Pulling Together: the latest developments in CAFM

As CAFM (computer aided facilities management) systems have become more established, numerous acronyms have sprung up for systems that only cater for helpdesk and ppm (planned preventative maintenance) applications.  There are claims these systems are more attuned to CMMS (computerised maintenance management system) or IWMS (integrated workplace management system) working.

Indeed, in the USA and Canada, the word is that many are claiming CAFM is becoming an outdated technology and that most large organisations are deferring to IWMS instead.  This could be misleading or just plain jockeying for market position.  Or sour grapes.

The definition of IWMS goes as follows: 'An enterprise platform that supports the planning, design, management, utilisation and disposal of an organisation's location-based assets.  IWMS systems assist organisations in optimising the use of workplace resources, including the management of a company's real estate portfolio, infrastructure and facilities assets'.  Is this not what CAFM does?

UK software house FMx Ltd owns the trademark for CAFM and is keen to shed some light on the situation.  Tony Leppard, MD of FMx Ltd, the author of CAFM Explorer, and seasoned player in the FM business for 25 years, claims that CAFM is still the strongest acronym to describe an integrated FM solution.

'The flow of information between FM applications makes for a far more productive solution that isolated applications like helpdesk,' he says.  'For example, a reactive issue is almost always associated with assets, location, people, contractors, trades people, costs, rooms, and so on.  So where do you draw the line?
'Reactive issues need a CAFM solution, and the name CAFM simply recognises that the solution caters for the whole of FM and not just a helpdesk.'

In today's economic climate, cost saving and mitigating risk against corporate manslaughter are in the forefront of everyone's minds, and CAFM explorer is leading the way with a number of customers.  Moto Hospitality claims that using CAFM Explorer's web-based solution for end users to log their own faults and contractors to manage their own jobs has reduced traffic on their helpdesk by 50 per cent and reduced administration costs by 40 per cent.

Law firm Withers claims it has saved £570,000 by using CAFM Explorer to improve service levels, reduce administration and improve financial tracking.  And the London Borough of Brent claims the software mitigates the risk that now exposes senior facilities personnel to potential corporate manslaughter charges.  That's no mean feat for an investment in a Microsoft GOLD-partnered product that costs under £1,000.

FMx also provides a range of services that allows customers to contract out the running of the helpdesk, either on a full-time basis, with FMx taking complete responsibility for logging, assigning and tracking calls, or as an out-of-hours service.  Leppard's CAFM Explorer is also now servicing 33 different countries all being managed from London - and, as may be guessed, they use CAFM Explorer as their helpdesk to track reactive and planned issues in their software.

Meanwhile, FSI (FM Solutions) has shaped its overall CAFM offering to remove the barriers that define what is traditionally understood to be FM.  Driving this is the clear requirement from every sector for interoperability.  While best-of-breed thinking still applies, there is the core need for all best-of-breed applications to add value by integrating with other business systems.  'The thinking is at the heart of our business strategy, both in terms of products and professional services,' says Compton Darlington, FSI's business development director.

Both FMx and FSI play in a pool where others such at IBM (Maximo), Archibus, Qube (Planet FM) and Tririga (Facility Center) are to be found.

Role of the Helpdesk

In the context of today's business support world, Darlington reckons it is the term helpdesk itself that often restricts thinking - but when described as a business function, rather than a physical entity, its true value can start to be appreciated.

'If an organisation is able to accurately capture and document its business support requirements in an unrestricted way, being careful to include process pinch points that are often masked by diligent but costly resources, you can then start to gain some appreciation of the importance of this vital business support function,' says Darlington.

In our increasingly virtual but joined-up world there is a reduced appreciation of the physical processes and activities required to actually make things happen.  'The reality is that like it or not this seamless automated reality is actually here, not an optional nice-to-have but an expected norm,' says Darlington.

'Therefore,' he continues, 'the delivery mechanism we still call a helpdesk is not only still vitally important, but its composition now needs to provide a service that relies not only on individuals remembering to update, notify and chase - in order to be seen (or more importantly not seen) as an integrated part of the business support infrastructure, it needs to be supported by a complimentary set of business-beneficial automated functions that occur seamlessly in the background.

'As with any service delivery and its associated technology, it is imperative to keep at the forefront of your thinking precisely what it is you are providing and minimise as much as possible the impact of anything that gets in the way of your objective.'  So the major selling point for a helpdesk?  'Speed of input and response are of paramount importance.'

Measuring Efficiency

But given all this, is there any way of measuring helpdesk efficiency or its contribution to the efficient operation of a company?  This appears to be one of the most contentious issues faced today.

Darlington declares he is a fan of carefully thought-out measurement criteria aimed at all-round improvement.  'I am against blame measurement aimed primarily at penalising, fining and as a result creating a culture of self-preservation and doing only what is required,' he says.  'We have a management culture increasingly based on arm's-length, tick box, breach time thinking, where the client (internal or external) is often a bit part player in the rush to beat a key performance indicator.'

Helpdesk service delivery can be measured with a set of mutually agreed, achievable and common-sense key performance indicators, that take into account the reality of the actual environment in which the service is being provided.

The argument over CAFM or IWMS may take a while to become clearer and be resolved.  Indeed, a helpdesk might be needed in trying to reach a resolution.

FSI Case Study - ISS Mediclean

ISS Mediclean is the healthcare FM division of the International ISS Groups' UK operation.  With a turnover above £180m and over 13,000 employees nationwide, the division is now the UK's leading hospital support services supplier.

The healthcare industry, in particular the provision soft services in hospitals, is a demanding environment.  With an average 90 per cent of reactive calls logged to helpdesks requiring action inside 30 minutes, the strict recording and management of data is essential.  That, coupled with the sheer volume of calls, up to 400 a day, dictates the need for a robust CAFM solution.

With FSI's Concept™, ISS has ensured fast data entry is now standard and backed by detailed reporting and benchmarking.  This not only enables the close monitoring of performance levels but also provides a concise audit trail, tracking call progression.

'FSI has been a constant force in the development of our CAFM solution,' says Dave Bray, information systems manager for ISS.  'FSI has invested valuable time and expertise to understand the nature of our business.  This support has not only enabled us to continue meeting the challenges presented by the healthcare sector, but positioned us a clear leader in our market.'

Call for Help

A helpdesk is an information and assistance resource that troubleshoots problems.  Some organisations often provide helpdesk support to their customers via a freephone number, website and/or e-mail.  There are also in-house helpdesks intended to provide the same kind of help for employees only.

A typical helpdesk has several functions.  It provides users with a central point to receive help on various issues.  The helpdesk typically manages its requests via helpdesk software, such as an incident tracking system that allows user requests to be tracked with a unique ticket number.

The user notifies the helpdesk of his/her issue, and the helpdesk issues a ticket that has details of the problem.  If the first-level support technician is able to solve the issue, the ticket is closed and updated with documentation of the solution to allow other helpdesk technicians to reference in the future.  If the issue needs to be escalated, it will be updated, noting what was attempted by the technician, and dispatched to second-level support.  If no joy is experienced, there is a third level of escalation.  Many software applications support the helpdesk function.