Essential FM Report: CAFM Developments - Mark Magee, FSI

The role, function and status of CAFM software are going through a remarkable and fascinating period of change. This looks set to accelerate in 2013 as CAFM's value to the business is realised by users beyond the core FM world, and it is being driven by some important trends: CAFM's developing role as a portal to an increasingly integrated and rich set of business data, its functionality as a real-time reporting tool, and its ability to automate a comprehensive range of processes that impact directly on an organisation's productivity and profitability.

As a platform, the CAFM system has come a long way from its traditional model as a client/server application hardwired into the server on a local area network, with a Windows interface. Today, it is a scalable and flexible proposition, optimised for web and mobile access, and deliverable as a service that offers abundant opportunities for FM providers to add value and extend the relevance of the application deep into the heart of their customers' businesses.

Scalability lies at the heart of this development. A world class system like Concept™ has the ability to grow with the business - whether it kicks off as a single-user implementation, an enterprise-wide platform, or is implemented by an FM service provider across a global client portfolio.

The customer can be confident that both the system and the supplier - the software developer or a high-calibre specialist partner - will grow with and support their business. And the CAFM system becomes the focal point for information with the potential to apply a consistent set of KPIs across multiple contracts, clients and continents, visible around the clock, and allowing the business to measure the profitability of services and functions through its use of the software.

This visibility is one of the main drivers behind the rise in appreciation of CAFM as a business tool. For FM customers, internal clients and external contractors, investing in a system that offers dashboard access to a data set populated by feeds from an integrated suite of software applications is a very attractive proposition. CAFM has become a viable repository for live business information and a portal to a real-time picture of business performance in relation to key functions such as finance and compliance, as well as FM itself.

As a portal, CAFM provides visibility in a way that a traditional paper report is simply unable to do. Users have instant, intuitive access to the call log, the PPM book or an up-to-the-minute snapshot of the day-to-day requirements of the FM function and their status, without the need for any expensive or complex software training.

Contract managers can see at a glance how efficiently their terms and conditions are being met, and they can tailor their reports to any desired permutation. This model comes into its own in extended FM environments where a system might be deployed centrally, with a help desk that interfaces with hundreds of locations around the country - each of which can access information about services and call status via its own, customised portal.

The revolution in end-user devices is having a significant influence on demand for this portal-style access to CAFM applications. The rise of the smart phone and the prevailing trend of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to the corporate network mean that mobile CAFM has moved beyond its traditional interface on a ruggedised PDA. It is no longer traditional blue collar territory.

Today's users expect to interact directly with business systems and information through their tablets, smart phones, net books and laptops, on the go and with dynamic, easily-understood interfaces - regardless of the device they happen to be on. They want an infinite variety of alerts, reports, project plans and supplier/contractor management tools at their fingertips, and instant access to a live representation of contract performance going into a meeting.

This trend, in turn, is an important influence on CAFM software developers as they look to make their applications truly cross-platform for 21st-century corporate environments where mobility is taken for granted. The blurred distinction between business and consumer technology has raised user expectations and encouraged businesses to demand integrated, cross-platform functionality from their applications.

For an FM service provider, that means being able to accommodate a client's choice of devices - often a glorious mix of i-phones, i-pads, Blackberries and Android smart phones - without compromising the terms and conditions of service delivery. And they want to be able to provide this out of the box, with simple tweaks to the system and the ability to take local variations into account without breaking the main process flow.

FM providers increasingly find themselves under pressure to mimic the speed at which technology is evolving through their own services. They need to have confidence in a solid CAFM platform which will allow them to deliver mobility and visibility. But they also need the system to be flexible enough for them to extend its basic functionality - modifying workflows in specific circumstances, for example - without having to undertake complex core production work in the software. In other words, a successful CAFM implementation will support the business and mould itself to the business process.

For the software developer, this means getting closer to the client and understanding exactly what is required of a CAFM platform in 2013. FSI invests a lot of time on active client engagement, nurturing a proactive user group with a wide membership that reflects the many different environments and models in which modern CAFM systems are deployed. These users experience and exploit CAFM at the coalface and their reactions and reports are vital influences on the future development of Concept™.

This shift to a partnership rather than a conventional client/ supplier model is a notable trend in the CAFM market. One of its most notable consequences has been the emphasis on integration between CAFM and other corporate systems.

As a matter of course, software developers are now using open architecture, middleware and the web to provide clients and their users with a scalable, accessible set of services. Standards-based input tools allow the CAFM system to accept information from a myriad of other systems and business partners. Integrated access to data that might previously have been locked in to proprietary silos means that service providers can add value and tailor client access to a merged set of data held in a single repository.

This also has implications for CAFM vendors with local and regional expertise. For example, FSI sells Concept™ around the world with a combination of regional offices and business partners who can resell the system while adding their own tools and services. Their ability to add value through integration and an intimate knowledge of their clients' businesses is an important differentiator. It means they must be able to take the CAFM solution off the shelf and develop aspects specific to their requirements. And the system must be flexible enough to support their vision rather than limiting their business development.

Developing a partner network of this calibre is a cost-effective way for vendors to expand their sphere of influence and the appeal of their platform on a global basis. It also feeds back into the development of the product as more is learnt about customer requirements and deployments. A reseller partner can become the advocate and champion of a tier-one CAFM supplier while developing their skills through local deployment and maintaining control over their own client base.

But in terms of implementation and delivery, perhaps the most important trend has been the evolution and adoption of the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. This has enabled FM customers to forge even more dynamic relationships with system suppliers. The hosted model, epitomised by platforms such as FSI Cloud, allows customers to outsource the complete CAFM service, from hardware and software to reliability, disaster recovery and backup, for minimal overheads.

A number of larger corporate customers who were previously reluctant to outsource the hosting of a business-critical application now recognise that there are economies of scale to be made on the CAFM front. By handing the responsibility to deploy and manage a suite of applications to an organisation like FSI, or one of its partners, which has the skill and processes to support the software and hardware, while enabling appropriate client access and guaranteeing a speed of response, a business can generate important cost-savings.

The cloud model means that in the event of a problem or sudden requirement for system changes, the supplier has instant access to the customer's application in real time. There won't be potentially business-damaging delays while the customer backs up its system and analyses the problem before giving the supplier the necessary access. Whether the client wants a pure SaaS implementation, perhaps paying a monthly fee and being able to scale the system up or down according to demand, or prefers to outsource their entire infrastructure to a hosted private cloud, the flexibility of today's leading CAFM offerings is without question.

In addition to providing constant support, the supplier can refresh its applications in real time, ensuring that the customer always has access to the latest versions and modules. The cloud model has allowed CAFM developers such as FSI to extend the benefits of their open architectures and web services.

Tighter integration with complimentary services such as Microsoft Office and Exchange is helping to take system vendors into new business areas. Embedded as they are with service providers and FM managing agents, they have been able to open up the internal information networks and meet today's demand for tightly integrated business software packages that are available on demand.

One of the most noticeable results of CAFM's move into the business application space - the rise of electronic documentation - is also having a notable impact on system vendors. The cloud model allows them to extend their services to include value-added elements such as data backup and off-site storage - a departure that reveals just how far CAFM has penetrated mainstream business applications.

About FSI:
Founded in 1990, FSI is a global-leader in FM software, with Headquarters in the UK, offices in Australia and Dubai, and an international partner network.

Concept Evolution™ provides a total platform for the design, development and implementation of FM strategies to those responsible for the provision of building services and asset management.