Essential FM Report: The Pitfalls in CAFM

Essential FM Report talks to Jon Clark, Business Development Director of FSI (FM Solutions) Limited, developers of Concept Evolution™ fully web-enabled Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) regarding the Pitfalls in CAFM.

The first mistake any organisation makes when it comes to implementing a CAFM system usually occurs right at the beginning of the project lifecycle. They identify what they believe is a requirement for software. But at this stage it tends to be generic, rather than a need based on specific goals and processes. So they purchase a system in the belief that the software will cure all their ills in one fell swoop - and the project is almost certainly doomed to partial or total failure.

In fact, the success of any CAFM system implementation is based on a clear, concise understanding of the requirements of all the key stakeholders in the business. If a company knows what it wants from the software, and what the software will allow it to achieve, the project is far more likely to succeed. And the business will be in a far better position to enjoy the additional benefits of a fully integrated CAFM system.

One of the main pitfalls of a CAFM project is that the organisation fails to understand what these benefits can be. It believes it knows what it wants the software to manage. And because it has researched the supplier market, it certainly has a good understanding of what's available. But it has not actually stopped to analyse what - assets, data, business processes, service level agreements, reactive and proactive maintenance - it wants to manage.

So, the implementation decision is often driven by the need to migrate legacy, spreadsheet-based maintenance environments to something that will overcome the traditional problems of error-strewn entries and corrupt files, for example.

Of course, a basic Planned Maintenance system will do just that, on a contract-by-contract or company-by-company basis, if you want. But it does not come close to addressing key issues that a significant CAFM investment should focus on. What do you actually need the system to manage? How will it improve the business's efficiencies? How will it help you to gain economies, boost productivity and address the ROI of the system itself?

Failure to answer these vital questions means that, almost inevitably, the CAFM implementation will not fulfil its potential. Proactive scoping would flesh them out, help to identify unexpected or hidden requirements, and even define new business processes that the system could support. But pick the wrong supplier and you could miss out on the appropriate level of consultation and support that would deliver this. Pick the right supplier and you will have access to workflow tools and modules that give you the flexibility to define requirements you might not even realise you have.

Lack of ownership is another frequent shortcoming. A CAFM system must be owned by the entire organisation from the start. It will only ever be as good as the people who drive its adoption and use across the business. That means engaging end-users, not just managers who will probably have little day-to-day interaction with the system.

They must be involved in the initial scoping study, helping to define system requirements at every level, identifying the underlying business processes and looking forward to what else the system will be able to offer them. CAFM software will never be able to solve flawed business processes or poor data issues. It is not a sticking plaster.

By involving the whole organisation in a consultative approach, a clear and constructive roadmap for the project lifecycle can be developed which takes it from scoping, right the way through to end-user acceptance tests, identifying optimum integration points with other modules and business applications and establishing the success criteria required for each stage of completion.

Sometimes a CAFM project is given the big-bang treatment: another strategy littered with potential pitfalls. The main problem with this, rather than a carefully phased implementation, is that it is driven by stringent timelines - the opening of a new building, for example, or the award of a new contract that requires CAFM as a term and condition of engagement.

The learning curve is very steep, resource-intensive and often results in end-users being flooded with information that they are unable to manage, let alone interpret. This is the complete opposite of what a CAFM system should do: empower end-users with knowledge. It is much better to help them to lean on their knowledge and contribute to defining the system, rather than overwhelming them with data and raising barriers to their future understanding and use of the platform.

Some CAFM implementation pitfalls stem from FM's historically lowly status within the organisation. In recent years, it has shaken off its poor-relation status, emerged from the basement and claimed its place in strategic boardroom discussions. But despite the fact that it is now widely considered integral t the business's system infrastructure, with a key role to play in spend monitoring, there are still pockets of resistance that hinder a project's success.

Whether the company invests in a CAFM system to reside within its infrastructure or adopts the increasingly popular hosted model, it is essential that every department impacted by its arrival is involved in the implementation. State-of-the-art CAFM is tightly integrated with financial, BMS and HR applications. It has become a data hub at the centre of the business rather than a Planned Maintenance point application tucked away behind the boiler room.

CAFM champions need the full support of their colleagues in IT, to make sure that their platform choice fits with the ethos of the organisation's infrastructure and operating system support strategy. And they need old-school board members to recognise that FM has long since ceased to be about ordering toilet rolls and maintaining coffee machines, and that end-users will thrive on their investment in CAFM - as long as the organisation's requirements of the system are understood.

If they fail to do that, they are missing CAFM's potential to have a positive impact on the business's profit and loss sheet at a time of ongoing economic stress. CAFM can take them beyond simply managing and maintaining the organisation's assets.

It can help to engage the complete supply chain in greater efficiencies and facilitate tighter management of service level agreements, improving productivity internally and for clients. And it can give the most comprehensive understanding of how much it costs - and how long it takes - to maintain their estate efficiently.