Graham Perry of Datore, tells Fiona Perrin how analytics using multiple data sources can solve FM problems for competitive advantage.
Consider this from Gartner’s Peter Soundegaard: “Information is the oil of the 21st century and analytics is the combustion engine.”
Graham Perry might not have the same platform as a Gartner commentator, but he is very well-known in UK FM and his challenge to the sector is similar. How do we fuel our businesses with insights that increase productivity and profitability?
The starting point often is: “Do you find that you have lots of data but no real information?” according to Perry. For many the answer is yes; moreover, they don’t trust the data that their systems are providing. However, even those who have information, need to turn that into intelligence and effectively communicate it.
What’s the difference? “Information tells you what’s happened in the past but intelligence presents information as insights in a way that assists you to make informed decisions and take actions for the future.”
So, dashboards? “When we go and see our customers, we say forget about data, forget about dashboards. Let’s look at value. The first thing we ask is to look at the top five or ten things that keep them up at night. This is to understand why they are asking these questions and what business decisions this will allow them to make.”
Armed with a problem, Perry’s company Datore, combines multiple data sources to understand causes, model trends and analyse scenarios – real or in the future – providing management insight to knotty problems.
We talk about big data as one of the major technology constructs of our time and the immediate future, along with the Internet of Things and AI. All of these create more data and more information but as yet we don’t even use a small portion of this efficiently or effectively, says Perry. His mission is to take data analytics from the conceptual to the practical or as he says to “to provide inspiring information that moves people to take action”.
“So, then what we do is look at those problems. We get those top five and say, ‘if we could do something about that would it reduce cost or reduce risk within the business? Or would it increase sales or would it increase productivity in the business? Would it enhance the reputation of the business?’ If it doesn’t reduce, increase or enhance, it probably has no value. So, we focus on the ones that do.”
Cutting to the issue
Perry is a seasoned member of the tech community but he doesn’t talk in jargon or impenetrable acronyms and has never been a developer. “I’ve always been much more about what technology can offer and how it can offer it.” Having started at British Aerospace, Perry moved to Fuji, which took his career to South Africa, where, after a couple of years, he started a business importing and distributing software and technology in the telecoms sector, then into CCTV security and Building Management Systems.
Returning to the UK ten years ago, he went to work to deploy his practical skills consulting on technology for FM as part of Martin Pickard’s FM Guru consultancy. He then joined iSite, the proptech company and rose to become its MD, before setting up Datore with colleague, Sophia Lee nearly two years ago. This was at a time when cloud computing and data as a service were driving down the cost of analytics and organisations were starting to understand that big data without the tools and skills to interpret it felt like drowning rather than swimming.
Today Datore employs 12 people and operates across multiple sectors including FM – although he believes his company is the only business intelligence specialists in the UK working in asset-based built environments.
“We do a lot of work with solar energy farms that have huge amounts of infrastructure around the country that needs maintenance, that needs repair – but more importantly they need to measure how much sun is available. They need to understand the productivity of the assets – whether the yield is working at 80%, 90% or 100% and what it is likely to be into the future.” Datore also supported the $22bn travel giant, Flight Centre in its move to a high demand, high availability multiserver environment that supports hundreds of dashboard users to identify deals and reveal how the business is performing.
In FM, Datore works with end-users and service providers, typically delivering insight into opportunities to increase revenue or productivity. This could be in combining mobile tracking data for engineers, with on-the-ground service reports to ensure that charging is correct and managed correctly to comply with complex service and call out contracts. Or it could be in managing risk for employees through safety analysis, managing energy consumption or measuring waste.
“We’re able to give the FMs on-site a much clearer picture of the commercial picture of a building or estate and the commercial situation for that building. Often it’s a blend of three or four different systems with three or four different types of information that enable the FM to make better informed decisions.”
It’s the combination of different data sources and the insight from them that sits at the heart of the intelligence versus information argument. A dashboard, Perry says, is just information produced from a system, whereas interrogation of several combined sources focused on a business conundrum should provide the insight to move forward decisively and create value. It might still be in a dashboard format, if that’s the way you like your business intelligence but that’s down to the client.
The approach is also used in project management. “Being able to combine information about purchase orders, equipment on site, sub-contractor invoices, man hours used and what needs to be brought versus how far the job is completed – if you are managing multiple projects across an estate, then the use of ‘burn down’ analytics can improve working capital management and assess site progress.”
Datore provides its solutions to other software providers in FM – typically those producing vast amounts of data. “These are forward-thinking service providers who want to add value to their end user clients.”
Perry’s organisation also works with in house teams to support specific data projects. Through use of the cloud and Analytics as a Service, together with a focus on very specific issues, Perry says insights are cost-effective and return on investment assessed and targeted before projects are started.
“Until now analytics has been the domain of the big boys. They’ve been able to throw millions of pounds at analysts, database administrators, business and process analysts, software and hardware and so on. But now, smaller and mid-tier organisations can access that sort of advantage, because technical resources can be shared, the systems are cheaper, and the software is available as a service.”
Remember, if data is the oil, analytics is the combustion engine; Perry says this one is highly tuned.