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Board Awareness

Integration, mobile technology, environmental impact and raised board awareness are just some of the latest trends in Computer Aided FM, discovers Frank Booty for FMX.

Computer Aided FM (CAFM) - sometimes also known as Computer Integrated FM - provides software tools designed to make paper plans redundant, and to help managers keep track of their organisations' assets and model changes with ease.

Keeping up with the latest innovations and trends in CAFM isn't easy, so we asked some of the leading players for their thoughts.

"We find that the market is demanding integrated workplace support", says Nigel Francis, MD of FM software supplier Planon.  Market researcher Gartner bears this out, pointing to a developing market for integrated workplace management (IWM), and citing Planon as one of the global leaders in IWM.

"CAFM is really yesterday", adds Francis.  "The workplace management level is another layer of integration.  Companies have suddenly found that they have seven or eight software packages involved in workplace management, accessing different databases from different suppliers.  They can't get the information they need from one place - thus the concept of workplace management becomes key.

"For the past two or three years Planon has been focusing on customers, and servicing them through a workplace portal.  This covers such items as reactive maintenance, room bookings, catering, and property acquisition and disposal.  It's about bringing services together to support employees through the web portal - a one-stop shop for providing FM and corporate real estate services throughout the company."

Those of Planon's UK customers keen on IWM include a major oil company and a number of academic institutions.  The oil company, for example, has looked at creating a template as a way of delivering all its FM services.

Compton Darlington, Business Development Director at FSI (FM Solutions) Limited, has identified a number of trends in the CAFM industry.

"These start with the increased convergence between real estate and FM.  We see CAFM systems, or systems in general, being procured on the basis of the ability of suppliers and/or systems to integrate with existing systems.  There is more strategic and less short-term thinking around systems, leading to larger solutions being deployed, with the future benefits of reduced roll-out costs when it comes to contract wins, and business-wide uniformity for processes and procedures", he says.

"There is an increasing need for access to good quality real-time reporting information.  And we've seen a marked increase in the industry's understanding of the need for training.  This is particularly important and encouraging".  FSI (FM Solutions) Limited has seen an increase across the board in the variety of courses it offers, but for its reporting courses in particular, notes Darlington.

"We have also noticed a marked increase in technology companies seeking not to overextend themselves in terms of their core competencies, choosing instead to partner with companies such as ours that complement their offering."

At software provider FDS, Divisional Director / General Manager Richard Fisher says mobile solutions are gaining popularity.  "As hand-held devices converge and become more robust, there's more likelihood of a successful acceptance and deployment from the customer then there has been in the past", he says.

"We are being asked more and more to supply mobile solutions, and to that end we continue to develop more modules."

FDS's Planet FM Enterprise software has been further enhanced to incorporate its own mobile data solutions.  Planet's mobile solutions already manage work orders for maintenance or repair jobs that can be sent to engineers - in real time - via their PDA device.  Now, there's a mobile asset tracking and auditing module that incorporates bar code reading, which allows FM's to build a location and asset register direct from the hand-held.  The company can also provide a service to build a customer's asset register and for periodic auditing.

For Jonathan Tyler, Professional Services Director of Service Works Global (UK), a major challenge affecting how everyone does business is an awareness of the impact on the environment.  "Firms will address this for moral and altruistic reasons, but we're going to see an increased cost of resources and an anticipated levy from Government bases on environmental footprints", he says.

"One of the upshots of this is that we have to get better at running plant and equipment and property.  This will mean becoming far smarter than just looking at planned preventative maintenance and reactive maintenance.  Cost of ownership will be the focus of this change, and at the heart of it all this will be the convergence of technology, where simple measures can have an enormous impact.

Tyler says that better links have already become apparent, "but leap forward 10 years and the scene will be unrecognisable", he says. 

"I believe that CAFM will be the glue that holds all this together.  It's a catalyst and helps to make assets smart.  Link it into building management systems, for example, and the building becomes increasingly dynamic and the organisation becomes far more aware of what is going on in it and can highlight ways to improve the way they use it.

"These are issues at board level right now, so they're exactly what this sector needs.  They prove the impact that FM can have at the highest and most strategic level.  Understanding how people interact with technology, what information they need from it, and how systems can help to allocate human resources is going to become increasingly important."

At Tabs FM, another FM software provider, the environment looms large too.  New legislation has put extra pressure on FM's, so the company has introduced new software modules to help it understand what needs to be done.  "Waste management, for example, is a particularly important area, where many FM's require a lot of guidance and information", says a spokesman for the firm.

Steve Dingley, MD at Integrated FM, believes that CAFM software must be able to address the changing needs of FM's.  "This requires more in-built flexibility in the packages themselves, combined with a willingness by software suppliers to tailor their systems to the needs of each organisation", he explains.  "An example is the growth of mobile working and hot-desking, adding a new resource that has to be managed by the FM".

A recent survey of FM's showed a 26% increase in the use of 'hot-desking', with a consequent increased demand for resource-booking software capable of handling it.  "As a result, our resource management module has been upgraded to cope", adds Dingley.

The business needs of FM's are changing as they play a more active role in the strategic management of their organisations.  At a senior management level, FM's now have more sophisticated requirements, and a need for systems that will give them an enterprise perspective for strategic management.

"To do this, they need to be able to harvest more efficiently the wealth of operational information in their CAFM systems.  Historically this has been a time-consuming chore that often wasn't carried out fully because of lack of time.  IT can play a key role in automating this process, but existing enterprise management systems are unable to work with operational data from CAFM systems", says Dingley.

"Systems are now coming on to the market that can do this and are able to assimilate data from a variety of sources and in a range of formats, convert it to a common 'language', and enable it to be 'sliced and diced' in any way that users require.  One of the key features of these systems is that the process is automatic and happens in real time, so that information is current.  Previously, such information would have been out of date by the time it had been collated manually from different systems."

Again, the key consideration for the CAFM developer is to be the buffer between such high-end technologies and the practical day-to-day work of the FM.  The complexity of the technology is hidden, and all the FM sees is a user-friendly, intuitive interface that is quick to learn and easy to use.  This philosophy affects the design of all modern CAFM systems and is where CAFM companies can add value to their customers' operations.

Similarly, FM's now have a greater need to share information with other departments, so easier visibility is required that makes better use of intranets, the internet and mobile technologies.  Today's CAFM systems need to be designed to work in harmony with modern communications - again, without adding extra layers of complexity.

Ultimately, says Dingley, this adds emphasis to moving away from an off-the-shelf approach towards a bespoke package that builds on existing software but tailors it for each customer.