The Soft Sell: Computer Aided Facilities Management as a key business tool

Compton Darlington, Business Development Director at FSI, Microsoft Gold Partners and developers of the Concept Evolution™ fully web-enabled CAFM solution, talks to FM World about how CAFM is rapidly becoming a key business tool.

FM is moving out of the shadows and into the heart of business.  It delivers services that are key enablers for more efficient resource and estate management - with a positive effect on the bottom line as well.  So, Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) has, over the past four years, extended its influence across the business systems landscape.

CAFM is increasingly accepted as a strategic business tool.  It has an impact on every process and contributes significantly to an organisation's productivity and profitability.  As a result, more and more non-FM specialist users require access to CAFM-generated data.  Service providers, contractors, in-house staff and managers need to have access to CAFM systems in a diverse range of remote and internal environments, making web-enabled tools and applications the best solution.

Intuitive Systems

CAFM software vendors have been quick to develop intuitive front-ends for their systems which meet the 21st-century user's high expectations for ease of use and seamless integration.  In the back office, vendors have made important strides in aligning the capabilities of their platforms with the needs of the business.  Data feeds between integrated systems now combine with sophisticated workflow tools to create greater efficiencies, for example, helping to counter senior executives' misconceptions that CAFM is an expensive overhead.

As a result, CAFM has emerged as a core business tool, enabling the integration of multiple hard and soft services under the FM remit.  As more business users are given access to FM functions through a web-and often workflow-enabled CAFM system, FM is gaining a higher profile.

Crucially, this has been a subtle process, making FM more visible in a supportive, unobtrusive way.  For example, many soft services are available on the intranet, giving users direct access to room or hospitality booking systems, and allowing them to monitor how their requests for cleaning or portering are being processed.

CAFM systems have also become better understood as helping organisations make full use of their space and to consume energy more efficiently.  They now bring together a traditionally disparate array of energy, lighting, security and logistics systems under one centrally managed canopy.

As organisations pay greater attention to the effect of the working environment on staff productivity and efficiency, they need more and more information about the way their estate and assets - rooms, lighting systems, cooling systems, hotdesks, are used.  That information is used to determine business strategies that can have a direct impact on the organisation's profitability and competitive edge.  As CAFM becomes the principal source of the information, it has evolved into a significant agent for driving change and modern objectives through the business.

CAFM's rise is matched by a more proactive attitude to user training in many forward-looking organisations.  If a business has made a significant investment in CAFM software, then staff must be encouraged to get the best possible use from the system.  That can only be achieved if they receive top quality training from suppliers who understand how the platform meets the specific needs of the organisation in question.

A Helping Hand

Perhaps one of the most notable aspects of CAFM's advance has been the proliferation of the managed helpdesk.  This trend has been driven by the escalating convergence between CAFM and real-estate management systems.  Automation has helped to liberate FM staff to focus on strategic and business-critical tasks.  And for FM service providers, the ability to rationalise complicated networks of contractors and generate performance reports has become an important mechanism for enabling transparency between them and their customers.

A managed CAFM-based helpdesk allows service providers to take complete responsibility for performance management throughout the supply chain.  There is an audit trail for every process, from implementation of technology to completion of any call.  Contractor lists can be rationalised and customer service speeded up by an automated helpdesk, which allocates tasks to the appropriate, approved contractor and keeps the customer informed of progress.

Going Global

As CAFM systems enable customers and service providers to take a more holistic, even global, view of their FM functions, so expectations have been raised.  Where platforms used to be deployed at local levels, system vendors now have software that can be deployed across international boundaries without affecting the software.

In the UK, the impact of PFI/PPP projects has had a considerable influence on CAFM system development because of the access it gives contractors to a comprehensive set of reporting and process management tools.  But many of the emerging markets, such as the Middle East, China and Africa, are also generating a new perception of how CAFM, if implemented at the earliest planning stage, can determine how buildings will be used most effectively.

CAFM has finally emerged as the FM service delivery mechanism of choice for many pro-active organisations and service providers.  The benefits of system integration are now well-understood, and the close ties CAFM has with core business systems such as HR and accountancy packages are almost taken for granted.

The Glue that binds

CAFM has become the glue that binds multiple business information strands and delivers both snapshots of how an organisation or a service contract is performing daily, and reports that can have a major influence on the development of property and asset management as a core business strategy.
Perhaps most important of all is the fact that a top-flight, web-enabled CAFM system now allows the genuinely centralised deployment and management of any combination of hard and soft services.  The potential for system infrastructure consolidation and easier IT maintenance tell a compelling cost-of-ownership story.

The time when CAFM software was just the automated enabler for the delivery of a conventional set of hard FM services is long gone.  Today, it gives dynamic organisations the chance to fully exploit the information that a high-quality CAFM system can gather and report, thanks to the combined power of integrated business tools.

Time to take ownership of CAFM?

CAFM has made rapid advances over the past few years, particularly in terms of integration with other core business systems, web-and workflow-enablement and the establishment of a close alignment with strategic business processes.  Yet much still needs to be done to realise its full potential as a key business tool.
CAFM vendors must continue to play their role, of course, developing products to reflect the continuing shift in FM as it incorporates a broader range of soft services.

But CAFM also needs champions within the FM department or a service provider who can demonstrate the business benefits of system investment to managers and users across the organisation.  It is no longer enough to install a system and expect it to deliver without the engagement of the wider use community.  CAFM should be seen as much more than just another administrative resource.

To that end, CAFM champions must be proactive in demanding the best products and professional support services from their chosen suppliers.  Like any other software, CAFM can only be as effective as the people who use it - and they need to be well-informed and properly trained if they are to fully exploit it for the benefit of the whole organisation.  Users, as well as FM professionals, must now take ownership of their CAFM system.