The Facility Technologist: Staying Connected

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By Tom Condon, RPA, FMA Published in the March 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager The Internet has transformed our collective lives in many ways. From banking and working online to looking up a phone number, ours has become a Web-based society. So it should come as no surprise that a growing trend in facilities management is to communicate with facility occupants and guests by using—you guessed it—the Internet. Whether working in commercial office buildings, industrial facilities, or even military bases, facilities managers are increasingly using the Internet to connect with those who work in, visit, or interact with their facilities. A Web site can transform the way that a facility manager or owner communicates with visitors and occupants, advertises available space, and offers services. There are three main types of facility focused Web sites. These are: a public Internet site, an occupant/tenant intranet site, and a facility management intranet site. First, it is important to know the difference between Internet and intranet. The only real fundamental difference between the two is accessibility. A public Internet site can be viewed by anyone who has access to the Internet. An intranet uses the same kind of HTML Web pages as the Internet, but these pages are situated behind a firewall and can only be accessed by authorized individuals. The most popular type of Web based communication tool in buildings is the public Internet site. Typically, these sites contain information most commonly requested by the public about the facility, including news and events, public policies and procedures, directions to the building, amenities, information about the neighborhood, visitor instructions, and leasing information. For instance, some marquee buildings, such as the Sears Tower and the Empire State Building, sell tickets to their observation decks on their public Web sites. An ideal Web address for a public Internet site is the building’s name or address. This can be achieved through firms that register Web domain names. There are multiple domain firms, but Network Solutions was the first and only domain registrar until the industry opened up to competition in 1999. The public Internet site can also act as a portal into a building’s intranet site. In this scenario, links on the public site connect to a log-in process before allowing a user into the occupant/tenant intranet. This type of intranet usually features building rules, policies and procedures, and emergency evacuation processes. Some contain work request forms that can be filled out and submitted online. Then there is the facility management intranet site, which is accessible only by members of the facilities management staff. These sites are also usually accessed by a password protected log-in from the building’s public Internet site and typically contain information about floor plans, occupants’ emergency contact numbers, square footage measurements, and stacking plans. Many intranet sites also provide access to the CAFM or CMMS tool used to manage space and work requests. In this scenario, the request page on the occupant/tenant intranet is linked into the CAFM or CMMS, so work requests are instantly updated in the system. One of the most useful functions of a facility management intranet is the ability to store frequently used building information and statistics. By keeping the information in a single repository, the facilities management staff, leasing agents, and executive management all have access to the same data. Just a few years ago, many predicted all buildings would soon have facility focused Web sites. However, while the use of these types of Web sites is growing, adoption has not accelerated as quickly as expected. In a June 2006 survey conducted by Realcomm and BOMA International, about half (52%) of the respondents said they did not have a building Web site. This is an amazing figure, considering how many organizations rely on Web sites to communicate with their customers and employees. Many survey respondents who reported not having a facility Web site stated the main reason was cost. This is changing, however, as recent competition in the Web site creation and hosting industry has dropped prices considerably. For instance, a basic public Web site is fairly inexpensive, costing as little as $50 per month for hosting; costs for intranet sites are usually higher. While this may seem like just another expense, a well designed Web site can actually save a lot of work by reducing the incoming phone calls requesting basic information. Additionally, the time and cost of distributing paper announcements to occupants can be eliminated by posting updates on the Web site. Another key reason given in the survey for not having a Web site was lack of technical expertise. This obstacle is also disappearing, because many hosting companies will build an entire Web site. The client just needs to provide basic content, such as text about the buildings and photographs. One of the keys to an effective facility Web site is to tell occupants about it. They will probably need to be reminded about its existence and the information it provides. One technique is to e-mail them a “shortcut” to the site to place on their computer desktops. Another way to draw occupants to the occupant/tenant intranet is to conduct a contest or similar activity. One building manager I know posts trivia questions on the intranet each week and then picks a random winner from those who send in a response. The Web site traffic has risen dramatically, and occupants have embraced the occupant/tenant site. With all of the challenges that facilities managers face today, establishing a Web site may the last thing on their minds. But with a little planning and creativity, Web sites can be effective tools to keep a facility’s occupants informed, safe, and productive. Condon, a Facility Technologist and former facility manager, is a contributing author for BOMI Institute’s revised Technologies in Facility Managementtextbook. He works for System Development Integration, a Chicago, IL-based firm committed to improving the performance, quality, andreliability of client business through technology.

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