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Core Business Tool

18 December 2008

CAFM has become so integrated and extensive within the business that it has broken through the legacy boundaries that used to define it. It is no longer the sole preserve of the FM function as Compton Darlington explains

IF THERE WERE ANY LINGERING DOUBTS THAT CAFM SHOULD now be regarded as a core business tool, earning its keep at the heart of the organisation, the role played by CAFM systems around the globe in the wake of recent highprofile disasters should have laid them to rest.

Following events like the devastating Tsunami of 2004 or the New Orleans floods the following year, many affected businesses were able to recover more quickly thanks to the operational data held in their CAFM systems. And aid agencies depended on many aspects of CAFM technology – particularly roombooking systems – to help them establish makeshift accommodation for victims.

CAFM doesn’t just come into its own when disaster strikes, of course. The technology is a lynchpin of the accelerating preparations for the London Olympic Games in 2012, delivering operational cost information and vital financial and performance benchmarks for the construction and infrastructure, and security
planning projects necessary for staging a successful event on such a vast scale.

This shift in the perception of CAFM’s rising status as a business tool has partly been due to the ongoing crossover in FM from hard to soft services. FM has long since stopped being just about service management. It now encompasses total property management, including everything that happens within the
estate, as well as how external influences affect it.

CAFM systems like Concept™ from FSI, for example, have become an important financial database for operational cost information, increasingly integrated with front office accounting applications. As FM and energy management service provider Dalkia discovered, the integration of Concept with the company’s existing financial platform – in Dalkia’s case Oracle - can play a vital role in delivering a consolidated systems infrastructure for the entire business.

As some leading system vendors such as FSI have realised – and demonstrated through the dynamic development of their own platforms – that CAFM needs to be able to take advantage of this momentum, moving away from its traditional focus on bricks and mortar and spreading its wings across the complexities of the enterprise, so that as an information resource, it appeals as strongly to the lay
business user as it traditionally has to the hardened FM professional.

In this new world, increasingly enabled by the economic and administrative benefits of the hosted model of software implementation, CAFM has become so integrated and extensive within the business that it has broken through the legacy boundaries that used to define it. As it outgrows old terminology, it has moved
into the workplace management software arena, identified by analysts as a market driven by the major trends and pressures affecting modern organisations of every size. CAFM systems hold the key to a huge swathe of the information required to meet those challenges more effectively.

CAFM becomes an essential tool in the business continuity and disaster recovery plans that organisations must now have in place whether for compliance reasons or because no business can completely protect itself from physical risk from disruptive events. When operations are disrupted, any information in the CAFM system that relates to backup sites, staff locations and vital infrastructure is immediately of critical importance.

Compliance requirements are also forcing organisations to look at ways of improving financial transparency through more streamlined integration between estate management and financial data, for example.

A new focus on cost – particularly in the current economic climate – is driving estate consolidation, achieved through a greater understanding of the use and occupancy of premises. And when it comes to energy
efficiency, legislation is increasingly forcing businesses to become more expert in the consumption of their operations and plant.

Today’s emphasis on employee mobility and flexibility has led to the rise of a remote and flexible working culture in many organisations. Whether they are on the road or hot-desking, people need 24-hour access to the self-service applications and information support systems that they would expect as a matter of course in their physical office.

Many of those systems fall under the CAFM umbrella, from room booking to the help desk, making it essentially a service delivery platform for the remote worker. And with the web browser now the business interface of choice for most people, forward-looking system vendors like FSI are investing significantly in the accessibility and userfriendliness of their CAFM platforms for the business user.

Demand for Web-enabled and hosted systems is also being driven by the increased outsourcing of many FM and estate management processes to specialist service providers.

Amey at the Ministry of Defence, (see panel above) is often responsible for large portfolios of contractors, each with their own area of operation in the service delivery chain. Webbased architectures and portal interfaces offer the most effective way for service providers to provide access to the appropriate data and
applications for everybody in the chain – as well as the client organisation. For the entire FM industry, the hosted software delivery model is opening up important new prospects in markets well beyond the large estates who were previously the traditional CAFM heartland.

In 2003, Dalkia embarked on a project to choose a centralised CAFM system capable of managing service delivery across the entire business, with an emphasis on measuring company performance, customer satisfaction and quality control, and to report effectively on all those elements. It chose FSI’s Concept platform.

Concept was installed at Dalkia’s Portsmouth customer service centre in September 2005, following an intensive 18-month specification project. The helpdesk is used for call logging and the system manages contracts and buildings, security and workflow. Workflow was a particularly important element of the project, enabling the integration of Concept with Dalkia’s Oracle financial platform and helping to realise the original vision of a consolidated infrastructure.

Dalkia head of customer service centres Mark Absalom, who managed the project, explains: “We built a specification that ran across the needs of the whole business, which was a major challenge, visualising how a CAFM system would work in a unique environment with a multitude of FM customers. Most of the challenges have been internal. We specified a series of workflows to handle the importing of business data for the whole client base into Concept. And we write our own Crystal reports to Crystal Connect.”

Managing the cultural effect of introducing CAFM was as much a challenge as the specification and implementation of the system itself. The successful adoption of CAFM is, Absalom suggests, about getting the business users to work with the system as part of their lives, to manage people and processes, and to maintain data.

“It means looking at the data, accepting that it is telling the truth, and working to change things when that truth isn’t acceptable, rather than becoming defensive when you don’t like the information you’re being presented with,” he says. “Once you’re able to develop a routine around regular monthly reporting, indicating total company performance, you can start to identify areas where work is needed.”

Matthew Bartlett, Dalkia’s applications support manager, says: “Concept has supported us through the huge change that the business has undergone in recent years. We’re driven by what we do in the system. It is a day-to-day tool that enables us to deliver our contractual responsibilities more effectively. Also, it enables us to handle bigger volumes of business.”

The MOD outsources the management of its Whitehall buildings to the Amey Group, one of the UK’s leading support services companies. As MIS manager Mick Desmond explains, every aspect of the buildings’ use relies on Amey’s services to ensure smooth running and the on-demand availability of facilities.

“We provide a full range of soft and hard services, which covers everything from cleaning and catering to the computer cables,” he says. “We are responsible for the contracts governing managing electrical and plumbing services, the concierge operation, running the mailroom and the loading bay, even the crèche and the raising and lowering of the MOD flags.”

Amey has been using FSI’s Concept CAFM system at the MOD since 2000. In 2004, it became one of the earliest adopters of Workflow. It integrates with the Concept™ system and database to create an embedded messaging system that can be used to communicate tasks and instructions in response to events defined by the user, in relation to specific business processes.

The use of Workflow has also been extended to integrate with Amey’s room-booking service. Once a booking form has been received, a set of automated workflow tasks are generated, confirming the booking with the client, and notifying the catering and inventory management teams about what will be needed and when.

“It has freed us to develop other parts of the system and customise the way Concept™ works here,” Desmond says. “If people cancel room bookings, our staff can simply click on a web page, and Workflow will
fire off the relevant communications. It simplifies the management of everyday jobs that were previously more time-consuming.

Workflow is also being used to manage data imports. It reads the eSQL database, waits for the flag to be set and then imports the information into Concept.”

● Compton Darlington is Business Development Director of FSI


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