End of the road? Is CAFM still the strongest acronym to describe an integrated FM solution?

As acronyms go, CAFM has enjoyed a good, long run.  Its currency is reasonably strong outside the FM operation and there is usually good, general business-user awareness of the applications that fall under its umbrella across the organisation, even if those users are not intimately acquainted with the core system's inner workings.

But the evolution of facilities management itself is prompting many commentators to ask if CAFM is still an adequate term for a system that supports the breadth, versatility and business penetration of the services commonly delivered by the modern FM function.

Increasingly integrated service delivery in estate management - a major driver behind the growth of CAFM - is putting this trend under the microscope.  As estates look to rationalise and centralise delivery, fostering more efficient and productive relationships between facilities management, internal customers and tenants, and contractors, they demand more sophistication from the supporting technology and integrated applications.

CAFM system developers like FSI have anticipated this and reflected it in their software, to the extent that their market-leading platforms now incorporate an extensive portfolio of modules and workflow-enabled integration with business-critical applications on a scale that was hardly conceivable back in the day when the acronym was coined.

Could it be that CAFM has served its purpose as an essentially inward-looking piece of terminology?  Perhaps it is time for a new acronym that better reflects the holistic, integrated nature of real-life modern operations and reinforces the value of its essential elements - help desk, PPM, asset management, room booking, invoicing and stores, to name just a few - to the entire business.  These, after all, are terminologies that are well established in the business-user's lexicon and cut through the perceived complexity of the underlying system.

One problem is that while the systems themselves have undergone such radical evolution, taking evolutions such as web-enablement in their stride, CAFM as an acronym remains rooted in old-style FM.  It conjures images of CAD drawings and Space Management interfaces, and possibly a Help Desk, reflecting the relatively narrow field of services that used to epitomise the FM's domain and helped to create the now clichéd view of the FM operation as a silent, out-of-sight and taken-for-granted function.

In the old days for example, Concept™, FSI's CAFM platform, would often be operated by FM department users via a PC in the basement - probably tucked away next to the loading bay where the engineers were hanging out, hidden away from the main organisation.

Today, that situation has changed beyond recognition.  Typically, Concept™ is no longer only used by the maintenance team or space managers.  Web-enablement has broadened the system's appeal and scope.  Self-service portals mean that elements of the system are used by staff across the entire organisation to carry out strategic and administrative tasks and generate reports that contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the way the estate or enterprise is managing and maintaining its assets, and delivering key services.

For example, it is increasingly common to find an organisation running reception services, managing employee travel requirements or even having staff ordering a sandwich through their online deli, all through their CAFM platform.  This degree of integration has reinforced the role of FM in estate management, bringing workflow to a host of processes and services that previously operated as silos, and enabling true interoperability on this scale for the first time.

In short, CAFM has become a business tool, reflecting the rise of the FM operation as, effectively, a business within the business.  The software has evolved hand in hand with that change, incorporating the full range of soft services that have enhanced the traditional facilities management portfolio.

So we can certainly salute CAFM as an effective acronym.  It has provided the foundation and structure for the evolution of facilities management.  And the advent of self-service portals has helped FM to emerge - often literally - from the basement.  That FM is no longer the faceless service whose existence was only acknowledged by the unlucky employee sitting under a dripping air-con unit because they wanted it fixed and were finally driven to call the Help Desk is due, in no small part, to the arrival of CAFM on the business-user's desktop.

CAFM has automated FM service delivery, brought it online and made it a visible part of the estate's or the organisation's day-to-day operation.  And as a result, FM now enjoys a higher profile as a contributor to business efficiency - and profitability.  Innovative adopters have effectively used it as a marketing tool for their services across the organisation, raising FM's profile far above its misplaced reputation as a business overhead.

But perhaps CAFM is now too limited a way of defining the suite of applications that inhabit the space it has created for itself within the organisation.  Alternative terminology is creeping steadily eastwards from across the Atlantic: Computerised Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS), for example, and more recently, Integrated Workplace Management Systems (IWMS).

The first sounds even more restrictive and limited than CAFM.  But many people argue that IWMS is a more accurate description for the role that CAFM systems play in the business and the integrated technology that they are based on.  Most definitions specify an enterprise platform that supports the planning-to-disposal life-cycle of the organisation's assets, with an emphasis on their role in enabling the best use of workplace resources, infrastructure and facilities, and assisting effective real estate management.

Some industry stalwarts are understandably drive to defend CAFM's position as a more effective description of what the software actually does, particularly software vendors who have worked long and hard to position their platforms to match the developing profile of FM itself.

The problem with this is that it could signify a reluctance to recognise CAFM's now-established status as a business-critical application.  Ten years ago, the word 'integrated' hardly arose in association with CAFM.  But the days when it was perceived and purchased as a standalone product are long gone.

CAFM is now the hub at the heart of a myriad of business systems that stretch out across the organisation - everything from HR to payroll - and are closely integrated via workflow technology.  Between them, they constitute a far more holistic environment than can be properly described by their individual titles, by CAFM alone, or even by emerging terms like IWMS.

Others say that the answer lies in giving the module - or application - a business definition that raises it above its former, limited silo status.  When they start to be seen as essential business support tools, they feed into the rise of FM as a strategically important function.  And the underlying software platform becomes the mechanism that allows the accurate capture and documentation of the organisation's business support needs in a way that simply isn't possible with less automated, more expensive resources.

In this, CAFM's adoption of web-based technology - greatly driven by user expectations that today's 'cloud' based business applications are readily available for utilisation wherever they are located - has also raised its status as a business tool that ties FM into the heart of the operation.  So estate management businesses who look to CAFM systems to help them rationalise the delivery and management of FM services are finding that the software is already in place to accommodate this new world of seamless, automated service delivery.

As CAFM customers increasingly appreciate how these applications enable them to input data and react in real time to the constant demands of the organisation, they take on a new identity as business tools that are integrated with every aspect of the organisation.  Furthermore, they provide customers with the means to establish measurement criteria and methodologies, and align service delivery more closely than ever before with carefully considered KPI's.

Let's not forget that CAFM is, at heart, a product of the IT industry - a sector that has always lived and breathed acronyms.  But to CAFM system users, the functionality of the software has long since transcended the acronym's initial marketing clout.  Given that, the pressure to create a more appropriate and comprehensive definition for the collective applications currently delivered under the CAFM banner might even come from customers themselves.  Whether or not the industry can come up with a definition that suits everybody remains to be seen.  But the debate is definitely under way.