CAFM technology steps up: FMJ discusses

Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) has helped propel Facilities Management to a position of importance within the corporate structure.  But is the technology keeping pace with changing needs and expectations.  FMJ discusses with industry experts, including FSI.

Computer Aided Facilities Management has long been an essential tool for Facilities Managers in monitoring the performance of staff, contractors and assets, maintaining legal and regulatory compliance, and reducing costs.  The technology is evolving fast to support emerging trends - for example, mobile apps are appearing which not only give FMs fingertip control of assets, but can be integrated with a wide array of software, from Building Management Systems to Building Information Modelling (BIM).  But is it enough to meet customers' high expectations and maintain FM's pivotal role?

FMJ asked three experts to explain recent developments in CAFM software, what the new advanced capabilities mean for those responsible for managing buildings and facilities - and what still needs to happen for technology to fulfil its promise.

Gary Watkins, CEO, Service Works Group
It's true that FM is beginning to reap the rewards of an open-minded approach to digitisation of the workplace, but the industry is far from realising the true scale of transformation at its disposal.

Nowadays, FMs can have software systems in place that simultaneously manage workload, schedule maintenance, track expenditure and occupancy at any one time, while also overseeing major projects - and this is just one example.  Mobilisation and integration, alongside even more powerful processing and storage capabilities, have pushed the boundaries of what is possible for the workplace, in terms of management, measurement, auditing and maintenance.  In short, the optimising capacity of FM software has only just begun.

Smartphones and tablets have given everyone access to processing capability that 10 years ago was only available through a desktop computer.  This is a powerful development for the FM function, giving managers access to all manner of data on the move and in real time, changing the very nature of day-to-day activity for many organisations.  Optimising the business function is no longer a laborious process requiring meticulous planning and strategy directed from the boardroom; with mobile tech and FM software working collaboratively, it's now a front-line possibility.

Far from disrupting management structures, this capability actually gives decision-makers a more accurate and readily available insight into the realities of typical business processes.  Data allows those in charge to direct in a transparent and evidence-based fashion, and FM is beginning to embrace this fact.  That said, the challenges of how best to utilise certain types of information remains.  Big Data offers insight into any number of workplace variables, but how this knowledge is to be used strategically alongside existing systems is yet to be fully understood.

The power of FM software lies in both its broad applicability and specialised delivery; the solution that works well in a typical office environment can also be used effectively in more critical environments, such as hospitals.  Service Works Group (SWG) recently launched a white paper detailing the experiences of a number of hospitals around the world using QFM, SWG's CAFM software.

The future challenge for FMs appears to be striking a balance between the latest tech innovations and existing, proven solutions.  This is crucial, particularly when reports such as the Carter Review show that productivity and modernisation need to be embraced in equal measure throughout public estates.  Workplace software should be used to target specific challenges and implemented with an eye to the near future, ensuring that the tool is future-proofed to see maximum return on investment.

Dialogue is required between vendors and customers to reach a solution that succeeds in meeting immediate business demands and future tech innovations.  The software of today needs to be receptive to the changes of tomorrow, particularly if industry is to fully enjoy the transformative potential that is increasingly available at its fingertips.

Compton Darlington, Business Development Director, FSI (FM Solutions) Limited
Technology helped FM to realistically argue its worth as a business-critical management function.  But CAFM procurement should not be viewed as a tick-box exercise without a complete understanding of the wider business objectives.  It's time for an industry-wide, big picture reappraisal of where we go next and how we get there.

One of the notable new tech gifts last Christmas was the voice-controlled Amazon Echo.  Hard on the heels of Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana (with their touch-screen backup environments), this Amazon device marks another advance in the way people interface with the devices in their homes.  This raises the bar in terms of what people expect from FM-related technology.  FM might have entered the app world over the last few years, but the gap is widening between what is possible at home and what is available in the workplace.  Technology is taking quantum leaps - FM needs to do the same.

There needs to be a greater willingness within the industry to engage with leading-edge technology and remain aligned with new developments.  It's not enough to relax in the knowledge that the engineers are equipped with purpose made, ruggedised devices that tell them which plant to service next.  Or that users have recourse to a clunky helpdesk that, through a three-minute interaction, will get them a new lightbulb in their office.  Despite the apps, this is still pretty much the reality.

FM service providers and tech businesses should be driving customer expectation.  Unfortunately, the reverse is happening.  It is the customers, faced with new pressures, who are laying their requirements at the door of their suppliers.  End-user CEOs, through their own personal experiences, have higher expectations of what business technology should look like.  If FM can't deliver, it will be sidelined as a subsidiary consideration within other, more up-to-date enterprise management systems.

Claire Visser, CAFM Director, CAFM Explorer
We are finding that customers want more and more functionality on the move.  Traditional CAFM activities such as updating work orders and viewing helpdesk requests are no longer enough to aid the role of Facilities Managers.  Clients want mobile access to more information and more core tasks that are typically available in their CAFM system.  As such, mobile capability is high on the CAFM agenda.

We have responded by introducing several enhancements to CAFM Explorer, from QR scanning, retrieval of work orders, asset history and associated documents to dynamic risk assessments, signature capture, stock assignment, cost allocation and live time capture.

A key demand has been access to a wider range of date at the point of service, and here the availability of SFG20 schedules for planned maintenance has proved invaluable.  Several of our customers have taken advantage by integrating SFG20 data; some have reported saving weeks of time by automatically uploading their SFG20 maintenance schedules.

At the point of service, engineers can access OEM manuals (rather than print or carry hard copies), create meter-reading recordings and view historical data and critical trend analysis.  The expansion of QR code functionality has also enabled customers to record the seamless and accurate logging of customer issues, and benefit from guaranteed engineer attendance at the right assets.  All this critical information triggers real-time reports and alerts, ensuring that management has instant access to all critical information, forecasting and trend analysis.

These mobile developments offer a holistic view of a facility's costs, processes and management.  Facilities Managers have the information they want, when and where they want it, enabling them to respond quickly and effectively to potential issues.  But our core CAFM software is also evolving to accommodate FMs' changing expectations.  Dynamic risk assessments, for example, can now be produced within the core product, ensuring that all data is captured - including signatures at the point of activity.

With financial control such as high priority, more and more customers, particularly those who are service providers, want their CAFM software to integrate with their finance systems.  Real-time capturing of time, stock and other costs with automatic links into contracts and budgets ensure our customers can see a detailed breakdown of all financial spend.

Integration with Building Management Systems continues to expand.  Many customers take advantage of automatic work order generation, and further automatic notifications, along with higher visibility and reporting, are on the way.

Finally, we are supporting many customers in shifting administration to their service provider.  This gives the service provider controlled access to the CAFM system, allowing them to update relevant information while the customer maintains overall control of the process.