Product Spotlight: An interview with Kevin McDunn, our chief product officer

One by SMS Assist™ is used every day to manage the facilities at more than 210,000 locations across North America—from retail stores, to restaurants, to banks, and even single-family homes.

And while facilities managers and service providers use the platform daily to create, manage, and analyze work orders, few have been granted a look behind the scenes at what distinguishes this technology platform.

To better understand One by SMS Assist and its place in the world of facilities management, we spoke with Kevin McDunn, chief product officer at SMS Assist.

What is One by SMS Assist?

One by SMS Assist is our SaaS platform for executing property maintenance activities on more than 210,000 sites across the U.S. and Canada. Connected to this platform are more than 20,000 service providers who perform maintenance services on these properties—everything from HVAC, electrical, plumbing, lawn care, snow removal, and dozens of other trades.

One by SMS Assist is a cloud-based platform, which means it’s a single source of truth: It’s available 24/7 and is continuously updated so all stakeholders, including internal SMS Assist operations specialists, see the same facts as to the status of work orders and can move them progressively through their life cycle.

The platform includes several web portals and mobile apps tailored to the needs of diverse users, such as store and branch managers, residents inhabiting homes, technicians in the field, and SMS Assist representatives. One by SMS Assist keeps everyone in sync and helps all stakeholders communicate seamlessly within the platform.

What makes the One by SMS Assist platform unique?

One by SMS Assist is the most flexible and usable platform in the industry because it has benefited from all of the experience that SMS Assist has acquired over 21 years of providing property management services. We’re not only a software provider; we’re also a managed services provider.

As a result, we’re able to take the experience of offering property management on behalf of our customers and build our own platform to ensure that it meets the needs of actual practitioners in the industry—those who are responsible for ensuring the maintenance of more than 210,000 sites across North America.

In the last two years we have refactored the platform around a microservices architecture that supports a high degree of configurability. Consequently, we are able to easily tailor it to meet the needs of unique segments of our business.

Furthermore, because we’re users of the platform ourselves—with hundreds of in-house operations specialists, customer service representatives, and subject matter experts ensuring that our customers’ sites are properly cared for—we know whether the system is providing value or not, since we’re getting continuous feedback from within our four walls.

One by SMS Assist has had over $100 million of R&D investment over the years. In the last two years we have refactored the platform around a microservices architecture that supports a high degree of configurability. Consequently, we are able to easily tailor it to meet the needs of unique segments of our business.

SMS Assist’s portfolio includes an exteriors and interiors business, which provides scheduled services triggered by weather events and other factors. We also offer reactive services that respond to breakages in equipment at commercial sites that are dependent on continuous operations to generate revenue.

And we respond to resident concerns. Suppose that heat is out during a polar vortex, or that other issues need to be addressed very quickly to maintain the safety of the property’s inhabitants.

One by SMS Assist is able to address the needs of all these different lines of business, as well as some of the more unique needs of our customers. We’ve architected it to be easily configurable for our customers’ ever-evolving needs.

What is human-centered design, and why should it be important to facilities?

One of the advantages of the One by SMS Assist platform is that we’ve been applying human-centered design principles to make it the industry’s best-in-class platform.

What is human-centered design? Well, it’s a methodology for great product development. It begins by developing empathy for our end users: Our team gets out in the field and seeks to walk in their shoes, observing how they react to the technology that we’re introducing. We make sure that it caters to their needs, their assumptions, and their motivations so they can have the most natural and intuitive experience while interacting with our platform.

We have to design the system to be so easy to use that it’s intuitive from the very first time someone uses the technology.

We’ve invested in a world-class software design team, including user interface experts, user experience architects, and researchers. These skill sets are often involved in the development of large-scale consumer mobile apps, but not as often in enterprise software, such as property maintenance systems. However, at SMS Assist we are convinced that great design is essential to making cutting-edge technology relevant and usable to the maintenance industry. Therefore, we have integrated our designers into scrum teams that comprise product managers, developers, and operations specialists. Together, they engage users ranging from branch managers, residents, technicians, and customer service representatives to discover how to best apply technology to make the complex world of property maintenance much simpler.

Human-centered design is so important to our industry because people have other things on their mind. A technician on the roof of a restaurant fixing an HVAC system does not want to be struggling with a mobile app that’s difficult to use. They want to be able to get their job done and get off that hot roof very quickly. We need to take into account that the sun or other working conditions might be impairing their ability to see or touch the screen and to interact with our technology.

We have to reduce the learning curve for our end users since they engage with us infrequently. We have to design the system to be so easy to use that it’s intuitive from the very first time someone uses the technology. And so one of the exciting opportunities at SMS Assist has been to bring in human-centered design as one of our competitive advantages, and to ensure that this leading-edge technology that we bring to bear is delivered in a way that is very intuitive, easy to use, and in line with the expectations and needs of end users.

How will technology continue to influence the facilities industry?

One of the things that has excited me about the facilities maintenance industry—and in joining the team here at SMS Assist—is the opportunity to take a century-old industry and introduce leading-edge technologies like artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.

The larger opportunity is to capture data in such a way that every new work order that we initiate and execute on has the opportunity to deliver more value. We call this initiative Every Work Order Better Than the Last.

We’ve already begun doing this in small ways. But more importantly, we’ve been preparing the data structure underneath our platform so this information is accessible to all kinds of learning algorithms. By doing so, we can deliver increased automation, increased intelligence, and better outcomes for all of our stakeholders—our customers, service providers, and SMS Assist operators themselves.

The larger opportunity is to capture data in such a way that every new work order that we initiate and execute on has the opportunity to deliver more value. We call this initiative Every Work Order Better Than the Last. It’s our commitment to continuous learning and innovation. We see the platform working alongside humans to gather data in vast quantities that exceed the ability of any one human being to perceive. Following that, we’ll make sense of that data and drive insights back into the platform.

As we build out the platform, it’ll become more natural for Internet of Things devices to be integrated into One by SMS Assist. What this ultimately means is that work orders can be triggered on the basis of changing circumstances in the field, even without human intervention. This is something that we’re laying the groundwork for so that facilities maintenance can be done in a much more seamless and cost-effective way than it is today.

Get in touch with SMS Assist to learn more about our industry-leading technology and how we’re making maintenance work better: weknowFM@smsassist.com.