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September 06, 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 so far from now and a lot of us imagine a completely different world, but in reality, it’s just around the corner and we already have a great understanding and practical basis to predict what will be possible by that time. This series of blogs will help you get to know some of our Planon team – as we interview our colleagues from around the globe about technology. These interviews will focus on how technology is utilized in the field of facility management and how it can help, especially in important, strategic areas such as space management. We will also dive into what trends each employee finds interesting and what they predict will and won’t become a reality in the coming years.

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Karen Winter, Services Director for the Planon Singapore office, has been with Planon for more than 10 years. She started as a consultant for a Planon partner, then joined Planon Germany as a senior consultant, and in 2009 became the Services Director for all of Central Europe. 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 was planning 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 computerized. 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 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. I found that the IT-related 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 following and reading articles posted on social media channels like LinkedIn or blogposts. In Germany we have a well-known magazine for Facility Management titled, ‘Der Facility Manager,” that I like to keep up with.. There are also very inspiring blogs from the European Business School “Standpunkt.” I also like to learn from friends, colleagues, or family if they come up with new topics!

What is your favorite “tech” or “smart” city?

At the moment my favorite “smart” city is Singapore! It is a fascinating city. What makes it “smart” and “techy”? I would say that it is interesting to see how organized the city is and how they manage such a large number of people (5.5 million), living in a limited area (about 50 square miles). Public transport, for example, is structured in a way that makes it very hard 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 favorite building?

My favorite building is actually back in Düsseldorf, Germany. It is a landmark building - City gate (Stadttoor), a 20-story skyscraper in the Unterbilk neighborhood of Düsseldorf. The building was designed by Düsseldorf-based architecture firm Petzinka, Overdiek und Partner and completed in 1998. That seems like quite some time ago, but 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, especially in 1998.  In addition to 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 digitalized, especially in everyday life.. For example, you won’t find a lot of printed materials 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 (Singapore’s version of Uber). However, the business environment has some catching up to do; for instance, even large companies in Singapore are not using an advanced database system for Maintenance Management operations. However, because there is no minimum wage, I’ve noticed that the pressure on reducing manual work is not as high as it is in Germany.

While 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 technology trend should we be paying attention to for the world of facility management in the years to come?

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. It is already being used for things like access control, which I think 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 recognizes individuals. 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. Also related to that, I see the topic of voice recognition and the way we interact with machines becoming a hot topic that that will bring change to FM 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 separate devices for 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