FM Technology Today
The modern workplace will struggle without the use of IT for day-to-day activities: fact. IT solutions not only produce, manipulate and store information, but are also a primary method for communicating and disseminating critical business information. This critical business information is integral to the strategy of an organisation; customers are privy to information, whilst all the time being offered an improved service from their suppliers.
This is no different to the Facilities Management (FM) industry; technology is paramount, not only to bring together a range of business information and applications, but also to provide an enhanced experience to customers.
Evolving business drivers demand agile and innovative development of an organisation's infrastructure. Consequently, Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) is now looked upon to deliver a variety of ‘soft' services, a function far beyond its original roots of 20-years ago as simply providing building and asset management information. Indeed, a modern CAFM solution is a core business tool, playing a major part in not only boosting business efficiency, but also cost-effectiveness and productivity. A CAFM solution must therefore be the Facilities Manager's ‘BF' (best friend): flexible, intuitive and supportive of technology, for the delivery and management of business-critical services.
Whilst Facilities Managers should look to their CAFM solution for the answers, and whilst customers should expect the CAFM solution to work hard for them, they should never let the solution be their master: a good CAFM solution should act in a supportive role rather than as an intrusion, available at the click of a mouse or the touch of a button regionally, nationally and globally. A CAFM solution should be deployable across borders, without affecting performance.
To achieve a centralised enterprise wide deployment, web-based CAFM is the solution. FM can be extended across borders, providing a single, integrated view of activities across an entire portfolio, accessed through a single, standard web browser. By leveraging the web, CAFM solutions make critical operational data available on-demand to users in any location. A Web-based CAFM solution opens the door to easier and lower-cost IT maintenance, not to mention the consolidation of system infrastructure, thereby reducing expenditure costs. Web-based CAFM solutions enable the transfer of critical operations to other global locations without being dependant on significant staffing from that location.
A flexible CAFM solution should enable end-users to create and define their own automated business rules in a simple way. Essentially, it should allow end-users the ability to specify and customise their own system, a major benefit in a time when FM is still perceived as the sole, and expensive, preserve of consultants and technology specialists. Choose a CAFM solution with such a business automation tool, which can communicate tasks and instructions in response to events defined by the end-user, in relation to specific business processes. Not only will it allow for complex FM systems to be constructed without constant recourse to specialist and expensive software programmers, but it also allows non-expert CAFM users to establish the basic rules, conditions and actions that they want in order to standardise and customise responses to specific events.
To further reduce IT expenditure and maintenance costs, organisations can choose the outsourcing or Software As A Service (SAAS) route. SAAS is a software distribution model allowing organisations to fully utilise IT products without disruption to day-to-day operations, whilst maintaining control of FM costs. Typically, IT products are hosted over the web by an Application Service Provider in a secure environment, accessible by the end-users back at base. SAAS removes the need to install and run these IT products on networks at base, therefore removing software maintenance, ongoing operation and support resources, and the need for capital investment in server hardware. In summary, SAAS provides a simple pay-as-you-go solution offering a cost effective delivery of IT products.
Web-based solutions and the SAAS model lend weight to the increase in demand for remote working. Mobile data solutions connect field engineers to the core of the business via a mobile device. Engineers can spend less time in the office and more time in the field completing essential tasks, whilst keeping IT products back at base up-to-date, regardless of location.
Whilst focussing on the technology trends in FM, it is vital that Facilities Managers also look beyond the system itself to the range of professional services the supplier has built around its product. The project should be fully scoped up front, including the system functionality requirements, project management, as well as implementation and training services required, to provide a picture of what they can expect before, during and after implementation. A scoping study lays-down the requirements of the supplier and the purchaser, helping to eliminate uncertainty and additional cost during implementation.
Successful implementation of CAFM systems must however also include processes for the integration and ongoing data sharing with recognised sources of critical corporate information such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), and Customer Relationship Management CRM). Integration of property and facilities data can align FM with the main organisational goals. Typical integration "touch points" would be with the main business centres of Human Resources, and Information Technology and Telecommunications. Extensive analysis of existing working practices and the introduction of improved processes are essential to ensure successful systems integration.
FM technology today is at its most advanced: developments in web-based IT and CAFM solutions allow FM professionals to use the power of the internet. However, the more we have, the more we will want, and it is therefore the role of the FM and the CAFM suppliers to keep demanding and delivering improved productivity, instantly available over the web.