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06 September 2018

Services Director Karen Winter: “One trend I find heating up in Singapore is face recognition and all the possibilities it gives you for getting information or interacting with technology”

When we think about 2025 it seems ages from now and a lot of us imagine a completely different world, but in reality, it is less than ten years away and we already have a good idea what will be possible by then. In this series of two we will interview Planon employees and ask them how technology can be helpful in the field of facility management and may solve problems in the area of space, keeping accurate records and to be more efficient. We also dive into what overall tech trends they find interesting and what they do or do not see becoming a reality in the coming years.

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Karen Winter, Services Director for the Planon Singapore office, has been with Planon for over 10 years. She started as a consultant for a Planon partner, before joining Planon Germany as a senior consultant and then, in 2009, Services director CE. Last year she relocated to the Planon Singapore office to build the team there.

When were you first involved with software and technology?

It was back when I was studying architecture and planned to become a famous architect. When I started my studies, everyone would still draw floor plans with ink instead of using computers. By the time I got my diploma, that had changed completely, and everything was computerised. It was a dynamic time and it fascinated me from day one. During my studies I worked for one of the university departments and provided training for AutoCAD systems to fellow students. You could say I was an early adopter using this CAD technology!

I started to work with AutoCAD systems and that also became the path I took when I graduated from university. I completed my studies in architecture, but never worked as an architect. The IT-side of jobs fascinated me a lot more than the architecture side, so I started my first job as a solution architect for CAD Systems.

What does technology mean for you?

Technological inventions have changed our lives considerably in the last decade. I can’t imagine life without technology, we highly dependent on it.

How do you keep up to date ‘about’ technology?

Business-wise I keep up to date by following magazines about Facility and Property Management. The same goes for social media channels like LinkedIn or blogposts. In Germany we have ‘Der Facility Manager’, which is a well known magazine for Facility Management. Highly inspiring are the blogs from European Business School “Standpunkt”. I am also curious to learn from friends, colleagues or family if they come up with new topics!

What is your favourite ‘tech’ or ‘smart’ city?

At the moment that is Singapore for sure! It is a fascinating city. What makes it tech? I would say that it is interesting to see how organised the city is and how they manage such a large number of people (5.5 million), living in a limited area (about 20 km by 40 km in diameter). Public transport for example is structured in a way it is impossible to get lost. You are guided by all kinds of blinking signs and symbols. In the trains there is a dynamic display for the next train station showing you upfront where the doors/exits are located, where you have to get out and the best exit to take to go to your destination. All information is displayed in four languages, which takes into account the various nations living in this city.  

The other aspect that is great about this city is the green building initiative. Obviously, there are a lot of high-rise buildings in the city, however you still get the impression that you are in a green environment. There are a lot of parks even around the CBD and almost every high-rise building has integrated some kind of rooftop garden, or green façade. This is part of an initiative that they want 80% of all the buildings to be certified by 2025. The government pushes really hard to promote the concept of green cities and certified green buildings.

Talking about this great initiative of green buildings in Singapore – do you have a favourite building?

My favourite building is actually back in Düsseldorf, Germany. It is a landmark building - City gate (Stadttoor) ,a 20-storey 84 m (276 ft) skyscraper in the Unterbilk neighbourhood of Düsseldorf. The building was designed by Düsseldorf-based architecture firm Petzinka, Overdiek und Partner and completed in 1998. It is quite a while ago but even back then they really did an excellent job of thinking about sustainable aspects such as cooling the building down or heating it up in a more responsible way. They almost managed to have a zero-energy building and that was a major challenge and concern when constructing the building.  As well as these innovative solutions they came up with, I really like the bold architecture of the building.

If you compare living in Singapore with living in Germany, do you notice big differences in technology?

Singapore is a lot more digitalised. It is visible in your daily live whilst just walking around the city. For example you will not find any printed press on the streets and you don’t see anyone reading a newspaper.  Everyone is checking those things on their smartphones. Commuting around the island is highly supported by all kinds of Apps for renting a bike at any corner or using GRAB (Asian version of Uber). However, in the business environment even large companies are not that advanced in using a database system for Maintenance Management operations. With a lot of cheap labour available (no minimum wage), the pressure on reducing manual work is not as high as in Germany.

Living in Singapore – do you also miss things (technology-wise) from Germany?

Electric cars! Having to travel long distances within the country, the limited radius is a common argument against e-cars in Germany. But distances in Singapore should not be the issue. I expected that in a city as advanced in technology as Singapore, they would have 80% - 90% of all the cars and buses running on electricity - but they don’t.  I was surprised that traffic is still quite traditional.

What do you expect to be a technology trend that we should be paying attention to for the facility management world in 10 years from now?

One trend I found very noticeable in Singapore is face recognition and all the possibilities it gives you for getting information or interacting with technology. It has already been used for access control for example, which makes perfect sense to determine who has access to certain parts of a building. You no longer need any keys or access cards if you set things up so the building recognises you. I think this will have an enormous impact on the way we move and work within buildings. It could also be used to check who has access to a certain machine and who does not. I see that as a huge trend. Related to that, also voice recognition and the way we interact with machines will change in the near future.

How ready are you for the next innovations in technology?

Well… I believe I am working for a company that is ready for the next innovation wave!

I highly depend on my smartphone, without it I’m completely lost. It incorporates a lot of different technology items that used to be separate; we no longer need cameras, navigation systems or calculators, we can use just one device. Does this make me ready for the next innovations? Time will tell!

Karen Winter
Services Director for Asia