Sustainability Obstacles: is CAFM the answer?

FMJ talks to Compton Darlington, Business Development Director of FSI (FM Solutions) Limited, developers of Concept Evolution™ fully web-enabled Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM), regarding the increasingly significant factor sustainability has in facilities management, yet the irony that poor visibility of key information remains such an obstacle.

Every aspect of the business has its own data silo. Combined, that data would enable the art of making any building more intelligent and sustainable. It would provide a holistic picture, and the business would know in real time what was happening to assets throughout the building - or across the entire estate - and understand the impact on everything from energy consumption to carbon footprint.

But the usual approach is to allow the silos to keep on running in isolation, their systems churning out data that, if only it was integrated and tied back into SLA's, could be used to pursue a sustainability strategy proactively, rather than adopting a traditionally reactive, tactical stance in response to single events.

In many cases, the facilities management function itself stands guilty as charged. It might be supported by a CAFM system - but that is often just another silo, like the BMS, the Energy Management system, the finance system and all the other disjointed platforms across the organisation.

What if the CAFM system was actually the means of bringing about genuine interoperability between the different data sets? It is already the custodian of a wealth of information on every asset in the business. And that information holds the key to knowledge about every asset's contribution to the business's carbon footprint, and the way energy is consumed by the organisation.

A lot of its data is also already contextualised in terms of workflow, business process, litigation and asset lifecycle. In short, it is the obvious choice as a consolidated platform that can give comprehensive visibility into its fellow strategic systems.

Workflow tools, for example, will allow an organisation to model the trigger of events initiated by something like a dirty filter - its impact on other elements in the air-handling unit, a predictive maintenance programme, and replacement schedules, all of which could make a significant contribution to the business's carbon reduction - and react in real time.

Integration on this scale is no longer the challenge it was ten years ago. Open standards and interoperability have helped to knock down the barrier of complexity so that an organisation with a genuine will to use CAFM to help deliver sustainability does not need to fear a big integration project.

By providing access to multiple data sets via a single interface, it could provide the business, for the first time, with the means to make its buildings operate in a more sustainable way.  In fact, the argument for integrating CAFM with other core systems is as much about reducing carbon emissions - and helping organisations to comply with the government's Carbon Reduction Commitment - as it is about business efficiency.

Accountability

The problem at the moment is that FM providers - either internal or external - are not typically accountable for the energy consumed across their client's estate. Compliance with a set of SLA's that are unlikely to make even a passing mention of sustainability is their primary business objective. Responsible energy use doesn't get a look-in.

For example, the lights might be on all night in an 11 storey building as two cleaners make their way through the offices. As long as the task is completed by eight o'clock the next morning, the service level has been met. But it takes no account of the energy - and cost - that could be saved if the cleaners only had the lights on for the floor they were working on.

Consider the potential carbon impact of a single, dirty AHU filter. The BMS might alert the outsourced facilities engineer that it needs changing on a Friday afternoon. He logs it on the Maintenance Management System (MMS) but there is no obvious urgency, so he thinks it can wait until Monday.

Unfortunately, he falls ill over the weekend and by the time he's back a week later, he's forgotten all about it. Only after a reminder at the end of the month does he finally get around to changing it. And by then the AHU supply fan has been racking up the kilowatts as it works overtime to push air through the dirty filter. Simply by integrating the BMS and the MMS across the CAFM platform, the client could spot the situation in real time and monitor the SLA delivery across its buildings.

Then there is the typical situation on a remote site: an electrical fault is reported and an electrician dispatched to fix it. But because the information from the MMS was incorrect, it turns out that the fault is actually to do with the water supply and requires a plumber instead. The financial cost of sending the wrong man is exacerbated by the addition to the organisation's carbon emissions.

If systems are networked and used more effectively, with the CAFM platform at the front end, they will deliver a far quicker ROI through energy reduction, but there could also be considerable benefits in terms of lower operational costs.

Only when an organisation has a better appreciation of how and where energy is being consumed can it make progress on the sustainability front, aligning building occupancy with the way it is actually being run and maintained. And that means monitoring consumption and behaviour down to every individual asset - data that is already meat and drink to the CAFM system.

As long as the FM function is only accountable for guaranteeing environmental conditions, chillers will stay on 24 hours a day, and energy-greedy air-handler units will whir away outside office hours, because that's the easiest way to ensure that the building is bought up to the environmental conditions required while it is occupied.

Building owners and landlords must link SLA's and accountability into energy consumption if they want their FM provider to treat sustainability as an incentive to delivering energy-conscious services. A CAFM system would be the ideal starting point to make this strategically possible, helping all the silo owners to move away from their restricted viewpoints and work towards the ultimate goal of visibility.

The CAFM solution

Since the CAFM system offers a ready-made, powerful asset register - and has at least a rough idea of how and where energy is being consumed - it is also an important tool in building business cases for asset replacement at the right state in their lifecycle. Energy inefficient assets can be retired and replaced earlier because a comprehensive set of data gathered from all the relevant systems will help to identify their true cost to the business's complete sustainability programme.

Maintenance engineers - and their energy consumption and carbon footprint - can be managed more effectively if the CAFM system becomes the hub which delivers the best, most accurate and most comprehensive information to help them complete their jobs.

FM providers' clients, who don't currently get a great deal of visibility about their contractors are performing, will benefit because a single dashboard would pull together essential information - how their capital is being utilised, how the business's operational efficiency is performing against agreed targets, how their buildings are being managed - that will give them a holistic view of energy consumption.

The infrastructure is probably already largely in place for this to be possible. A network of sub-meters in a multi-storey building, for example, will be gathering a huge amount of very granular information about how lights, power points, aircon systems and coolers are consuming energy throughout the day. Simply by integrating this with the CAFM system, an organisation could make some instant, real time decisions about its energy policy.

Two familiar adages are worth adapting when it comes to the business case for CAFM integration: if you can't monitor how your sustainability strategy is performing in the field, you can't hope to manage it; and the more information you can acquire about it, the more knowledge you will develop, and the better your decision-making will be.

In the end, this comes down to making informed, fact-based decisions. Replacing an apparently insignificant asset could have a major impact on your organisation's carbon footprint. But you can't do that without the facts. At this detailed, almost microscopic level, integrated CAFM will be your biggest ally in reducing the carbon footprint of your real estate.