February 4, 2015

Driving Analytics into Facilities Management

Alex Woodie

The world of facilities management is not a particularly advanced one when it comes to information technology, let alone the use of big data. But that’s starting to change, particularly with the type of self-service analytics that ServiceChannel is making available to its network of professional contractors and building owners.

ServiceChannel is a software as a service (SaaS) company that helps facilities managers and tradesmen connect with each other. More than 220 corporations, including Wal-Mart, Gap, and Ruby Tuesday, use ServiceChannel’s offerings to find certified professional contractors in fields like cleaning, plumbing, lighting, electrical, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). And in addition to playing matchmaker, the SaaS offering handles all the back-office workflow between owners and about 50,000 certified contractors in the system–everything from the submission of work orders to payments.

Last year, more than $3.5 billion changed hands within ServiceChannel’s market, representing more than 11 million work orders at about 140,000 facilities around the world. This transactional data is a rich source of information for its clients, so in 2011, ServiceChannel rolled out what it thought was a sophisticated BI package that would give clients deeper insight into their operations. But the Amazon-based offering was never widely adopted by the company’s user base, largely due to the large amount of work required both by ServiceChannel and its customers.

“We found that if our clients are even six clicks away from information, that adoption wasn’t really high,” says Sid Shetty, president of consulting services and vice president of operations at ServiceChannel. “And there was a lot of burden in ServiceChannel when it came to managing the data itself. The more clients we acquired and the more data we collected, the more resources we had to put behind managing the data itself.”

Self-Service BI

That changed in 2013, when ServiceChannel started investigating an analytics service from a company called GoodData. Based in San Francisco, the cloud-based company got its start in 2007 by helping firms analyze data stored in SaaS apps from Salesforce.com and Marketo. In addition to extracting and transforming the data from the cloud sources, GoodData lets users mix it with other data sources and then visualize the results through easy-to-use Web and mobile dashboards.gooddata_logo.png

That approach was a good match for the needs of ServiceChannel, which signed an OEM agreement with GoodData in July 2013 and completed the roll-out a scant two months later. Suddenly, all of ServiceChannels customers–from the biggest corporations down to the mom and pop shops–had easy access a slew of metrics about the business of facilities management and the management of external contractors. And best of all, ServiceChannel didn’t need an army of analysts, developers, and administrators to babysit the system.

The scorecards and dashboards give ServiceChannel’s customers the data they need to make good business decisions. Corporations now can see detailed information about the contractors they hire–when they check in and out of stores or other sites; how quickly they confirm dispatches of technicians following receipt of work orders; when they submit invoices upon completion of work; and how many work orders get recalls or negative feedback.

“All this information that’s collected, we’re able to aggregate it, slice and dice it, bring it back to clients and make available in a couple of clicks,” Shetty tells Datanami. “This is very unique because historically, this has been an industry that is used to running Excel reports and having people run vlookups in pivot tables. This is a big transformation in the industry, and we’re leading it.”

ServiceChannel customers have access to GoodData-powered dashboards such as this

ServiceChannel customers have access to GoodData-powered dashboards such as this

Within a year of going live, ServiceChannel had an 80 percent adoption rate–an amazing figure for an industry that has traditionally not been on the cutting edge of technology. “One of the biggest things we achieved was we made BI available to the small guy as well,” Shetty says. “Now it’s so simple for us to bring insights out of the platform and the data, so even two guys on a truck can access valuable and insightful data in two clicks or one click.”

The fact that ServiceChannel can do this, while relying on GoodData to provide the back-end data management and front-end visualization components, makes it a win-win for the ServiceChannel.

“We were spending less time working with clients to educate them and empower them, but that wasn’t a good place to be.  GoodData that took that entire problem away from us .They mange the data, they manage the infrastructure, and they gave us this platform where we have a blank slate, where we can build any report and dashboard we want and make it available to any client.”

Foreseeing Predictive Analytics

The dashboards that ServiceChannel exposes to clients are currently of the descriptive and diagnostic sort—describing what happened in the past and possibly giving an explanation why. But in the near future, Shetty expects to offer more predictive and prescriptive capabilities via the GoodData solution.

“We’re working on the prescriptive piece, which is inserting data into the workflow of ServiceChannel itself,” Shetty says. “So at any point where one of our clients or users is making a decision, they’re backed with four or five different data points they can use to make that decision.”

With a rich historical database to pull from, ServiceChannel is able to aggregate data in a way that provides benchmark figures that customers can use to make comparisons. Embedding these analytics into the invoice approval process will allow tell ServiceChannel customers whether the submitted amount on an invoice is 10 percent above or below the industry average, for that particular region or industry.service channel logo

The company is also looking into mixing other data into the predictive analyses, such as tracking weather forecasts by zip codes. “We just completed a test where we brought in weather data for a few ZIP codes and found correlations between weather and ServiceChannel data,” Shetty says. “Of course if there’s a change in weather, there’s going to be a change in request for HVAC repair. There’s definitely some correlation and some causation between those two data sets.”

It’s also considering the use of social media as well. If customers are commenting about the poor conditions of bathrooms at a major restaurant chain on Twitter, or complaining about broken shelves at a national retailer on Facebook, then that reflects poorly on those brands, and in turn the professional contractors paid to maintain those assets.

“Those are the types of big data initiative we want to be in,” Shetty says. “We want to bring in data from the outside and start finding those correlations that we can then use to bring some sort of predictability to an industry that has a lot of chaos right now.”

Many contractors are viewed as being in the “fixer upper” department, only called in when there are problems. By riding the power of big data analytics, ServiceChannel envisions changing that perception. “We’re changing the way the [facilities management] department operates, the way they’re perceived,” Shetty says. “They’re becoming the protectors of assets. They’re keeping up the brand and they’re doing that with our technology and the information we provide with it.”

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