DPM Heng Swee Keat at the World Workplace Asia Pacific 2022

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 26 July 2022

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the World Workplace Asia Pacific on 26 July 2022.


Dr Teo Ho Pin,
SIFMA Patron,

Mr Frank Ngoh,
SIFMA President, 

Ms Lara Paemen, 
Managing Director, International Facility Management Association, 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning! 

A very warm welcome to all of you here, and those of you who are joining us online from around the world.

When we step into a building – especially one like Marina Bay Sands – one often marvels at the architecture and design. But we often take for granted how seamlessly it runs and how well it is maintained.   

Behind the day-to-day building operations is a group of very important but often underappreciated people – our facilities management community. 

A big thank you to all of you, especially for keeping our buildings running and our lives going during COVID-19! 

The global facilities management market is set to grow to nearly US$2 trillion by 2026, a growth rate of 7 to 8% per year. We are expecting a similar trend in Singapore. 

Facilities management is a growing market as the world becomes more urbanised. The landscape is a fast-changing one, and the work will become even more complex as infrastructure ages.  

While infrastructure projects have traditionally been defined by capital cost and completion time, there is increasing focus on building operations and maintenance. 

As Lara mentioned in her speech, facilities management has never been more critical to business success. 

The reason is simple – on a life cycle basis, buildings require much more resources to operate than to build.  

In dollar terms, the operating and maintenance cost of a building over its lifetime can be around 3 to 4 times that of the initial construction cost. 

In carbon terms, buildings represent nearly 40% of total greenhouse emissions, of which around 70% comes from operational emissions. 

As the resource envelope becomes much tighter, as is the case now, the emphasis shifts to optimizing post-construction efficiency and outcomes.

There is another reason for the shift – building occupants today place much greater value on useability and the lived experience. 

Beyond the aesthetics and architecture, a building must also be conducive and responsive to the needs of its occupants, in terms of how it is designed and how it is run. 

So, I am glad that the facilities management community is shifting from the traditional building-centric approach, to a human-centric approach to performing your responsibilities. 

This is reflected in the name of the event. What stood out for me is that you have termed this a “World Workplace” event rather than a “World Facilities Management” event.   

Smart Buildings 

All said, there is now a greater spotlight on facilities management. But the technological winds are in your favour. 

Smart building technologies will fundamentally change how buildings are run in the future. Let me cite you two examples – robots and IoT.   

We will see many more robots in buildings in time to come. 

Operating and maintaining a building is labour intensive. But this need not be the case. With shifting aspirations, it will also be much harder to find workers in the future. 

Robots can take on arduous and repetitive tasks, if not more. In the past few months, I have seen cleaning, security, and delivery robots in action. 

Robotics and automation are also key areas of Singapore’s innovation and research agenda under the National Robotics Programme. 

For instance, we established a consortium of public agencies, Institutes of Higher Learning, solution providers, and industry practitioners to develop smart drones for facade inspection. This development not only greatly improves productivity, but also reduce the need to work from heights.

It is still early days. Many of our robotics and automation deployments are in pilot stages. But we can expect many more robots in the future. 

The other interesting technological development is IoT, or the Internet of Things. IoT enables remote monitoring and optimization of building operations. But the possibilities go much further. 

With IoT, smart buildings can tailor the surrounding environment to the preferences of occupants, improving comfort, liveability, and productivity.  

With IoT, we can better optimise energy demand and consumption, which is critical to environmental sustainability.   

Smart buildings are relatively new, and relatively few. As we scale, the community must share lessons, so that we learn from one another. 

As a community, you must set new benchmarks and targets to raise the ambition for smarter and greener buildings.

You will also need to define the capabilities and skills required, create new career pathways, and prepare the workforce for this promising future.   


Tech adoption, however, cannot be undertaken piecemeal. 

One can deploy security and cleaning robots. But how do these robots interact with lifts to move across floors, and with each other?  

One can install smart security, smart lifts, and smart air-conditioning. But if each comes with its own system and platform, the facilities manager would have quite a handful.  

This fragmentation applies more broadly to how facilities management services is delivered today. Each service is delivered by a different team, with the need to then appoint an overall coordinator. 

For the industry to thrive and attract good talent, you will need to transform to an integrated facilities management model, or IFM. By that, I do not mean forming a consortium of companies to bid for a project. 

What is needed is a truly integrated model where a single team delivers the full spectrum of services, coordinated via a single platform. 

Today, many individual service providers already offer vertically integrated tech stacks. The ‘magic’ behind IFM is to develop the middleware and standards to integrate across the different offerings. 

We can also go further, by aggregating the provision of facilities management services across multiple buildings to achieve scale, or what is commonly known as AFM, Aggregated Facilities Management.

To reap the benefits of IFM and AFM, firms will need to invest in new capabilities, pursue partnerships with stakeholders to establish common standards, alongside tons of patience and hard work.

For instance, at Changi General Hospital, the cleaning, security, and clinical robots can seamlessly navigate corridors and lifts, and even communicate with one another. 

This is enabled by a robotic middleware for healthcare as well as common standards for data exchanges between robots, lifts, and automated doorways.  

We need to not only rally the industry, we also need to change the mindset of building owners. 

Procurement will need to be overhauled – with greater weight on outcomes to provide flexibility for innovation, longer duration of contracts to enable deeper capital investments, and greater recognition of quality. 

Like all things transformative, the shift to IFM and AFM will take time. But this is an exciting journey with limitless possibilities.

In Singapore, to accelerate transformation, BCA recently announced a $30 million IFM and AFM grant, which will support the adoption of progressive facilities management practices. 

The grant co-funds up to 70% of the cost of implementing IFM. Each project must yield at least 20% manpower productivity gain, integrate at least 3 facilities management services, and scale across at least 3 buildings.

Applications will open shortly. I encourage local service buyers and providers to take part in this initiative.   

And to our partners from abroad, I welcome you to take part in other opportunities to pilot and testbed new innovations here in Singapore. 


However, the future is not just about technology and integration. In fact, the future is not an end-state. It is constantly evolving, and often unpredictable. As Lara and Frank said earlier, business continuity and resilience are critical.

Take COVID-19. Building owners and service providers had to adapt quickly to implement safe management measures, which had to be regularly updated as the pandemic evolved. 

Some went over and beyond, including installing contactless buttons in lifts and more frequent disinfections to reduce the risk of transmission. 

Some effects of COVID-19 are enduring. With hybrid working arrangements becoming the norm, workplaces will have to be redesigned. 

For example, video conferencing is now a common feature in many meeting rooms. More co-working facilities might be needed.  

Office spaces will also have to be designed for better compartmentalization in the event of the next pandemic.   

COVID-19 is one disruption, but a building will probably see many disruptions throughout its lifetime.   

The facilities management community must remain agile. You need to pick up new skills and capabilities quickly. 

For instance, emergency preparedness used to be a much less prominent part of your work. But it is now a critical responsibility.  

You need to plan and invest in advance. When a crisis hits, you must quickly prototype new solutions, learn from mistakes, and scale what works. 

You will need a strong network – which is what the IFMA and SIFMA provides – so that you can learn from and encourage one another. 

If you band together, you will almost certainly go further.  


Networks such as SIFMA and IFMA does much more than help the community adapt to crisis and change. It is critical in giving voice to the community and allow the community to renew itself. 

For all the potential gamechangers in building operations and maintenance, the promise would be limited if buildings are not well-designed. 

The Design for Maintainability, or DfM, movement is taking root globally and in Singapore. With your vast experience, it is important that you actively shape DfM practices and work upstream with developers and builders. 

As part of the larger built environment community, you can also contribute to more human-centric buildings. You are in day-to-day contact with the buildings and their occupants, and you will have unique perspectives to offer in making our urban environment more liveable, and our workplaces more conducive for workers in the technological age.   

It is also crucial for you to pass on your experience and knowledge to the next generation of facility managers. You must inspire them to create a better future, with more conducive workplaces, and a more pleasant lived experience for building occupants.


Let me conclude. It is an exciting time to be part of the facilities management community. 

Facilities management used to be undervalued. Perhaps to some extent it still is. But there is now much greater appreciation of what you do. 

Because you can fundamentally move the needle on creating lower cost, manpower lean, energy efficient, and more conducive workplaces.  

The winds are in your favour as technological advancements enable you to have smarter and greener buildings.

But the community will need to work together and transform to take a more integrated approach to service delivery and capability building. 

Organisations like SIFMA and IFMA will play an important role to enable this. Let me also congratulate SIFMA for successfully hosting this conference. 

I wish all of you a productive and enjoyable conference. Thank you.