“For the past 20 years or so, Malaysia has been developing by leaps and bounds in the facility management space. Private sector organizations, and even the government, have come to recognize FM as a key enabler in streamlining business operations.”

- Zul Azhan Abu Bakar, Co-Founder & CEO, Infinity Wave

Episode Summary

In this episode, Umesh welcomes Zul Azhan Abu Bakar, Co-Founder & CEO at Infinity Wave and a hugely popular figure across Asset Operations, Maintenance, and Facilities Management to discuss the state of technology adoption, drivers of change, and recent developments within the built environment space in Malaysia. As the world moves towards data-driven maintenance and asset management, Zul and Umesh dive into the reality of situations at the ground level, examine the impact of various factors on the total cost of ownership, and try to put a finger on which stakeholders among the many involved should take charge of delivering this transformation. Listen to their conversation to uncover a wealth of insight into where the industry is headed in Malaysia and what trends to look out for in 2023! We would love to know your views on this episode. Drop a message here, or connect with Umesh on LinkedIn to carry on the dialogue!

Full Transcript

[Umesh] :  Hello everyone. Welcome back to yet another episode of the Forever Forward podcast. And if you are still grappling with the name change, we've sort of changed the name of the podcast from Facility Management Times to Forever Forward. We thought that we had to broaden our horizon beyond facilities management. And that is precisely why I have Zul Azhan Abu Bakar with me as today's guest, lovely to have you, with us. Would you like to say hello to the listeners? [Zul] : Yes. Hello everyone. I'm really happy to be here. And then it's been a lot of discussion and space recently for myself, and I'm really happy to be here. [Umesh] : Thank you very much. Perfect. I mean, absolutely. A pleasure to have you and, we are absolutely aware of the fact that how popular you are in your company, when it comes to the topic around what we have. So for the benefit of the listeners, I mean, we are gonna talk about the state of enterprise asset management, asset operations, and maintenance, facilities management, kind of the intersection of all of that with Zul. Zul is co-founder of Fox Facility Solutions. Basically it's a CMMS. he runs a consulting company as well, infinity Wave. He's very popular. He's a thought leader in this space, in the country. But I think what I was particularly very excited about when I first spoke to was the fact that his growth from being a practitioner to then starting to look at how technology can assist the people in which I think is one of the most important aspects of what, how we connected as founders. Before we progress, why don't you give, everyone a brief introduction of all that you've been doing, and your career so far? [Zul] : Thanks. I've been like, at around 15 years of experience in this space, so I've been going from one company to another, but stick to the areas of facility automations, R&D, strategic planning or facility management, and even running the facility myself with bunch of people, so, Also got involved with construction and I got to see a wide range of, perspective from those areas, whether you want to make an improvement in terms of automation, facilities running it for FM and construct the building itself. So it is a big opportunity for me. I'm a bit lucky to have experience all over this, and currently I'm running. Infinity wave, which help a lot of organizations, even some government agencies, that we collaborate with. To help them to go through with their journey for digital transformation. So our focus areas are a lot on the built environment and how technology can actually be adopted in more efficient, productive ways. So that's a bit of summary what I have been doing. [Umesh] : Perfect. I mean, that's obviously a remarkable journey so far, and I'm sure the best is yet to come. So Zul, help us understand what's the, you know, a long time back I did a podcast, which was called State of Facilities Management in Southeast Asia. But then I realized it, and as we were talking with my, co-host JJ was with OCS there, PCS, as it's known in Thailand. is that every country is very different. We sort of bring them into one umbrella and say Southeast Asia, where I'm assume Singapore is very different to Indonesia, to very different to Malaysia. So what do you think is the current state of asset operations maintenance in Malaysia? Firstly, you may want to share an overall perspective and then maybe, zero down on the built environment. [Zul] : For, I think for the past about 20 years or so, Malaysia has been developing a lot in that areas. the FM itself, facility management has been recognized by the government and a lot of organization nowadays. It started back in the late nineties where FM already established. And one of the key reason for this is the privitisation of hospital maintenance in Malayasia. So the previous, prime Minister of Malaysia mentioned that. We need to do a lot more for facilities building and we cannot really have first class infrastructure with the world country mentality. That's a bit controversial for him to say that, but it's kind of a structure sense button. Makes sense. Kind of a lot of button to a lot of people and stakeholders. That's why you can see a lot of organization like MEFM. organization like LAFA, nama, they are in that space on their own, but working on their own effort to improve things around. So, there's a lot of areas to be improved on because we started off with upkeep and maintenance of building. So that's a bit things behind the scene and it's not really glamorous and people normally neglected it. So, I just got back from the FM issue conference recently, and there's a lot of discussion made currently on how to actually move the industry forward. And we are looking into technology adoption, some transformation in terms of organizations such even we are talking about, the structure of the procurement itself in for example, government space where they are one of the largest, if not the largest asset owners in Malaysia. So there's a lot going on, and I'm also personally involved with one of the locals, to be their advisor into this space. They are currently trying to introduce a facility maintenance engineering cost, which is quite new and intersection I would say, between mechanical, civil, electrical, a little bit of electronic, which is not being done before I measure. We were transitionally known as mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, or civil engineers. So by having this facility maintenance engineer, you can see that these graduates can actually look into the areas of facilities. Stick to the one conventional engineering courses. So there's a lot of going on and it's a bit interesting. [Umesh] : One recommendation includes the basics of data skills as well, because I think that's going to be the fundamentally the most important thing. So that's just one recommendation. I'm glad to hear that's happening. But, tell us more about what kind of an adoption has been there in terms of, let's say, because when you look at technology, the most basic software that the adoption that should be there is like, A CMMS stroke CAFM. I know they both are very different but kind of interchangeably used. So what percentage adoption is there? I mean in Malaysia right now. [Zul] : Okay. This is quite interesting because I presented a paper recently on technology adoption among facility managers. And one of the participant actually pointed out the list of technology that I presented in my paper. He's actually one of the professors at the local university, So I told him basically we got tangled up and confused by the commercial names posted by the vendors because they wanted to push their unique selling proposition into specific name when it's actually a CMMS, a big, and so on. So, by having a good understanding about the technology areas and key areas of FM implementation. It's good. This is where Malaysia should do a lot more in this area because there's a lot of trending coming in about BIM, but, and a lot of players actually realize, and they kind of agree that it's not really useful for them to adopt certain technology because it's trending. And they wanted to go back into the areas that actually meant something for them and make impactful change. For example, I want to have like information management better for my facility and what are the areas that I can improve on. It doesn't just, does not necessarily be built. So they did kind of understand that. [Umesh] : So this is where the conversation began. You need to have a basic, fundamental understanding about the areas of technologies. But where is Malaysia right now. So, for example, if we were to say, yeah, I absolutely agree with you, by the way, when you say there are a lot of no names come out, and again, we were talking offline that they are themes which either the marketing folks take out or the venture capital folk takes out someone takes out, and that theme runs for some time and then you bring some other theme but again, when you look at, a CMMS or a CAFM, again, interchangeably being used over here, it's kind of the basic where you need that software to sort of operate and run your assets and manage the facilities versus you could do it on paper, but how much of that is happening? What percentage of adoption? [Zul] : The survey around 150 facility managers in Malaysia is around. We can say that from four stages of technology adoption will be early majority which is quite low actually. It's around 50 to 60%. [Umesh] : And have you seen that changing now? Recently, and if yes, then what are the drivers that are making that change? [Zul] : There are some movement changes and then some change in terms of understanding mentality, and they wanted to have a good balance between investment and the return from it. This is where it is coming into for Malaysia industry. They have a good and better understanding into the balance of return investment and the investment need. So we are going into that area, and the areas that we are going into is really good because when the stakeholders, the key decision makers are going into that space. They wanted to know more how to make it more efficient and they can actually understand what are the return of investment. Not really restricted to monetary, but also the soft written that, like I mentioned in the conference, the balance of your work and life and the stress handle by the facility team, of course. [Umesh] : So those are the things that being talk about now, which is really interesting and good. And I mean you know, globally we are seeing, so before I actually come to this question now, when you look at Southeast Asia as a cluster you see Singapore slightly as the you, I don't know whether you wanna call as the head, but It's that country that one always wants to benchmark against. Where would you see the state of FMs in context to where it is in Singapore? [Zul] : Southeast Asia is a bit diverse. There's a lot of it's like a very diverse, lot of very diverse politically, the people in the, I think culturally. In terms of geographically and then how the build environment space grow is well, is true, is a big influence in that. True. I cannot really compare effort to effort between Malaysia and Singapore, but in terms, I mean, economically, we know how Singapore grows in the area. Yeah. So it's a bit unfair to compare. But I can see that the industry is really growing positively. People now taking more participation into the area where they wanted to have difficult conversation. Even the government agencies. So we want to change this and people respond to it. So this it's a wealth change. So leads me to the next question, which I had for you, is that globally when, we work with FM companies across, largely across Middle East or uk, Australia, and there's a huge focus on. On being able to move to data-driven maintenance now. Which is you can't do that overnight and there is a lot of process. so it's not just tools that can help you get there. As I think you mentioned earlier, organizational and cultural change within FM also needs to happen to be able to get there. and plus contracts in others. But are you seeing that happen in Malaysia as well now? Some Marq, FM companies or marq asset owners saying that, Hey, we do want to change the way we are maintaining, operating and maintaining the assets. it's definitely happening now. there's a lot of companies now talking about data gathering and data management. They wanted to know more. So the conversation that we have now is much more better than I can say 5- 10 years ago where we are still talking about what's the difference between tennis and FM. Now we're talking into this space of How actually my data can benefit my operation and there's a lot of conversation also. I don't want to put 1000 sensors that collect million data, but useless. This is the conversation that we have now. It's really great because people now start to wonder where and why and how. So they're more aware about everything and actually more thoughtful. So, if the change is really happening or people are talking about it, who is making that change happen or talk conversation happen? Is it more from the private facility management players, like whether it's in-house or outsourced, or is it the asset owners who are saying that, Hey, this needs to happen or as we mostly see it's like people like us talking about it, so what's happening in Malaysia? [Zul]: It's interesting because this has happened in recent conference also there was a question posed by the participant to one of the key government officer about value at. In the contract. And this person mentioned specifically about the technology adoption, So government need to realize and recognize actually the innovation part, technology that they being introduced into the contract and add it into an extra points. he said so that we can go into more innovative solution rather than specific upkeeping doing this, removing the, and cleaning. So your question about who should be responsible, I mean, who should make the move versus Who should, ok. Everyone's responsible, by the way. Correct. So now the industry is starting to making big noise into this. They wanted to, okay, let's push this to the asset owner, which is government and private also. So by having this, I would say consensus among the players, people like us, It's a big drive for asset owners now to think about, actually I can benefit from this. This is what they want. Not only benefiting them but us as asset owners. So it's interesting because. The conversation now is not really behind the scene is really open and transparent. so it's a wonderful, the conversation is happening. I mean, I, you know, one would like to believe that India being probably, I don't wanna go into where India and Malaysia are economically because I probably not the best of judge there. But one of the things. We wish those conversations happen in India. I don't think they're happening to a large extent. So, I mean, in that, say what you're saying, probably in that case, Malaysia definitely seems to have taken, the problem is not that the conversations aren't happening. I mean, everyone talks in conferences. But the real problem I see here is the fact. you may add a line item in the contract, which is you will have brownie points for innovation. But by the way, you still need to give hundred people for the job. you still need to maintain the asset every three months every six months. then there's a mismatch that happens. That's correct. While you want the technology to be brought in but then you are not allowing technology to really change any of that. But again, great that conversation is happening. I think we should definitely check with you in six months time to see how things have gone in that sense. apart from the built environment, what other industries or segments are really looking at changing asset, the entire operations and maintenance landscape. I mean, from my limited knowledge on other industries, we've been engaging energy companies, oil and gas, manufacture plants. Of course they were always on, right. We wanted to go into that specific area where really appreciate operation. So those are the areas that we are engaging at this point of time. Not much that I can say on other areas, but, we are looking, that's a very good spectrum. With a very good spectrum in that sense. And also one thing, I mean, like has the energy prices in Malaysia are really skyrocketed? Has there been in UK and Europe? I mean, has there been any impact on that in Malaysia? That's not really impacted much at this part time. But there's a lot of conversation being, it happened, to discuss about, prices and so on. But I don't really want to go into the area. No. But as of now, there has not been like, because you know, when, like I, again, I was in UK a week back and spent a couple of weeks there meeting prospects and customers. I think one of the major drivers that's actually getting people to focus on digital technology is the fact that the, not, the cost of energy, which is electricity or both electrical and thermal, is very high. So it's quite different initial because we are quite heavily subsidized in terms of energy. So that's another, I can say it is a pro and call when you subsidize and people don't really take care of that energy sense when it's cheap you don't want to try to say correct. I mean, that's there. So I think your company has a product or you have a product on like, which is around CMMS and one of the things I wanted to say, , what if, before I go to my last question for this particular podcast, what are the challenges you are facing when it comes to enabling people to use a use CMMS? Okay. just by any, even with all that change conversations and stuff, but I'm sure you face certain on the ground challenges and implementation. What are those? mostly people think that technology is a civil bullet. So that will be the biggest and most important thing that we face currently. I think that technology can solve a lot of their problem without having to look at their fundamental issues, which is competency, leadership and so on. So, when we approach or being approached, we would like to set some awareness, some information, and Some of our experience, knowledge to them also. Okay. This is not something that you buy and solve your problem entirely. and key decision making for them is, how actually tangible benefits that they can have. So this is the key challenges that we have in Malaysia is quite relatively new to a lot of people, even for CMMS even for CAFM, they would like to know more and they would like to experience it and see it happen, and it will take like really long time for them to actually adopt to that technology I can say. [Umesh]: And, and you've, I mean, I don't think you'll have to take the names, but are you seeing a lot of the incumbents or the new age startups, which are doing a lot of work around CMMS and stuff globally, also entering Malaysia? Is that happening? or it's still pretty much just the incumbents and the local players that are there in Malaysia right now. [Zul]: The thing with CMMS is that much of the operation is localized. So the unmatched foreign startups or foreign players that came into the space in Malaysia because it's merely driven by local processes, operation and so on. So there's a lot of companies also go into the areas where they wanted to help companies automate their process flow, automation, work, operation, and so on. But, it's good in a way. It keeps the soccer industry alive with a lot of, more. I can see makes it more competitive and stuff that's obviously there. Thanks so much Zul for So that problem brings me to my last question. You know, one of the last questions you mentioned it twice already. Yes. So I've mentioned it all. That's why I'm not probably correcting. Okay. This could be one of the last, I don't promise you what's your forecast for the industry for the coming year. This is true. Or what are the couple of things you're looking forward to? Yeah. I really hope that, I've been in specific local context for the industry to overhead stock with the leveling with is 4.0 SBGS? I understand that some requirement and. Comprehensives need to be done. But let's go ahead with change transformation and starting with the organization and the people is because technology is basically to enhance the human participation in the industry regardless of what industry you are in. Let's go into that discussion, okay? that will be my focus. It will be difficult in the next couple of years, but. That's where most of the innovation happen. Actually the difficult time. Push people to better ideas better solutions and so on. I'm really hopeful. I couldn't definitely move with you. I mean, I think as you quite rightly said, this is probably not going to happen alone in 2023. In fact, this probably can be the sort of, the guiding force forever because I think, you know, a lot of people like us who probably have not like, or who've gone through those cycles, who've come from either working with the people on the shop floor or actually doing it themselves, do realize and see it, that technology is a near enabler. It's a means to an end. It's not the end in itself. And I think if the industry at large could recognize, and when I say industry, absolutely right. so it's not just the FM asset owners and consultants and vendors. I think everyone put together, if they can realize that, if we can find a way in which we can empower the blue collar workforce, help them make better decisions, help them be at more ease, I think there is this transformation which can then obviously truly come in the most inclusive manner. just make the workplace much more better for the facility management team. To make goal. Yeah. But I think that's interesting. And, but I think, again, when you look at and you know, so this is not a question, but just a discussion with this. That's where I had my disagreements on the, when you look at workplace from the perspective of a white collar workforce, and when you look at the workplace from the perspective of the blue collar, it's very different, is so very different now. When you look at the softwares that have been taken out are largely for white collar workforce. Like, you know, I mean, you obviously have CMMS, but again, when you think of it, everyone says that, Hey, we'll do digital transformation. We'll do data driven, but here you have people who don't have requisite data skills. So I think, but I agree with you, if any organization that can solve for it is like miles ahead in this race to win the transformation in that sense. But thanks, like always, it's a pleasure talking to you and it's just, I have no more questions. No just to recap, so probably Malaysia is like no different to any other country in the similar. A bit of pessimism, some early movers, a lot of opportunity, lot of growth, and a lot of optimism to look forward to. And, and one inspiration that Zul gives us is that don't get lost in themes. Don't get lost in words. Don't get lost in nomenclature. Focus on what really needs to be turned, making things better, and, and then whatever comes your way really comes your way. Yeah. Yeah. Now that's, that's it. Thank you so much, Zul, once again for your time. Pleasure to have you. Take care. [Zul]: Same here. Okay. Bye.