Marc Balzamo, CEO/Founder of Fexa, was recently interviewed to get his insightful and experienced perspective on technology and facilities management. Here is a transcript of that interview.
Marc, Welcome to this virtual chat today! For those who do not know you already, can you share a bit about why you started Fexa?
I’m Marc Balzamo, CEO and founder of Fexa. Fexa is a company I started as a result of a number of experiences and my education. While working in the industry for larger companies, it became clear to me that there were significant opportunities to improve the business of managing and maintaining the built environment through the application of modern technology.
For 20+ years, I held leadership roles in the business of facilities management at several companies – Lockheed Martin, L3, QVC, and Nest International. I also studied computer science. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Rowan University and Masters Degree in Computer Science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
So let’s start with the big picture view, in your view, how important is digital evolution to the facilities management industry?
It’s incredibly important. Digital transformation helps companies go faster with efficiency. A sound digital strategy helps customers really stay connected to trends in their operations and the business at large. It enables businesses to learn from data in real-time. It gives them insights to continuously adapt and evolve. It is really the fuel for facilities functions to support business goals like cost containment, responding to top-line growth opportunities in stores, or feeding the bottom line with significant cost savings as a result of automation.
“Facility” is a term that means a lot of different things to different folks. At Fexa, we think of it as the built environment that supports businesses – whether it is retail stores or dark warehouses in support of new e-commerce delivery models or laboratories or manufacturing and assembly locations. And, as businesses evolve to market forces and adapt their business models, the fleet of facilities within a business is changing.
In my view, focusing on how facilities functions – across management, maintenance, real estate, construction – participate in a company’s digital transformation strategy can support better business outcomes in three key ways:
Agility. It makes them more agile – they can adapt to changing conditions and “go faster”.
Intelligence. It makes them smarter. When armed with relevant data and information, they can benefit from new insights that help them achieve top line and bottom-line objectives.
Efficiency & Collaboration. It enables the facilities functions to collaborate efficiently and effectively across the business – with accounting, legal, executive management, and more.
That is an interesting point that you mention the executive management team, I think a lot of folks think of Facilities Management as a “back-office” function, can you elaborate?
Definitely. First of all, the built environment gets attention from the C-Suite for two reasons. One, because it is a critical vehicle for revenue attainment – the facility is a key component of the business strategy. Second, it is often a significant investment for the companies – the facility is a major expense and capital item as a component of a cost-center centric view.
In either case above, we’ve noted a shift that actually surfaced during the past year with the challenges of the pandemic, civil unrest, and natural disasters. Our facilities community is often called upon by the C-Suite or boards of companies to report on how they are managing the built environment during these challenges.
Operations Executives in retail are collaborating with the facilities teams in new ways to re-configure and re-imagine their stores to address new purchasing modes. Even with the explosion of e-commerce, facilities teams are often at the forefront of helping figure out how the back-of-store for a retail facility can be reconfigured to serve as an e-commerce mini-distribution warehouse.
So, what are key technology trends that are available today and matter most for folks as they go on this digital transformation journey that includes facilities?
Well, I could go on for a while about this – I am a bit of a geek. But if I were to summarize the most relevant application of technology available right now it would be accelerated adoption of smart data-driven automation. Data-driven automation helps facilities teams capture immediate and significant savings to the bottom line.
- Automating preventative maintenance and periodic repetitive work like window washing or janitorial can save 20 min or more per invoice – for large multi location enterprises this adds up to enabling fewer people to manage more locations.
- Automated invoice workflow rules which avoid overpayments, duplicative unnecessary work expenses, and unauthorized expenses – usually amounting to about 0.5% of total maintenance costs in savings.
- Automation and alerts can avoid costs that should rightfully be handled as landlord responsibilities – systematic tracking and alerts can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars saved.
- Geo-location tracking and automation of vendor check-ins assure accurate billing and only paying for time on site.
These are just some of the examples. We often identify many of these opportunities that were not previously possible in other solutions when we are setting up a new customer. Numerous examples of customers using this type of automation result in them achieving a ROI for their investment in the software enablers of 250% or more during the first year.
Want to speak with the Fexa Team and learn more about how we can help you achieve your FM objectives?
Want to speak with the Fexa Team and learn more about how we can help you achieve your FM objectives?
So what do you see in the emerging technology space for the facilities world?
I think that it is the ongoing development & adoption of augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI). Over the next 5-10 years, we will see real applications and increased adoption of Augmented Reality (AR) technologies. Examples include enhancing customer experiences and improving efficiencies through:
- The ability to demonstrate what the finished product or service will look like for services like signage, remodel, flooring, and others while in the store. We already have customers like Crate & Barrel who are able to show their customers what the furniture would look like in their home settings while in the store.
- Also, whether to improve the environmental safety, accelerate efficiency (as in a warehouse), or to enrich the customer experience, AR will be used increasingly to model scenarios of human ingress and egress throughout a location used in space planning and employee/customer flow.
- Just one of the countless examples of applying AR for improving maintenance is the ability to overlay instructions and diagrams on mechanical and kitchen equipment aiding in installation and repair.
Artificial intelligence is at its essence the harnessing of vast amounts of data so that machines can “learn,” make decisions and automate tasks to meet business objectives. For example:
- AI automated dispatch for preventative maintenance based on the performance of equipment across portfolios paired with AI predictive analysis about potential for failure – extending the life of expensive assets.
- AI-supported call avoidance by interacting with store associates through voice-driven smart devices
So much of this seems like a no-brainer to help organizations get the most value out of their facilities and the organizations that support them, but what do you believe the biggest challenges or hurdles are in implementing any of these changes?
It starts with the level of digital transformation maturity of the overall businesses. These capabilities require at the foundation a new level of data “hygiene” across the business as well as the skill sets (whether in-house or through identifying good partners) to apply them to the business.
I also see a lot of resistance from businesses that see the value but are hesitant to make the leap due to being very entrenched in their current dated technology. They’ve spent years adapting their processes to the rigid technology solutions that were available and change is hard. But with the right partners and through the application of solutions that were designed to be “future-ready” these hurdles can be overcome.
What are the best ways for FMs and their teams to harness/buy into technology advances and what advice would you have for them?
I’d say to start with, FM’s bring a lot of domain knowledge about what is working well and not so well in the current environment. If they can combine that knowledge and gain a seat at the table to think strategically about how the facilities play into the overall business strategy, they can deliver increased value to the business.
Find new opportunities by breaking down the silos of the business – construction, management, maintenance, property management – and find ways to effectively share data and apply the technology to improve processes and outcomes.
Make continuous education a priority. The FM has the opportunity to learn from their solution partners – whether that be the technology partners or the services providers they rely on. Remain active in a community that shares ideas and lessons learned in pursuit of the end goal – getting great facilities work done to support the business strategically and efficiently.
Sound advice! Well, thank you again for your time today, Marc. It was great chatting with you about some of the exciting opportunities ahead for facilities management.
Where can folks reach out to you and your team?
Well, as I said in the beginning, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to figure out ways to make facilities management work better, easier, and more valuable! I love connecting with folks that have new ideas or new challenges that they are seeking technology solutions for in this space. Probably the best place to reach out to me is on Linked In or go to our website and reach out via our contact page.