The Information Age

FSI Strategic Solutions Manager, talks to FMJ on maintaining an accurate and comprehensive asset register is central to running an effective maintenance strategy.

We asked a group of CAFM suppliers for their views on how CAFM software is developing to make facilities management easier and more efficient.

Paul Djuric

CEO, Urgent Technology

Automation is the key to the next big step-change in facilities management.

The science fiction of the past two centuries is rooted in the reality of technological progress. While tales of robots and super AI subjugating humans may seem other-worldly, they reflect the deep, systemic changes that continue to reshape industry and the job market.

Studies in the real world make for grim reading, too. Research by McKinsey Global Institute, for example, has estimated that a staggering 800 million jobs could be automated by 2030. But underlying these sensationalist claims is a crucial misunderstanding. Computer scientists now largely disagree with the claim that future AI and automation will lead to disastrous mass unemployment, though they do agree that fundamental changes to the nature of work are unavoidable.

For industries like FM that are still professionalising, this has huge implications. A study by the BIFM and workplace transformation consultancy 3edges recently posited that the profession may soon undergo profound digital change, though what this will look like is up for debate. On the more positive end of the scale, FM may face a "digital upgrade" or "digital reinvention" where the role becomes augmented by new technologies or totally transformed by data analytics, respectively. At the more negative end of the scale, practitioners could soon be faced with a "digital downgrade", with the role becoming deskilled and marginalised.

Whatever the outcome, facilities management is at a turning point. The recent high-profile failures of FM outsourcing companies highlight the extent to which FM is already commoditised. With suppliers and customers of FM services continuing to squeeze margins, much of the industry has been gutted of real innovation and value.

New technologies, however, present the sector with an opportunity to transform itself. The first wave of CAFM software has helped customers to stay compliant and become more efficient. Moving reporting and scheduling processes from clunky, inefficient spreadsheets to digital systems has made a huge difference to the FM role. But now attention is turning to the future and the possibility of developing foresight with predictive analytics.

Terms like "smart technology" and "internet of things" (IoT) have entered the facilities manager's lexicon - and while it is easy to get caught up in such buzzwords, what all these new developments allow for is the capture of data from a huge volume of sources.

Equipping assets with IoT sensors that send real-time data back to a portal will provide facilities managers with an unprecedented level of granularity and intelligence in their asset information. In this scenario, CAFM systems could very easily become the conduit between suppliers, original equipment manufacturers (think CCTV cameras) and the FM function.

In our opinion, the next big step-change in facilities management is in the automation necessary to feed IoT data into CAFM systems and then turn it into intelligent, easy-todigest visualised information. Instead of an engineer inputting the completion of a task or the reading from an asset, the asset will send the data straight to the CAFM system - which will then process that information. 

Paul Durant

Strategic Solutions Manager, FSI

Maintaining an accurate and comprehensive asset register is central to running an effective maintenance strategy.

FMs need to accurately identify and classify their organisation's assets in order to ensure they are being correctly maintained. In-depth analysis of asset performance and breakdown trends depends on access to the necessary component asset data.

Maintaining an accurate asset register is therefore essential - but it doesn't end with the initial data collection. Evolving estates, changes in technology, stay turnover and new industry guidelines can all have an impact on data quality and consistency. Such changes may affect the way assets are classified and what level of information is held for each asset.

A mobile asset collection app is one way to collect data, but assuming the destination of the data will be a CAFM system, the mobile solution must allow the data to be collected in a way that reflects the structure and data requirements of the operational CAFM so ware. A mobile solution fully integrated with the CAFM system is obviously beneficial. Ideally the integration should extend to all aspects of setup, configuration, preferences and account management, as well as the integration of data already in the CAFM asset register.

Most FM providers have their own asset classification rules designed to maintain consistent asset terminology and maintenance regimes across their client portfolio. When using a third-party asset collection app, these classification rules and other key lookup data (such as buildings, locations or conditions) must be defined in both systems, which means both sides must map data relationships in order to transfer data from the third-party app to the working CAFM software.

A fully integrated mobile app will follow the rules defined and enforced within the CAFM so ware, allowing asset data to flow directly into the CAFM system without the need for additional extraction, mapping and import. All the information the mobile user will ever need to manage assets will be consistent with the information held in the CAFM system.

Integration with CAFM also extends the capabilities of the mobile application and allows for a more structured approach to ongoing management of the estate. In addition to the asset register, most CAFM systems will be used for task management and to schedule activities. Integration with this aspect of CAFM allows clients to manage a mobilisation, improvement or quality review of asset registers as a series of tasks. Tasks can be assigned to mobile resources, and progress and results can be viewed in real time.

Two-way integration with the CAFM asset register means the mobile approach can be used to complement or verify data gathered from other sources. This is particularly useful when inheriting an asset register for a facility, or when registers for a new facility are incomplete. Base data can be loaded into the CAFM system from spreadsheets, setting out the expected assets. Data can then be sent to mobile resources as a task, requesting that the information is checked and verified.

Richard Blackburn

Group Marketing Manager, IDOX

FM software needs to become increasingly agile to support changing roles.

The FM industry is growing at a rapid rate, and we're seeing the profile of facilities managers raised as they take on additional management responsibilities for other services. As a result, mobile working and data granularity continues to be a focus - but so does the notion of combining it with a truly paperless FM function.

Customers at one of our recent user group meetings spoke extensively about their desire to extend mobile functionality across teams, and remove paper trails by eliminating service sheets, auto-uploading documents, and scanning relevant information. As a result, the desire for a one-stop CAFM system, where everything is under one roof and easily accessible for multiple stakeholders, has never been more real.

With CAFM Explorer 10, for example, teams have a central point of service that can trigger actions from other systems. The reporting dashboard is geared to the needs of FMs who need richer datasets to inform decisions around corporate risk and maintenance costs, or evaluate service provider performance.

Smart technology integration is likely to continue developing in scope and scale. For example, different systems will trigger actions and events, such as automated work orders initiated by building management systems, leading to more streamlined, efficient and compliant workflows.

Gary Watkins

CEO, SWG (Service Works Group)

FMs are waking up to the value of CAFM and automation.

SWG and FMJ recently conducted a UK-wide survey of FM professionals about their role, work and use of technology. The results paint a fascinating picture of the industry. While the market as a whole is buoyant, with an increased budget and a renewed drive towards efficiency, the survey found resistance to technological change among many. At the same time, more respondents than ever are using CAFM (77 per cent) - so how is this form of technology meeting current and future needs?

Core functionality remains the priority of a CAFM system, with 80 per cent of those implementing CAFM doing so to improve and streamline their reporting, followed closely by improving FM performance (76 per cent) and KPI/SLA management (70 per cent). CAFM introduces transparency into the workforce, with a trend towards removing barriers that prevent efficiency through automation. At some organisations, this can mean automated robots delivering blood around a hospital; more commonly, it could apply to automating job allocation by allowing the CAFM system to work out which is the most suitable operative in terms of skills, availability and location.

Transparency in contract management is also important, following the negativity and mistrust around Carillion and value earlier this year. CAFM can provide readily available information around contract KPIs and SLAs to allow real-time monitoring of service performance over one or more contracts. This can be measured against contractual obligations to manage performance deductions and bonuses, and also informs future contract negotiation. Job costings can be automated based on predefined labour rates, travel, materials and quality output to save FMs time and ensure quotes are accurate.

Mobile apps have been a trend for the last couple of years and will continue to be as CAFM developers focus on creating new functionality for these handheld powerhouses. At the simplest level, mobiles can be used to receive and log jobs - but now they can be used more strategically. For example, by marking jobs as "made safe" or "temporary fix", leading to more accurate performance measurements, or gathering a client's signature and feedback on job completion to improve quality. Compliance and health and safety are also improved using mobiles via simple forms and checklists attached to the job - for example, ensuring the operative has completed a "working at height" risk assessment, or warning of asbestos in the job location.

The survey found that 50 per cent of respondents believe technology is a challenge, something which FM software is going a long way towards resolving. Many new FM software trends involve simplifying advanced tech, such as augmented reality or building information modelling (BIM), making it more accessible to organisations.

Thirty-seven per cent of respondents integrate CAFM with BMS to enable faults identified by the latter to be automatically logged as a job on CAFM. Integration with other sensors, such as in soap dispensers to manage refills or in offices to manage hot desks or room bookings, is so far less utilised, but the trend is growing. CAFM makes light work of managing all of this data and can make a real difference to a business' operational efficiency.

While it is increasingly held that the wave of technology initiatives is overshadowing the focus on the customer and causing FM to lose an element of personalised service, the reverse is true. By embracing technology to perform long-winded tasks or those that require a high degree of accuracy, the FM team can spend more time using its skill and knowledge to create an environment that suits its occupants, promotes wellness and encourages productivity.