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21 February 2020

Evident Software stands as steppingstone to smart buildings

Our recent Smart Building forecast charts a market worth over $90bn by 2025, driven mostly by worker productivity improvements. However, there are major opportunities to save money and improve efficiency in the building management side of things, but which will take longer to emerge. We spoke to Evident Software, one of these such vendors, where Managing Director Tracie Williams explained the company’s position in the field.

Williams said how Evident had evolved from SCCI’s in-house software, used to manage its contractor business, as one of the largest facilities management firms in the UK, with a particular focus on social housing. Williams noted that landlords are overly reliant on contractors, and that this leaves all the power with the contractors, when it comes to the data flowing outwards from the contractor to the landlords.

Williams stressed that this data is unauthenticated and unvalidated, often simply the digital version of a worksheet carried around in the back of a van for a few days before the contractor gets back to office and updates the logs. There is now a very big opportunity to do a better job with data generated in the facilities management market, but this requires a step change.

To this end, Williams described how easy it is for both the landlord and contractor to lose track, pointing to the Hackitt Report into the infamous Grenfell Tower fire, which found that there was no digital audit trail to follow – that we are reliant on contractor culture, and that landlords (and perhaps more importantly, their tenants) have very little control over this.

As such, Evident is trying to give the power to the landlord, as a way of holding contractors accountable to their contract terms – ensuring that when a building is meant to have its fire alarm system checked, the contractor is forced to actually test every unit in the building, validate it through the Evident platform, and can’t fraudulent say that the work has been done.

Williams believes that Evident is unique in this regard, and can’t think of rival software that offers these capabilities. The system begins with asset tracking, usually by way of a sticker on each thing you want to monitor in a building, such as a smoke alarm. You can then go about retroactively creating digital identities for these assets, but combing back through the old contractor records, and then you can create workflows for your contractors – for servicing, end-date replacements, and replenishments.

The tagging process should then ensure that the contractor is held honest, as the mobile application requires that each asset is scanned for its QR code. This then creates a time-stamp and geo-stamp, which should prove that a contractor has actually complied with their management contract.

Williams explained that Fire and Security were the two main drivers, although Gas, Electricity, Water, and also Asbestos are also important. Evident hopes to manage any asset that falls under these remits, but the first two remain the most popular.

Over time, the tagging has evolved to include sensors that can connect alarm panels, which allows a landlord and its contractor to monitor legacy alarm systems for outages or faults. In time, more assets can be connected to a platform like Evident’s, which should help increase the value for its landlord customers – who can then prove to tenants that they are paying for a building that is properly safe, and meeting the terms of their contracts, via digital audit trails.

Government regulation is going to be a big driver for this market, said Williams, especially in the UK – where the impact of the Hackitt inquiry and its recommendations are going to be felt quite sharply. That report is very critical of contractor culture, in particular, and rightfully so, in Williams’ view. Tools like Evident’s should make them considerably more accountable.

We asked if such tools would soon become requirements for buildings insurance. Williams thinks that it is not going to be the case just yet, but did note that there are cases in the UK where leaseholder mortgage lenders are requiring customers to prove that the buildings that house these leasehold units are properly maintained and don’t have the same cladding that has been blamed for the Grenfell disaster. To that end, tools like Evident’s could become almost mandatory for large landlords, if suddenly they have to prove to their individual customers that the building is compliant with local regulation.

Williams noted that the market is shifting towards this, that it is on the horizon but a long way off. If mortgage lenders have got involved, Williams believes insurance providers will follow suit, and landlords are currently very keen to prove that they are compliant with the Hackitt recommendations that are being published.

Currently, the system is quite low-tech, consisting of the sticker tag on the asset, and then the management platform for the landlord – Evident’s actual customer. This platform allows them to provide contractors with mobile applications that force them to tag devices, and importantly, Williams says the size of these support and management contracts means that the landlords have significant clout when negotiating with these contractors.

Williams said that this is still a push market, for Evident, that it has to reach out to customers. However, its position within the SCCI Group is advantageous here, as it already knows a lot of potential customers. However, Williams picks up an air that landlords are most all talk and little action, and that three years after Grenfell, they think they it was a one-off that they might be able to ignore. In Evident’s view, the platform is also a way to hold the landlord’s feet to the fire – and force them to make changes for the better. This is especially true if governments start mandating such platforms.

In terms of selling this platform, there is a one-off cost per tracked asset, and then an ongoing license that is pegged to the number of units, rooms, or tenants. In one example, four blocks of flats were tagged, covering 2,000 assets in the communal areas (as Evident doesn’t get involved with the private units) – 600 of which were in the fire and security realm, with the others mostly in the utility space.

As for expansion, Williams says Evident wants to offer this service to hotels, offices, schools, hospitals, and local authorities. There is plenty to keep Evident busy, said Williams, as well as a lot of scope abroad from its UK focus. In terms of adoption, Williams thinks it is only going to take a couple of large landlords to adopt, before their competitors race to follow suit. For many, it becomes clear that they can’t afford not to use such a system, as it is a way to end being beholden to the contractors.