By Thomas Brennan
Published in the June 2002 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Many facility professionals can remember the days when a space and asset tracking system consisted of a set of paper floor plans, a Lotus 1-2-3 printout, and a lot of time spent reconciling the two. Space planning and move management were accomplished with a red felt tip pen, onionskin, and a flurry of phone calls. Preventive maintenance tasks and schedules were prepared manually and assigned on a clipboard to the appropriate staff member. Performance of any one of these jobs was taxing, and to juggle all three simultaneously (along with other daily responsibilities) was often overwhelming.
With the advent of the personal computer, a new era in facility management began. Computer aided facility management (CAFM) delivered a new, robust set of computer-based tools that automated many of these space, maintenance, and asset tracking functions. The progressive facility manager embraced this new technology and began finding significant benefits to implementing a CAFM system.
One of the primary benefits of the early CAFM systems was simply the result of upgrading from a manual system to an electronic system. Computer aided design (CAD) drawings and electronic databases of space, asset, and maintenance information were the two major enhancements.
The real strength of these new CAFM systems, however, was their ability to house facilities data from several sources in one “data warehouse.” CAFM systems quickly became the best source for space, personnel, asset, and maintenance information in the organization.
The Expanded Role Of The Facility Manager
With this influx of new data came a proportionate expansion of the role of the facility manager. Whereas facility managers were once somewhat isolated in their role in their organizations, they have now become a more integral part of the administration and management teams.
Greg Alevras, North American sales manager of Boston, MA-based CAFM software developer ARCHIBUS/FM, says that management is starting to see the value of CAFM information, and key strategic decisions are being made about operations and future growth based on information available from the facilities department. This information is no longer filtered up to administration through several layers of management; the facility manager has now gained direct access to the CFO and CEO.
All indications show that this expanded role of the facility manager is a trend that is here to stay. Considering the investment that most organizations put into their facilities and real estate departments, it is only logical for the facility manager to have a more visible and active role.
Ray Summerell, 25 year veteran facilities practitioner and vice president of corporate development at Camarillo, CA-based CAFM software developer Facility Information Systems (FIS), Inc., explains that in most large organizations, the facilities and real estate department is usually the second largest cash flow in the organization–second only to human resources. The huge cash flows going through that part of the company are intuitively understood by the facility manager, but not by the organization as a whole.
“The guy who used to be in the back room keeping the buildings running has now become the corporate vice president of real estate and is in the CFO’s office every Monday having to defend where the last million dollars went,” says Summerell.
As the role of the facility manager has evolved, so have CAFM software applications. With the recent economic slowdown, organizations have had to tighten their belts and run much leaner. The ability to locate and plug holes where money is leaking out has become a high priority, and the newer breed of CAFM software allows an organization to find and correct those leaks.
Harold Feinleib, chairman and founder of Stamford, CT-based CAFM software developer Aperture Technologies, Inc. says organizations are realizing that the need to manage their real estate better is imperative. “For many years, organizations have been lax in holding feet to the fire, and they are now discovering that they don’t know how many properties they own, let alone how efficiently they are being run. As a result, millions of dollars in large organizations are going to waste,” he says.
The Proliferation Of Web-Based CAFM Solutions
One of the cures for such waste is providing facilities data to a larger audience, thus enabling better decisions by a more informed organization. In order to reach more people, the applications must be simple enough to be accessed and navigated via Web browser on the typical employee’s desktop.
It is logical then, that the major development in CAFM software in the last few years has been the proliferation of Web-based applications. All of the major vendors have spent significant time and effort designing Web-based CAFM solutions, and the market is rapidly embracing these new offerings.
David Karpook, product marketing director for real estate and facility operations at San Diego, CA-based CAFM software developer Peregrine Systems says, “We rarely see an RFP these days that doesn’t specify a Web-based system in its first paragraph. We are now focused on how we can provide tools that every employee can use. CAFM systems in many ways are power user tools–tools for the facility manager. Yet the facility manager has a need to relate to everybody in the enterprise,” says Karpook. “That means providing desktop tools so that people can reserve spaces and vehicles or schedule meetings on their own. People need to be able to log onto their browser, type in someone’s name, and find detailed information about where they sit and what they do.”
Feinleib observes that the need to broadcast facilities information and the recent slowdown in the economy have both had a definite impact on the way CAFM software is developed. “What we have seen in the last two years is that the facilities management departments have become thinner. So even though the practice of CAFM is more important, there’s less staffing devoted to it. This puts pressure on CAFM vendors to build products that are more productive and can be managed and used by fewer people.
“Simultaneously,” Feinleib continues, “there is a major trend toward distributing this information much more widely and in an automated manner. There is a requirement for less proficiency and training to manage CAFM applications. This gives rise to Web-based applications, enabling users to distribute the operation of the CAFM application out to where the changes actually originate.
“For example, if a department code is modified, it doesn’t have to be communicated to the facilities department and input by a CAFM employee. Instead, it is handled by the group originating the change.”
As the CAFM market moves toward using Web-based tools, everyone in the organization benefits from the greater access to facilities information. Knowledge is power, and CAFM knowledge will make an organization stronger and better able to compete in its own market.
Another major benefit of Web-based CAFM applications is the cost. The current releases of client/server CAFM software are priced according to the traditional “per license” method. This is an appropriate solution for a limited number of users, but there is a trend toward enterprise-wide usage of CAFM data. This has resulted in a new pricing structure wherein the Web-based CAFM user can have an unlimited number of people using the system for one set cost.
“Now, as opposed to selling five seats of software to the back office crowd, we’re providing an unlimited use enterprise license so that users can put data all over the organization,” Summerell describes. “It’s an ‘all you can eat’ kind of thing. You can put it on everybody’s desktop.”
Alevras says implementing a Web-based CAFM product is cost-effective for two reasons: “The first being that as more people use the system, the unit cost goes down. The second reason is that by enrolling additional users in the CAFM system, there are increased levels of productivity and efficiency in the organization, which also reduces cost. Together, the two increase the ROI for the company’s CAFM investment.”
Integrating CAFM Systems And Other Business Systems
One of the natural results of the broadcasting of an organization’s facilities data is the need to integrate the CAFM application with other systems. As CAFM data acquires a greater visibility, many other departments will see its value and will want to exchange data on a real time basis with the CAFM database. This is a trend that has been accommodated by all of the major CAFM vendors, and they have all produced products that link to other systems.
Alevras comments, “The facilities management (FM) systems are becoming foundation sets of information that get proliferated throughout the organization. This means the financial system, human resources system, and security system are populated with one source of data that is validated and checked without having to be recreated.
There is a higher level of integration going on in organizations between the FM data structures and the other data structures. Sharing FM data eliminates redundancy and mistakes.”
“The promise of CAFM originally was to bring together islands of information–such as maintenance, space planning, cable management, and environmental information–into one arena,” Karpook elaborates. “Now, what has happened is that without links to additional systems, CAFM becomes another island. So the effort has to be directed outward once again, looking at how the CAFM system needs to relate to other business systems.”
Foresight And Hindsight
Summerell believes interoperability of systems will become a greater focus. “It’s a fair bet that a CAFM system is not the first thing an organization is going to buy,” says Summerell. “They will have a human resources system, or a finance system, or some legacy system that they can’t turn off. So it’s incumbent upon the CAFM and real estate vendors to figure out how to build true interoperability between those systems.”
The 21st century facility manager faces a wide array of challenges. Meeting the facilities information needs of the organization is a relatively new responsibility for the facility manager, yet the task is already vast in scale.
Welcome or not, the information revolution has come, and the facility manager must wear yet another hat–that of the facilities information manager. Still, it is good to know that excellent tools are available.
The trends in CAFM development demonstrate an enhanced information-provider role for the facility manager, an emphasis on Web-based solutions, and integration between existing systems. As technology continues to progress at its current breakneck pace, other challenges will undoubtedly arise.
No one knows what the state of the industry will be in five or 10 years. The ascendancy of the Internet as the primary information tool could not have been predicted. Yet, if history is any kind of a guide, technology can be expected to keep pace with the ever-evolving role of the facility manager.