Help is at Hand

It used to be every FM customer's nightmare: chasing the status of a request, being stuck in a phone queue for the helpdesk and feeling detached from the whole process, while the FM team sat in isolation on the other side of an impenetrable system, at one remove from the needs of the business.

Today, expectations are higher and more sophisticated.  Advances in CAFM technology are helping the FM team rise to the challenge of providing services to clients who want to engage directly with the provider, without being distracted from their own business activities.

If you empower users to provide their own information via an interface that has clearly been tailored to their requirements, and give them the scope to manage the progress of their requests, the barriers that can exist between an FM team and its customers will come tumbling down.

In response to this shift in approach, a new self-service, interactive model is evolving, which gives clients access to an open and honest view of performance and enables FM teams to manage service delivery in more responsive and flexible ways.  Solutions such as FSI's Concept Reach™ have been developed to enable this model: light, web-based, self-managed front-end applications that deliver information to non-specialist users across the intranet or extranet, using exactly the same data set as the core underlying CAFM system and extending its business benefits across the organisation.

Flexible CAFM
This new generation of flexible CAFM applications can transform the traditional reactive, data-capture function of the helpdesk into a dynamic business tool.  Without compromising the integrity of the FM function - set-up is still controlled from within the core CAFM system - users can customise their interface easily, displaying only the widgets that they are interested in: for logging calls, for example, or task progress, document management, visitor management or management reports.

Such applications also allow time-specific events like maintenance work to be set, disappearing once their timeframe has passed.  Security is maintained by the assignment of unique identities for external service providers and single sign-on technology for intranet users.  Data is segregated, and integrated with contract management modules, so that only authorised users can access information and task progress that is relevant to them.

This sliding scale of access to the system can be managed regionally, departmentally or on an individual basis.  The departmental manager, for example, will want to see dynamic updates to jobs and reports that affect service delivery in their domain.  A senior executive, on the other hand, will want a dashboard that gives a clear, understandable view of service delivery against KPI's across the business.  Both are possible.

While these features reflect the expected norm of any modern business application, the successful implementation of a system like Concept Reach™ is not a matter of simply imposing a front end that will automate communications between clients and the FM function.  A web-based CAFM interface has to be intuitive, reflecting the needs and processes of the customer and empowering them to manager their relationship with FM in real time.

In other words, the interface must make it as easy and attractive as possible for the customer to help themselves.  If they can't see an immediate connection with their business activities and processes, or if it is implemented by the IT department as just another icon buried deep in a list of applications, users will give it a wide berth.

Ahead of any implementations, it's vital to look at some key long-term goals: clients want an application that is reliable, convenient, easy to use, enhances service quality and allows them to capture information about their own enquiries.  Using it to automate a service, such as helpdesk communication, that was flawed in the first place is a recipe for dissatisfaction.

What customers want
Instead, it's essential to understand exactly what FM customers want from the application.  If you are imposing a solution rather than considering how to apply the technology to their requirements, they are more likely to bypass it.  If you want to encourage them to use it, they will need to understand the benefits they will derive from it, with as little effort as possible, in their day-to-day dealings with FM services.

The application must offer something that is at least as knowledgeable and responsive as the existing practice.  If it does, there is a real opportunity to improve the client's perception of customer service and raise the number of users engaging directly with the FM function - by logging their own issues with the helpdesk, for example, asking for lighting to be replaced or reporting a faulty power supply, or making their own room bookings.

Giving clients self-service access to straightforward facilities information - the availability of rooms, reporting capabilities, asset-related data from a supervisory, managerial or departmental perspective - via a one stop-shop dashboard is empowering from both a customer and an FM perspective.

Today's users are used to media-rich environments that deliver even business-related information in accessible, instantly recognisable formats.  They don't want to drill down into a multi-layered intranet to find the information they are looking for.

If they want their FM data delivered via RSS feeds or even social media, the CAFM application should make it possible, and behave like a home page that the user can tailor according to their own levels of complexity or expertise, simply by turning widgets on and off.

A front-end such as Concept Reach™ puts the client in charge of their relationship with the FM team.  If they are inputting their own information, and know that they can monitor progress of their request at the click of a mouse - even if it's on a read-only basis - they will take more time and care to ensure that it is accurate and complete.  
And that means the FM team can manage its resources and responses more efficiently, without the burden of chase-up calls every 15 minutes caused by poor communication or incomplete reporting.

Integrated and accessible
The self-service model should be a natural extension to a good-quality, integrated CAFM platform both internally and externally, giving all the authorised parties a portal to information that might, at the back-end, be gathered from several different systems.

The application itself should be brandable, integrating seamlessly with the corporate intranet so that users never land on a page that seems alien to them or access a report that doesn't comply with the organisation's format and style.  And the need for end-user training should be kept to a minimum.

As a CAFM tool, the front-end application is an incremental part of FM service delivery - an additional IT investment in the existing solution, which simply takes advantage of the plumbing that has been built to date to deliver information to a wider audience via a simplified interface.

It is not about relinquishing control of a significant aspect of FM service delivery to the general user.  In fact, it can be a great way to extend the use of the underlying system beyond the FM team - squeezing more value from that original investment and raising the profile of FM services and functions across the organisation.

While the application should be enabled for access via all the latest popular consumer devices and browsers (including Apple iPad and other tables, and Google Chrome), the core system and data remain entirely in the domain of the FM team who will be accessing and managing the application in the back office.

Further info
Compton Darlington is Business Development Director, FSI (FM Solutions) Limited: