CAFM spreads its wings

CAFM spreads its wings

The information and communications technology used for work has become steadily more powerful, easier to use and increasingly mobile.  The development of technology to manage the workplace has been similarly rapid.

Computer aided facilities management (CAFM) is a useful catch-all term for this technology, although there are plenty of other acronyms in circulation, including CMMS, CIFM and IWMS.  There is even a discussion running on Linked-In about whether the number of acronyms is confusing the market!

Early CAFM systems were essentially a spin-off from the design industry.  Two-dimensional plans of a building could be populated with assets (furniture, HVCA plant, utility routing, lighting, kitchen equipment etc) and the information used to plan and manage the space.

Over recent years systems have been developed which cover more of the facilities management remit and owe less to the legacy of design software.  Today's systems provide information to not only help the facilities manager understand the impact of projects and changes but to communicate with customers and senior management in the most appropriate way.

A recent survey by i-FM.net, supported by the FMA and sponsored by Service Works Group, asked respondents to identify the benefits of CAFM to their organisation.  90% of the more than 450 respondents said CAFM made the FM service more efficient, provided better data and allowed for better auditability.  More than 80% said CAFM saved money.  Between 60% and 80% said CAFM improved sustainability credentials, allowed them to better identify staff workload and to reduce the FM budget.

Today, CAFM systems can cover planned and reactive maintenance, help desk, churn (internal relocation), room booking, health & safety, energy management, space planning, capital expenditure, service charging and more.

Trends
The market is beginning to see convergence between applications developed for real estate management, building management and maintenance management, as organisations look to break down silos and manage across the business.  The lifecycle costing approach and the current harsh economic environment will only encourage this trend.

As in mainstream business applications, the concept of ‘software as a service' has been adopted by CAFM providers.  The benefits for the user are lower upfront costs and arguably more flexibility.

Steve Jones, sales manager with Qube Global Software, has certainly noticed clients are more cost conscious: "It's not just about upfront purchase costs versus the software as a service model.  People are looking for more depth, more granularity and more flexibility in the software.  They are concerned about cost in use.  Can a system adapt as business processes change and how much configuration can they manage themselves?"

System providers have been busy developing web-based applications and more recently, ensuring services can be delivered via mobile devices, using data that lives in the cloud.

At a recent user conference everyone was talking about mobile solutions, says Jones.  "People are on the move, they're managing several different locations and working out of a different office every day.  They want analytics and management information on their smartphone or tablet so they can play with data and undertake scenario planning."  Use of real time data is essentially role driven, argues Jones, it can certainly improve the performance of a helpdesk operation.

According to the survey, just over half of respondents host their CAFM system in-house, as against 24% who use a managed hosting service.  The report says most clients hosted their software in-house because managed solutions weren't so readily available.  "But organisations, particularly smaller ones, are increasingly opting for a managed hosting offering which allows them to significantly save on upfront capital expense and reduce operating costs.  It provides a secure, resilient and scalable solution, whereby the hosting provider takes care of the management, and expenses relating to the infrastructure are more predictable," concludes the study.

The provision of better management information is a significant client-driven trend.  As well as being able to analyse trends and drill down into data, managers want all critical metrics displayed on a virtual "dashboard".  Executive dashboards allow for comparisons, ‘what-if' scenarios and questioning of data, allowing the viewer to interact and collaborate with data to produce new insights.

Planet facilities management software from Qube has been implemented in over 300 organisations across industry, commerce, NHS and the public sector.  Qube Global Software CEO John Cupello said: "A good FM software solution can help, through quickly turning provided data into a range of schedules and Business Intelligence (BI) reports.  This can include long term budgets, work identified and planned as a result of condition surveys, along with detailed information on likely planned and reactive maintenance costs.  BI can also help FMs collect accurate data; allowing management to make informed decisions by turning data into information and information into knowledge."

CAFM systems are increasingly "smart" - anticipating requirements or cancelling resources, such as meeting rooms, if not confirmed by a certain time.

With a focus on lifecycle costing, good management information is vital, argues Compton Darlington, business development director at FSI, providers of the Concept range of CAFM solutions: "This can be real time data pushed to mobile devices but as important, strategic information.  Clients need trend analysis that helps them make good long-term strategic business decisions about assets."

Gary Watkins, MD of Service Works Group, agrees that users want a more dynamic interface and says that good information can actually change the predictive maintenance regime, as experience of how assets perform is built up.

Service Works has developed solutions particularly for the PFI/PPP market and sees these becoming even more relevant as the private sector adopts performance based contracting.  "PFI/PPP providers need to know their liability at any time and to be able to assess the impact of service failure on their management fee.  It's critical to the profitability of a contract," said Watkins.

User input to the development of systems is likely to become more widespread and sophisticated.  Software providers have realised that a well-supported but independent user group can be a quick route to develop product functionality that the market values.

The i-FM survey found that CAFM systems are increasingly being connected to other applications, most commonly to finance, building management and property systems.  This trend towards integration, particularly in larger organisations, has created another acronym, IWMS or Integrated Workplace Management Software.  IWMS usually comprises facilities and space management, building management, project management and environmental / sustainability management to control the build environment.

Steve Jones of Qube agrees that integration with other business systems is another trend.  Organisations want a dynamic interface with, for example, finance systems.  Batch processing is no longer good enough.  "Clients don't necessarily want purchasing performed through a CAFM system, they want it to go through the approval process determined by the finance system," he said.

The CAFM survey found that the most common interfaces for facilities management software are with finance applications (24%), building management (17%) and property (16%) systems.  Health and safety, space management / CAD, human resources and environmental systems were also commonly connected.

The rise of building information modelling or BIM is seen by many as likely to have a great influence on the future of CAFM.

For Compton Darlington of FSI, the advent of BIM is a "Hallelujah moment" and will raise the profile of CAFM.

"The development of BIM will help people to understand the value that can be added by good work management solutions," said Darlington.  "It's all about integration.  BIM is an holistic approach and you can't have CAFM products sitting in isolation."

Interoperability was a feature of industry debates around building management systems some years back and BIM will give this a further twist.  Darlington believes suppliers of equipment will not just have to provide information but engineer communication protocols and standards into their products to ensure systems can interrogate them.

BIM is all about the intelligent use of data, said Darlington, and Government, along with the larger contractors, will drive its implementation.  "Talk of CAFM as essentially a help desk application vastly undervalues what can be provided," he said.

Gary Watkins said Service Works is keeping a "watching brief" on BIM: "The prime requirement is clearly for the design and construction phases but we're engaged through the Construction Industry Council and it's a chance to have a say and be at the top table."

If the promise of BIM is delivered, CAFM will be an essential component in modelling not just the design and construction of a building but its operation and use.