Published in the June 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
A structured approach to facility management (FM) is becoming increasingly necessary in order to maximize ROI (Return on Investment) in buildings, assets, and operations. Building and office spaces are expensive to manage and maintain, so it is important to optimize space, track departmental and cost center usage, and improve work flow and communications within—and between—departments. Enhancing employee productivity and motivation is also an important challenge for the facility manager (fm).
Management reporting about space related dynamics grows with the enterprise, especially after mergers and acquisitions. Fms need immediate information about space changes and their respective costs. Summaries and benchmarks can guide their strategic and operational decisions. All these requirements make a compelling argument for implementing space, move, and business intelligence management software which meets today’s requirements.
The Power Of CAFM
Computer aided facility management (CAFM) systems have very comprehensive requirements. They begin with the intelligent computer aided design (CAD) connection to the system and take that to the next step by linking data to the graphics and transporting it into an extremely useful tool. When broken down into significant components, the major data management tasks associated with FM include:
Space management: Track real estate space in two and three dimensions, its occupancy and ROI, room inventory and maintenance, safety equipment locations and emergency exit routes, security, access, and key restrictions, energy consumption, as well as human occupant dynamics.
Physical asset management: Monitor information about furniture, fixtures, and equipment (servers, computers, telecommunications, A/V, production, and general office), as well as inventory items.
Maintenance management: Visually track and report on facility cleaning and equipment maintenance schedules. Export the data to project management software packages.
Move management: Graphically identify physical and resource assets impacted by an office move through color coded room layouts and database driven, alphanumeric move reports.
There are many CAFM software solutions that can assist with these complex tasks. And all of the software solutions have the following goal: to help the fm and everyone in the company improve the efficiency and effectiveness of business processes. This requires good communication and work collaboration among stakeholders in each process.
Externally, the Internet (and internal company intranets) functions as a worldwide platform to communicate and exchange data. Web based FM solutions provide an information platform to search for people and retrieve information about them. Furthermore, the Web can be the easiest way to broadcast information to all relevant employees and external personnel. Stakeholders can be invited by sending invitations to view data and graphics over the Web.
Meanwhile, as task management for fms becomes increasingly complex, Web based solutions gain popularity with those who are constantly on the move (or who oversee multiple sites—possibly in different parts of the world). The Internet is particularly appealing to managers who need real time information presented to them in an intuitively clear way that may be graphical or data driven.
Through the Web, fms can access their data everywhere. CAFM programs can pull information that is constantly updated. The program then typically presents a data overview and gives the user the choice of drilling down into the information. Data can also be presented graphically, and color coordinated legends make it easy to understand for users with different levels of familiarity.
In addition to pulling information, fms can use the Web to broadcast announcements and important messages to all relevant employees and external personnel. Stakeholders can participate by sending invitations to view data and graphics over the Web.
Data must be captured in one Web based CAFM solution that provides all the functionality needed by the enterprise. Setting up the CAFM program itself provides insight into how helpful Web based workgroup cooperation can be.
At first, existing data has to be collected and input into CAFM software that will provide a seamless integration for all data into its system. Paper plans have to be digitized in one location; CAD drawings have to be prepared; and data must be gathered from enterprise databases or spreadsheet solutions throughout the company.
There are two architectures that can create such a Web based graphical and object oriented solution: Fat Client or Thin Client. Both solutions query Web based databases for their core information. However, Thin Clients use only Web-based CAFM features, while Fat Clients use Web based CAFM and other applications resident on their own computers. Existing terminal services and Citrix technologies offer Fat Clients full intranet and Extranet functionality in a Web based environment.
Management of the CAFM setup project is best done through workspace and document sharing software that many CAFM programs themselves employ. So once the database is built, users will already have a certain degree of familiarity with it; thus making it quicker for users to jump right into important tasks and issue resolution.
Getting Down To Business
When programming is complete, Web based CAFM systems can immediately get down to gathering facility help desk inquiries and creating work order tickets. The initial incident can be reported through the phone, e-mail, or intranet, but Web entry would provide the customer with pre-defined categories that automatically produce reports that are sent to the responsible person. This efficient system allows reporting from any Internet access point and assures fulfillment in an uncomplicated and cost-effective way.
This direct type of data delivery system is especially useful for urgent requests. For instance, consider operations in a mission critical data center. In a location like this, a heat sensing device may constantly feed information to an off-site database. This database may transmit a color coded representation of any changes in the room. As soon as the device registers an operational blip, this information is transmitted over the Internet to personnel able to address the problem before it escalates to emergency status.
Web based FM may be a very appealing way for fms to gain control over their work. Information is available at any time from anywhere, and users won’t see any difference while working on the Internet, intranet, or their own machines. Best of all, issues will be resolved faster, and co-workers will be more satisfied with the successful results delivered by the facilities department.
The Pros And Cons Of Web Based FM
By Bob Pearson
Facilities organizations have, for some time, had various software applications for document, information, and building automation management. But the strength of Web based systems is not so much the application; it’s much more about added accessibility and flexibility. With Web based systems, anyone with access to the Internet can use the systems from virtually any location or PC in the world.
The Web application often resides on a company LAN/WAN. That means that access can be obtained via the intranet/Internet.
Control of the Web site is granted via passwords. There must be secured levels of access such as editing/modify, read only, and run reports.
With the benefits of flexibility and accessibility, do Web based applications have any negatives? Facility professionals should know there are some issues that must be taken into account when using Web based applications.
One consideration is the labor support needed to maintain the access passwords and their associated levels of access. This information changes constantly.
As employees are added to the system, and as they leave or change jobs within the company, their access and passwords must be removed. This system administration could be a part time job depending upon system size, which might be combined with similar activities in other departments.
There is also the issue of maintaining the application itself. There are upgrades and modifications, virus and malware protection, and system maintenance, since it may occasionally fail. This level of labor support must be provided from somewhere.
Even with these limitations, Web based applications can be a tremendously valuable tool for any facility department. Through the Internet, fms can manage project costs, building drawings, system layouts, fire systems, and other valuable data in a way that makes facilities services more accessible to users, managers, and support personnel.
Pearson is a registered professional engineer and a frequently published authority on the subject of facility management security. He is a member of the A/E National Standing Committee for ASIS International.