There has been a great deal of focus on how technology has enabled digital disruptors to seize major chunks of once secure markets. But spend a day in a WeWork or Runway East co-working space and it becomes quickly apparent that culture and environment are also at the heart of these organisations. Gone are the bland open plan office spaces that are penned in by glass aquariums for senior management to monitor the minutes and hours of the proles from. Instead groups gather at giant kitchen tables, others huddle on sofas or stand at Agile boards describing a problem.
As the enterprise world struggles to recruit the talent it needs to compete with digital disruptors it needs to do more than move from on-premise servers to the cloud, they need to create an enticing environment to attract and retain key talent. It can be done, Roy Aston, Group CIO for Barclaycard has led the creation of a totally new environment in Northampton of all places.
Facilities management businesses, at first glance, may not seem to be the organisations you’d turn to create an environment that attracted young Scala developers, but Andy Fry, Operational Services Director for Interserve believes differently. He’s tasked with driving innovation in a business and market that operates on extremely thin margins, but the energetic runner says the opportunity is right in front of them.
Throughout the interview at the Interserve headquarters behind London’s Waterloo station it is clear that the heart of innovation, as far as Fry is concerned, is people and in particular the people within Interserve.
“We talk about being a people business because that is what drives the culture and the way we operate,” he says. Interserve is a diverse business, supplying organisations with its essentials such as catering, cleaning, security, heating, maintenance as well as project management and building services. It operates in a fiercely competitive market against major organisations like Amey, Carillon, ISS and Mitie.
“We have driven facilities management to a commodity market,” he says of the sector. Contracts often switch between the key players and many will only notice a change in the staff members overall badge. “We are taking a different view on that with a strategy that says ‘your workplace is very important’ because if you come to work and don’t feel good then the employee’s potential will be lower,” Fry says of becoming focused on human capital. “If it looks good and feels good you will feel good as an employee.
“That cultural change is coming from the imagination of people coming into facilities management. Facilities management is not sexy,” Fry says with a rye smile, his own heritage includes stints in the – considered by many – sexy airline industry.
“It is ripe for innovation and you come into it and see the opportunities for improvement,” he says. Fry’s focus on improving the environment for client’s employees also comes back in-house at Interserve. With facilities management having become a low margin commodity that features striking competition, many of the coal face staff will remain on-site with a client but move employer when a contract changes through the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment), commonly known as TUPE agreements. Fry is concerned that TUPE can lead to knowledge loss. “That has got to change so that TUPE process includes the adoption of a set of business values, not just a label on the uniform. You have to invest in the right training for staff when making the transition,” Fry says.
Interserve has 80,000 employees on its pay roster and is a FTSE listed business with an annual turnover of close to £3.6 billion across its five different business divisions. “The largest part of our business is facilities management,” Fry says of the diverse organisation.
Interserve and its market rivals are clear example of an outsourcing provider, yet Fry has found that the sector has not made the most of outsourcing opportunities itself.
“We need to do to our word what we ask our clients to do; they outsource cleaning to us, so we should outsource our IT,” Fry says of the standard technologies. His remit includes innovation in business processes across the organisation. The organisation has recently created a new target operating model (TOM) for its business processes and technology.
“This sector has under utilised IT and there is a lot of legacy from mergers and acquisitions and contract wins.
“Every customer comes to us thinking they are unique. We have standardised processes in the way cleaning is done and then we can discuss with them the standard they expect. Customers need to feel unique,” he says. Interserve has introduced customer portals that provide the client with information about their facilities service. Interserve has also recently introduced a Director of Customer Experience to change the focus of the organisation towards the customer, whether that is the tenant, building owner or the facilities team.
“What we are trying to do is work with the small fleet of foot businesses that want to take great ideas to market,” Fry says of the innovation agenda that he has. “We are taking technologies and trialling them with a number of clients and in doing so we have to work out the commercials,” he says of around eight trials of new technologies and methods across Interserve. “Anything from how you report a fault to the helpdesk, use of barcodes and GPS,” Fry says of some of the innovations in trial. As you’d expect in a highly competitive commodity market Fry was not willing to be too open to disclosure.
Adrian Ringrose, Chief Executive of Interserve has set up an internal challenge Adrian’s Big Idea Hunt, which Fry says has empowered team members across the organisation to share ideas on how best to clean a shopping centre or improve a business process. Fry and his team then take these ideas into a series of centres of excellence to commercialise the idea for the benefit of the organisation.
Fry sits on the board of Interserve having joined the business from rivals Rentokil Initial in 2014, but credits his most important part of his career being in the airline industry having been a customer service specialist with Etihad. Time with telecoms and media giants Vodafone and Sky have instilled a customer focus in the business leader, which as he states is rising up the priority list of facilities management sector. Fry began his career as an analyst modeling roads, including the M6 Toll that skirts Birmingham.