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FM Middle East takes a look at CAFM systems, including Concept from FSI, and the benefits they can bring

CAFM stands for computer aided facility management and in simple terms, acts as a business and IT support tool for the facility management the workplace.

There are 16 million websites worldwide related to FM software. Each one differs to the next and each one provides the user with information on how the software can assist the FM in time management and their job.

But what actually is CAFM? You might have heard of asset management software, CIFM (computer integrated facility management) systems, facility management support systems etc. These are all CAFM systems, they just have a different name.

A good definition of CAFM is: The support of facilities management by information technology. The supply of
information about the facilities is the centre of attention'.

There are few companies operating in the Middle East that market CAFM systems.  Jim Mitchell, Middle East consultant, FSI FM Solutions says: 'There is a distinct lack of FM tools such as CAFM being used to any great extent."

As a result, some companies have produced and implemented their own system due to the lack of availability in the market.

Abdulla Bin Nasser Al Shaidhani is head of maintenance at Khoula hospital in Oman.  He says: "We evaluated the choice between buying a ready made CAFM system and producing our own. We decided to build our own as we thought it would be easier to develop. It's now being used in many of the Ministry of Health's hospitals."

CAFM systems such as Conject, Concept and Maximo Enterprise, also allow FM clients to choose the applications and adapt the software to suit their business needs, irrespective of technology. This allows them to respond to changing market demands and business requirements.

Mitchell goes on to say: "Some of the large multi-national contractors have only just begun to cascade the systems approach of CAFM, that they happily use in home markets. In many cases this is based on a misconception back at HQ that these tools will not gain acceptance and perhaps scare off clients.

"This, as many are learning is quite the opposite and that efficiencies are not unwelcome on any project and clients are streetwise!"

But a company's needs differ from one to the next. A lot of thought needs to go into fine-tuning and customising the
CAFM system to optimise its ability and to ensure it meets the company's unique and specific needs.

There are many benefits to using a CAFM system and one that the board will certainly be interested in is cost. Operational and overhead costs are reduced, due to economies of scale and the efficiency and effectiveness of the FM service provider.

The purpose of the integrated CAFM solution is to add value by improving the effectiveness and efficiency for the management of the built environment.

"The FSI Concept system is one of the leading systems in the world. It can be utilised in the Middle East market in a
number of ways. It's already got functionality for wireless technology, it's got capability in a number of areas that some of the traditional products have not got. There are some real benefits for running portfolios of buildings, maintenance of buildings using the Concept system," says Mick Dalton, chairman of the British Institute of
Facilities Management (BIFM) and group operations director, Global Switch UK'

Where some facility management tasks are currently done manually, CAFM systems can make savings in time and
money by doing the task for the facility manager. For example, calculating data, analysing historical information,
managing budgets and forecasting future requirements.

When used effectively, CAFM systems can be used to provide a whole array of services of benefit to an organisation.
To gain maximum benefits from CAFM systems, it is important to understand the system, how it works and how you can make the most out of it. Training is key and keeping FM staff up to date with any developments is vital.  Most companies marketing CAFM will provide you with initial training and an after-sale support service.

Some companies in the UAE are already quite technologically advanced.  Dalton says: "lf the FM's were to embrace some of this technology and look at ways in which they can engage with their IT departments and actually look at ways in which they can integrate it into FM, they can make some changes in the way the companies are running. They need to push the suppliers and ask them what technology they are bringing to the table'"

Technological innovation as a whole has enabled people (in the consumer and business world) to cut costs and manage their time more efficiently.

Software companies are targeting the Middle East as they are aware of its fast growth and its need to manage buildings in the most professional way.

For an FM, it is essential to recognise the value and important technology can bring. Knowing what you own in a building, where it is, when it needs servicing and when it needs replacing is vital.

Dalton went on to explain how much technology there is currently available in the market place aimed at helping FM's cut costs, reduce energy consumption, manage time, track maintenance - reactive and planned - manage helpdesks, maintaining the buildings assets etc.

Before the boom in integrated solutions there were separate systems for each area.  Today, these systems can be integrated, making it easier for FM's to manage and look after their buildings

Some people argue the lack of communication between the FM and the IT department can have a detrimental effect
on an FM's job.

"The opportunity now exists for FM to become more involved in the advance planning of IT infrastructure.  Here, the lynchpin is good communication.  Good network infrastructure needs a cooperative team with a cross-section of professionals who all have a vested interest.  The main obstacle, until now, has simply been that many are not aware of the role they need to play in IT", says the 2002 UK FM Market Report.

Dalton agrees: "If IT people and FM people do not work as one collaborative team together, it will be to the detriment of the organisation.

So it's really important for any FM operating in the UAE to work closely with their IT people in the organisation to do the best for that organisation."

This will help ascertain the correct and most beneficial software that will help the FM and the business.  It can also be a powerful enabler to help FM organisations communicate more effectively with their clients as well as their own staff.  And that has to be a welcome development.