we want to use the data we compile as the foundation for an infrastructure to supply accurate information to smart facility apps. This also complements our own need for operational data, ensuring that we become a more data-driven facilities department. In this way, facility management can provide a very concrete, immediately visible approach to the world of Big Data.”

In the end, the aim is to achieve increased customer satisfaction at costs that are lower or equal. Van Rijt: “This is a familiar principle within FM, of course, but our innovations have also enabled us to make a shift from cost centre to value centre. This particular kind of partnership with a tech company like Lone Rooftop also sets an example for our own organisation. We also want to present the application of these types of innovations as a case study for our clients who are operating in Real Estate and Facilities, comparable to what we are already doing with our circular and sustainable initiatives.”

What about employee privacy?

Unsurprisingly, privacy is very important to the bank. When Facility Management wanted to start collecting data within ABN AMRO, we had to first establish solid privacy agreements with Legal, IT and the Workers Council. “We only work with aggregate data,” explains Broekman. “The data is anonymized; we are only dealing with numbers and not with the associated names,” adds Lamers. “The discussions we had about this with ABN AMRO have also helped us to guarantee the highest possible standards of privacy for our product.” Broekman: “It is also important to explain the benefits of collecting data internally. Setting up a test environment at the head office – transparent for everyone – has also helped considerably with staff acceptance.”

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