Innovation is an interesting topic, isn’t it? The word gets bandied around with increasing frequency – but I’d gently argue that the true meaning of ‘innovation’ is often lost in translation, or in the hype that comes with “talking the talk”.
Let’s turn to etymology for a second. ‘Innovate’ comes from the Latin verb ‘innovat’ – a mid-16th century lexicon for ‘renewed or altered’. To innovate is to ‘make new’. It goes beyond introducing variations of products or services that already exist. It’s more like changing the course of something; opting for an unknown path as opposed to treading the tried ‘n tested route. It’s about “walking the walk”.
If nobody had questioned whether there was a quicker way to communicate than tying two cans together with a piece of string, we would never have had the telephone. And if nobody had ever ripped the cord from the wall in frustration, we would never have had mobile phones. And if nobody had imagined squeezing the entirety of human knowledge into a handheld device, today’s smartphones wouldn’t exist. And so on. One crazy idea fuels another – before you know it, the world has changed irrevocably.
There’s a call for FM to innovate. Not because it’s a nice thing to talk about, but because we need to if we’re to survive. Who has a corded telephone these days? It won’t be long until the built environment follows the path of our personal lives.
FM providers need to continually innovate to keep costs down and stay competitive. Customers will have to adapt to the changing expectations of their employees and their customers – and as they go on that journey, they’ll need an FM provider that is orientated around innovation, too. The vision between the two has to align.
In my experience, if customers truly partner up with specialists that have the necessary expertise and adaptability, they will get the best out of their service providers. Over the past five years, for example, we’ve worked with one of our long-standing customers to develop a vested and aligned outsourcing relationship that has created a ‘win-win’ partnership focused on outcomes and real results instead of simply transactions. By working together, we’ve managed to deliver innovative service improvements, which has reduced cleaning hours across the whole account.
Becoming an extension of a customer team rather than just a ‘supplier’, we managed to transform the retailer’s waste handling operation so that it generated higher revenue and reduces cost. This ‘one team’ approach generated real outcomes. For instance, the introduction of an agile and flexible workforce management system across waste handling sites at distribution centres saved 15% of the contractual billing over a 10-month period. Circa £320,000 of additional revenue from waste has also been generated due to an improvement in the way we deliver services.
All this proves is that you have to walk the journey with customers, not talk the talk without them.
We often get confused with innovation being tech-centred, whereas Atalian Servest would argue that tech is merely an enabler. It’s also about doing things differently.
As an example of this in practice, a couple of years ago our security division partnered with a specialist in security technology and retail intelligence on a new initiative to improve service line delivery and efficiency. By further merging the spheres of technology and security, we are working together to trial and introduce cutting-edge technology. Their video analytics system offers the most intelligent method of detection in the marketplace. By intelligently analysing a scene, the technology has the ability to drastically reduce the number of false alarms generated by a CCTV system. It offers a more efficient way to manage resource, providing our customers with additional reassurance that their assets are safely protected.
To innovate, we need to think more deeply about what ‘innovation’ actually is and what it looks like. We need to invest in it and champion both the new and the unknown.