“I am jumping straight to AI,” CIO David Cooper says. Cooper and I have barely sat down in the ultra modern development centre of Mitie in Bracknell before the excitement pours out. It’s a little under a year since Cooper joined Mitie (said mighty) as CTIO having spent five years as CIO with Centrica and its utilities giant British Gas.
Mitie provides security and facilities management to organisations such as Heathrow Airport. The sector hit the headlines earlier this year with the collapse of Carillion. Unlike Carillion, Mitie doesn’t have a construction arm, which many industry watchers believe led to the weak Carillion foundations. Facilities management is a sector that operates on unbelievably slim margins and in the UK the sector has fierce competition. To date the business model has been to ruthlessly take cost out of operations in order to remain competitive. But as any CIO knows, you can only take so much cost out before the business model becomes unsustainable.
Mitie believes that the cost reduction nadir has been reached and that innovations to the services will be the way to protect margins and retain customers. Enter CIO David Cooper in May 2017. Cooper refers throughout the interview to “jump starting” and “jumping to” because Mitie sees the opportunity technology offers and the CTIO doesn’t want to be bogged down in a massive centralisation strategy when he can deploy customer facing services.
“It was like an incubator,” Cooper says of how the business developed into catering, facilities management, security, landscaping and a myriad of areas. The name means Management Incentive Through Investment Equity. “This history means some of the businesses had a very low technology base and some of them were in a silo.”
Philip Bentley became CEO in December 2016 having been finance director and then CEO of British Gas between 2000 and 2007. “Phil has come in to drive the business through technology,” Cooper says of his boss.
Low margin, high opportunity
Asked about the challenges of low margins in facilities management Cooper is typically straight with you, but he also sees this as the opportunity to change the business using technology.
“It is a low margin business. But where you pump technology in you can move up in margin, as you are of more value to the customer. As we liberate more value, we can create more pay backs that will then unlock even more value and then we can generate better returns and the customer can see that.
“If we sell some cleaning that is just arbitrage, but if we offer value, that is much harder to displace and that is the benefit we are driving.
To my right from the glass meeting room we are in a wall of screens gives Mitie teams information and control over a host of buildings, the Bracknell site is a remote operating centre, which Cooper joined the business to create. Cooper explains that the teams in front of us have access to vast data lakes of sensor information, all hosted on an Azure cloud platform. And the reason for the technology evolution is customer demand.
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, a motor racing business “wanted the best environment for their people” other clients in financial services and insurance want to know the CO2 levels are good. Why? Because it all helps creativity and productivity. The result is the Mitie intelligent building solution, as they call it. The service uses building telemetry to monitor and manage the building’s comfort, reduce energy use and maximise the effectiveness of the building.
“They are an organisation synonymous with success and high performance, and is dedicated to achieving gains, both large and small, that could give them the edge during a race. Therefore they need an environment for their people to deliver this result. We have other clients in financial services and insurance want to know the about the environment and one of the parameters we measure is CO2 as this reduces the levels productivity through making people sleepy. The Mitie Connected Workspace solutions provide clients with analytics, advice and control to ensure their workspaces deliver the correct working environment to it is efficiency, resilience and cost effective,” Cooper says of Red Bull Racing.
Margins are becoming ever tighter for more and more sectors as technology led culture change increases competition and lowers barriers to entry. On the Horizon CIO podcast we have heard CIOs from retail, FMCG and financial services explain the rising number of challenges their businesses face. After the team, real estate is the highest fixed costs a business has and any service provider that can help reduce fixed costs is kindly looked upon.
“With all the sensors we know if a building will have a problem and the cost of buildings is huge. There are symptoms to an air-conditioning system breaking down for example.
“Typically organisations count people in with a clicker or entry cards, but they are error prone,” Cooper says. Mitie is developing facial recognition technologies that will improve security but also create a rich data set of how a building is used. That data will improve services and maintenance of air conditioning and benefit the customer.
On Cooper’s strategy document a wheel diagram depicts experience, wellbeing, sustainability, security, resilience and utilisation, which are the workers and tenants of a building needs.
These same principals are being reflected into Mitie. As an organisation whose raw material is people, Mitie is using the latest technologies to improve the lives of its people to ensure they deliver the best experience for customers.
AI chatbots have been deployed to HR processes to make the requesting of sick or annual leave easier and in your spoken language. Technology will also be used to increase the utilisation of the teams, which again will enable a return for Mitie as it hopes to share staff on single sites.
“It is about assisting the workforce and making the field force more effective. It should be a better workplace to work in and more interesting, with an enabled customer and workforce,” Cooper says.
Dashboards have already been developed to give Mitie and the customers a better understanding of their sites and of the data being collected.
“AI can be the sum of all knowledge of all your people and give you a much more consistent service and as a result a lot of pain points can go away,” the CTIO says.
Cooper’s team have developed the data lakes and deployed tools like Microsoft PowerBI and Qlik for end users to interrogate the data with.
“It is the freedom to be more innovative,” Cooper says of both the culture at Mitie, but also the latest wave of technology available to CIOs.
“It is about applying these technologies to the needs of the business, but some businesses are have lots of controls and governance,” he says of potential barriers. “Some companies have invested so much in the past they are afraid to jump to the forefront. We can do radical things and there are business opportunities we can create,” he says of the ambition at Mitie.
Because of the ambition of Mitie, Cooper says suppliers with an AI and cloud strategy are keen to help. “We have had massive help from Amazon, Microsoft and IBM Watson and they are all giving us teams to build solutions. I can afford to jump and be ambitious and the vendors see that.”