Building Digital Competency: Transformation for Competitive Advantage

In an increasingly digital environment, a critical skill for facility management professionals is digital competency, not just for themselves but for their organizations overall.

By Lisa S. Stanley

In an increasingly digital environment, one of the critical skills facilities managers (FMs) need to build is digital competency, not just for themselves but for their organizations and the industry as well. Technology is moving at an accelerated pace. The amount of data collected is expanding, but this isn’t a question of “how much data can we collect?” It’s a question of what FMs do with the information derived from the data to power business decisions and improve competitive position. Digital competency enables you to transform your business, and the way you do business with your internal and external customers.

Let’s start with digital transformation — what is it? It’s the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business (including FM), fundamentally changing how you operate and deliver value to customers. It’s also a cultural change that requires organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment, and get comfortable with more risk in transformation

The current environment empowers leaders who are willing to embrace change and reward innovation. There is no one size fits all approach to digital competency. It’s a balancing act for allocating resources that line up with your organization’s current core competencies, and those you need to develop to remain competitive. It’s about finding the right mix for traditional business intelligence and analytics to expand into the emerging technologies that harness predictive analytics with machine learning, artificial intelligence and more.

What are the four top drivers for advancing the need for digital competency? In a recent edition of the Sloan Management Review, the report noted the top drivers for digital competency as evolving customer behaviors and preferences, followed closely by growth opportunities in new markets, increased competitive pressure, and the emergence of the importance of standards. For FMs, having a digital pulse on the needs of the workplace and workforce enable faster response, improved productivity and more efficient operations. An effective framework to building digital competency has to include a standardized approach to data as a critical component.

Does your organization have the right stuff to advance in this increasingly digital world? It’s about doing things right, engaging the right people, developing the right skills, and putting the right framework in place.

Assess Your Current Level Of Digital Maturity

Start with a frank assessment of your current state of digital maturity in four key areas: strategy, culture, organization, and capabilities. The following questions and their answers provide a good start to the process.

• How aligned are your digital and corporate strategies?
• How customer-centric is your digital strategy?
• What level of resources are you willing to commit to advancing digital maturity?


  • What is your company’s comfort level in taking risks regarding digital initiatives?
  • To what extent do you use external partners to build digital capabilities?
  • How collaborative is your corporate culture?


  • What share of your digital talent has experience from outside your organization? Outside the industry?
  • How many of your senior managers can articulate their digital Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)?
  • What level of support exists to allocate needed resources for this transformation (financial, training, etc.)?
  • Is the corporate message reflective of this new approach?


  • What skill sets to develop digital competency are available in your team members?
  • What level of investment are you willing to make to increase that skill set?
  • How well does your company leverage the data you collect to generate insights that affect your corporate strategy?
  • What percentage of your core back-office processes are digitized?

Digital Transformation Is a Multi-step Process

As with any transformation, progress occurs in stages. Digital transformation can be described in six hierarchal stages, with some measure of overlap between them.

  1. What’s wrong with status quo? It’s a legacy perspective of processes and customer needs where spreadsheets are still king to collect data.
  2. Micro experiments are undertaken in this stage, analogous to dipping your toe in the shallow end of the pool. This phase advances in baby steps forward to develop small wins and become more comfortable with risk.
  3. Intentional experimentation that moves beyond proof of concept models to pilots, usually small in scope that can be completed quickly. Speed starts to develops a core following here, whether it’s a “fail fast and move on” model or to implementation.
  4. Advances to develop a roadmap with a focus on constructive collaboration with business partners, both internal and external to the organization.
  5. Transformation teams are developed across business units and new infrastructure and support systems are developed, often with assistance from outside consultants.
  6. Innovation-centric and collaborative environment, with a stronger comfort level with risk and a supportive framework for establishing a digital ecosystem.

Digital transformation evolves over time, and provides both short term and long term benefits, including:

  • Improved efficiency of processes
  • Improved decision-making using advanced analytics
  • Improved reach and obsolescence of information silos
  • Improved customer experience and satisfaction to build stronger relationships
  • Improved corporate performance

Start Building Skillsets Now

Emerging technologies are providing tools to turbo charge information and require new skill sets to maximize productivity and performance. An understanding of data governance that’s real estate-focused is a critical skill for FMs to advance in the digital environment. (Read this author’s November 2018 article on “Data Governance: Driving Performance In The Workplace And Workforce.”) Spreadsheets have a place in FM, but not the only place. It’s about getting smarter with sensors, mobile applications, and predictive analytics. Start building these skills within your team now so they understand how the pieces fit together, and how to improve your organization’s competitive position. A delay can carry significant opportunity cost that may be difficult if not impossible to recover. Making a commitment of resources to support the skills to achieve digital competency provides momentum that creates a formidable competitive advantage. Are you ready?

digital transformationStanley is CEO of OSCRE International, a non-profit member-based organization focused on transforming the way digital information drives real estate. OSCRE works with key stakeholders to expand understanding and implementation of standards, effective data governance, digital competency and emerging technologies.