How to follow the correct software path

PFM magazine recently asked industry experts, including FSI, for their thoughts on how FMs should ensure they make the best choices in their choice of software.

Every new project is littered with potential pitfalls of varying severity. Where the purchase of new software is concerned, one of the temptations when procuring new options is to look solely at the needs of the business.

Although this is an important aspect, of course, it should also be combined with those of the company's employees and any other third parties that will need access, such as industry partners and clients. If any new offering is deemed to be too difficult to use or access, it stands the risk of receiving a negative reaction from users that can lead to poor return on investment in the future.

We have all seen the reports in national media outlining the considerable cost and difficulties caused by failed projects. High profile failures have ranged from attempted initiatives by county police forces and individual health authorities, to the UK Border Agency and the NHS Connecting for Health project that ended in 2011 with a reported cost of £12bn for a project that was originally expected to cost just £2.3bn.

Bearing the above in mind, we asked industry experts for their thoughts on the process that FMs should follow in order to identify the best software package for their setting.

One of the first to respond was FSI (FM Solutions) senior business development manager Mark Magee. He stated that the key to successful procurement of a system lies in the purchaser understanding why they want to implement a CAFM solution in the first place.

"From an FM perspective, the answer to the question might seem obvious. But in reality, a vision that limits the point of the implementation to the provision of a basic help desk to oversee the delivery of conventional FM services constitutes a missed opportunity," he says.

"Today's CAFM systems are designed to integrate with a comprehensive range of business processes and systems in ways that make the information they generate relevant and strategically important to almost every operational aspect of the organisation - not to mention, holding the key to greater efficiencies and cost savings," says Mr Magee.

If a procurement framework reflects both sides of the equation - FM and the business - CAFM implementation stands a greater chance of success, he continues. Establishing how CAFM can deliver measurable efficiencies and cost reduction from a business perspective and off-setting them against the initial capital outlay is a vital part of the procurement process.

In addition, the process should include the involvement of end-users - FM professionals and business users who will benefit from the management information, says Mr Magee. This creates a positive culture that will welcome the system when it goes live.

"Choosing the right CAFM supplier is central to effective procurement. You should look beyond the technological claims of any vendor to the portfolio of professional services that it has built around its product. It is essential to have confidence in the vendor's ability to capture the scope of your CAFM goals and requirements from both the business and the technology perspectives.

"By choosing a supplier who will support you into a future of constant service evolution and the adoption of new technologies, you will help to ensure that the effort invested in careful procurement delivers long term benefits," Mr Magee concludes.

Software that suits
Additional expert advice is also provided to PFM readers by Service Works Group chief executive officer Gary Watkins, who emphasises the need to exercise caution and undertake the necessary level of investigation before making a final decision on which software to purchase.

"Facilities management varies across a wide range of activity in a vast range of settings,"he says. "From a college or university, where the service must fit around student needs and term times, to an airport or prison, which requires complex scheduling of operations all year round."

Facilities managers need to ensure that the software suits the situation, he continues. When selecting an FM software solution, it is vital to make a careful system selection, because this is a long-term investment that will provide a solid framework for all future FM and business operations.

"CAFM should be easy to use, customisable and contain the functionality to meet your business objectives. The key objectives can vary from improving asset management to providing a safer working environment, increasing operational efficiency or reducing carbon footprint and environmental impacts, alongside a demand for intelligent business information to support defined strategic decision making," says Mr Watkins.

He further advises that once core strategic aims have been established, a feasibility assessment will need to be drafted. This should involve defining the problem that has to be solved, identifying business processes, the information required and precise reporting requirements.

It should also consider projected business scale, workload volumes and a clear picture of what a successful outcome looks like. However, the assessment should not become a long wish list of requirements; it must be objective and only include essential details.

The next step is to create a list of system requirements for supplier briefing and solution evaluation. This should consider software functionality; technical requirements; the type of supplier relationship required; and integration with other systems, including IT, HR, finance and procurement.

"Finally, the requirements list should be used as criteria against which products and suppliers can be measured. The selection process should be efficient and avoid speaking with suppliers that will not match the company's needs.

"The supplier should offer a bespoke service to ensure that all requirements are met and an ongoing relationship will be maintained after initial implementation, to ensure a robust support system is provided for future software maintenance and development," says Mr Watkins.

Additional advice is offered by CAFM Explorer director Claire Visser in the form of key steps FMs should take when specifying and sourcing a new CAFM system. "At the very beginning of the process is the simple question ‘why'. Why is a new or upgraded CAFM solution needed and what will be the benefits to the FM department, to users and to the organisation as a whole?

"Will it support existing or desired improved business processes and support the management of risks within the business?"

The next question FMs should pose is: "What are the core functions required? This might be any number of objectives such as a slicker user interface, cost efficiencies through asset management, closer maintenance control or clearer management information tracking, through to basic work orders and space monitoring - all of which should be available within your core solution," she continues.

Equally important is the mobility of the solution so users can access in any way they choose: mobile, PC or web based - these options are vital to support the running of a more efficient workplace.

At the heart is data - and critical to the success of the CAFM implementation is getting data setup correctly from the start.

Understanding the correct business process and then gathering the required data will lead to stronger quality of data rather than building a system around what data may be available. Ensuring the system is built on this strong foundation will produce a more user friendly and cost effective solution, says Ms Visser.

When looking at the market it is imperative the software is easy to use for all stakeholders. The licencing model should be simple and allow expansion in terms of size, functionality and users. Good references, case studies and a strong user group are also great evidence of a solid and reliable system.

"The software provider should take a consultative and inquisitive approach to understanding the core client requirements and the priorities for individual organisations.

A good CAFM system will be capable of delivering hands on demonstrations so that the customer can truly understand the proposed implementation," says Ms Visser.

Future proofing
Bearing the pace of technology development in mind, it is increasingly important to ensure that every organisation tries to engage in "future proofing" wherever this is possible. This is particularly relevant in the area of software selection, as no one wants to find that they have to repeat the purchasing and implementation of a new software package within a short time of making a considerable investment.

Further thoughts on this are shared by StudentCom marketing director Tom White, who says that FMs should embrace the technology revolution in order to meet the needs and expectations of Generation Z in the future.

"Consider a world in which there had always been Internet, an age where the smart phone is standard, where you can't imagine life without social media. Not too difficult for you and I to envisage, given we are living in a digital world - but rewind 20, 15 even 10 years ago and we were yet to fully appreciate the impact the tech revolution would have on our world, our lives and indeed our facilities," he says.

The teenagers of today have lived their lives in the digital age and their expectations are accordingly "sky high" for digital technology.

"Generation Z is the future and in a few short years they will be governing everything from how we communicate to how we access the digital world. With this in mind, it's never been more important for us to consider the needs of tomorrow today - ensuring we future proof facilities and premises ahead of the arrival of this tech savvy generation," says Mr White.

To understand where technology is heading, we need to understand what Generation Z is doing today, he continues. Research conducted by his company shows that 83% of 15 to 18 year olds say they cannot live without high speed Internet, while 88% use Facebook to communicate daily with friends and 92% own smartphones, he continues.

"Our research revealed that Snapchat is currently being used by 79% of 15 to 18 year olds on a daily basis, but how many of us are familiar with the platform, let alone using it to actively engage our business? By tapping into the technology, applications and platforms Generation Z is using as standard today, we will ensure we remain at the forefront of potential developments for premises and facilities management.

"In short, our perception of what is contemporary is Generation Z's idea of what is dated. We need to shake up our premises and facilities management and place a major focus on technology - be it Wi-Fi speeds or adopting Snapchat ahead of the game. My advice - research Generation Z, look at what they're doing and how they're doing it and apply it to your business model. If we fail to stay ahead of the game, we'll fail to keep up to speed. It's time to embrace the digital revolution," Mr White concludes.