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Determined, long-term focus on getting the best CAFM results

17 September 2021

The Portman Estate is continuing its efforts to gain as many benefits from its new CAFM system as possible following the replacement of its records management solution.

Located in the Marylebone area of central London, the Portman Estate incorporates an eclectic mix of real estate ranging from residential to commercial, retail and leisure facilities.

This broad focus provides its FM team with an extensive number of challenges on different levels that was previously managed with the assistance of a property management solution that had been implemented in 2008 and deemed to be in need of a major update. Similar to many older systems, it had been purchased as an add-on to the estates’ property database to provide a helpdesk solution.

The Portman Estate associate director of FM Kirsty Arnold says that it had become increasingly clear that a more up to date system was required to provide in-depth details of all aspects of managing the estate.

“We saw that we needed to make efficiencies by reducing admin processing time to maximise our resources. We wanted to improve customer communication, hold detailed asset information and provide cost controls through better financial visibility with a more granular level of reporting.

“We also wanted to be able to log live jobs and give our customers live updates on progress. The estate made a considerable investment in the project to modernise and future proof our systems,” she says.

“Our journey to prepare for a new CAFM system actually began around five years ago,” she continues, “although I’d like to make it clear that we haven’t been working exclusively on the project since then. There have been a number of pauses to align with other company objectives before returning to focus on CAFM again.”

The first task saw the completion of process mapping so that the main requirements of the FM team were clearly identified and understood by everyone.

This was followed a year later by a tendering process that saw the project team narrow the choice of suppliers down to three, from which the Planon CAFM system was ultimately chosen.

“Due to the complex needs of our estate we were keen to work with a system that that had all the core functionality, but could be tailored to our specific requirements. We found it helpful to get involved with scoping workshops in early 2018 that allowed us to write specifications and consider all the impacts that future actions could have on all aspects of managing our estate,” Miss Arnold continues.

Having purchased the Planon system in early 2019, the Portman Estate then began planning a phased rollout that has helped the FM team to understand all the requirements while continuing to complete the long list of additional tasks and projects.

One of the issues highlighted by Miss Arnold is the fact that no members of the team had any specific technical software skills, although it seems to be the case that these have been learned during the interim period.

This is particularly relevant in the case of former administrator Elizabeth Akpovrare, who has risen to the challenge of becoming the estates’ full-time systems coordinator. Her involvement has been a key factor in the ongoing successful rollout of the new system, with both Miss Akpovrare and Miss Arnold complimenting the high levels of assistance received from Planon.

Additional technical support was provided by external consultancy and Project Management Resource. “I haven’t worked in this area before but I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of learning about the system and coordinating our efforts,” says Miss Akpovrare.

“All our colleagues work on other areas and we’ve had to recognise the limits of time and the potential everyone has to engage with the tasks to complete each stage.”

The phased approach adopted by the Portman Estate can be seen to have worked well, with each one considered to have been successfully completed at the time of the call with PFM.

“We’ve adopted the process of beginning with delivering user acceptance testing as the first point in the rollout of each stage. Once everyone is happy with that, we then move on to loading the data and then begin testing with our contractors, before going live with that stage,” she says.

Another important aspect in the rollout process is allowing the users of the system to get used to engaging with it. The Planon system is described as being “heavily bespoked” for The Portman Estates’ complex requirements and the early stages of usage are also used to identify where any further adjustments are needed.

The decision was made to implement the reactive maintenance aspect of the system first at the end of last year, with between three and six months required for each one.

Once this was delivered, the next phase saw the implementation of non-statutory planned and preventative maintenance (PPM) in May this year, with the rollout of statutory PPM planned for December.

“We’re seeing increasingly more benefits from using the system, including easier logging of issues and tasks by our tenants and providing a more intuitive portal that captures all the data that is then helping everyone in a variety of ways,” says Miss Arnold.

“It allows the tenants to track the process of jobs without having to take time to call us, they just log on to the app to see what’s happening.”

With data capture used for adding value and reducing costs, the system is additionally delivering SMS text messages and personal emails to remind tenants when PPM tasks will be completed, allowing them to ensure contractors or staff are provided with access to the necessary areas.

This also includes the sending of automated notifications concerning the completion of reactive maintenance tasks. Contractors are also provided with hazard information for each area of the estate they are required to work in, with health and safety another major focus within the estate’s requirements for the new system.

As a result, all service providers are made aware of important aspects to ensure that they can prepare for each task to meet the Portman Estate’s requirements for safe working.

While all initial communications are delivered by The Portman Estate, the system has additionally allowed for tenants to be introduced to contractors where necessary. This makes the process of arranging timed appointments far simpler, resulting in time savings for all concerned and seen as another highly beneficial outcome of CAFM software application.

It should be stated that any complex system will involve considerable effort and team engagement to be understood and applied correctly to each business and Miss Arnold states that it is important “to apply realism” throughout the implementation process.

“Some things we expected to be simple sometimes weren’t as easy as we thought and we had to adjust and refocus before continuing,” she says. “Every system will have its limitations and it’s important to understand these, especially for a heavily bespoked system like ours.

“We’ve had some bedding-in issues for some parts of the system but we’ve had lots of assistance from Planon to overcome these and we expect more options and benefits to emerge in the future,” says Miss Arnold. “They’ve been very supportive for our go-live dates, etc, but we’re expecting to need reduced levels of support next year as everyone becomes more comfortable with CAFM application.”


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