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Does your FM data make sense?

27 January 2012

Sezgin Kaya

In December 2011 RICS published an Information Paper on FM data and information management. With the paper, RICS aims to support Chartered Surveyors working in FM, and their clients, by providing an outline to help them generate, analyse, use and report on facilities management information (MI). The paper informs their members on the emerging importance of data and information in facilities decision making.

This comes at a time when more and more businesses embark on journeys to make best use of their data. Many have already established their ‘Business Intelligence’ functions, and, in parallel, enable their facilities management regime to be able to work with data as good as, if not better than the business itself. At the very minimum, and instantaneously, all facilities managers are now expected to report on details about their activities. Property and asset portfolio, compliance to standards, supply chain integrity, costs, occupancy, service quality and performance information are the basic areas to start with. The paper is RICS’s first FM Practice paper published in the field, and there will be much more to come in 2012.

The subject is a slight challenge to the entire industry though. Traditionally, based on local service delivery outputs rather than collection or analysis of data, there were not too many data points to rely on. Ever since building management systems, computer aided facilities management programmes started to be used, vast amounts of data from buildings and operations became available. But it was predominantly used for day-to-day operational monitoring purposes rather than making strategic decisions regarding the portfolio or service. Even worse is the so-called soft FM side, where, leaving customer satisfaction surveys aside, there was hardly any data to report on. As one facilities manager told me recently: “We simply did not know what to do with data. It was sometimes there to back up our actions or decisions, rather than being at the frontiers of decision making”. Now, receiving the help from business analytics, more ‘informed’ decisions can be made based on data exploitation and analysis.

On the technology side, progress is faster. With horizontally integrated enterprise-wide technologies increasingly being capable of providing multi-layered information from various sources, information can turn into management reports in an instant. Reports can contain information related to operational and financial performance of portfolio and suppliers, monitor business improvement targets, resource optimisation, compliance status, and so on. However, it still remains for facilities managers to identify their own requirements, and what they want to see and report with those technologies.

Growing use of real time facilities data such as that from smart meters for consumption monitoring, sensors or actuators related to HVAC, people’s utilisation of buildings, systems or communication channels is generating millions of megabytes of data each and every day. Technologies to store, analyse and report on these types of data are becoming more and more available, and flexible for individual’s needs. Role-based dashboards are already producing customised reports for people at different levels and roles within an organisation. Technological ability to access the external data, such as weather, geo-codes, transportation and traffic events, community services, emergency alerts, and communication technologies can now all be mashed-up with facilities data to achieve an optimised level of performance for serving to customers. Long and short term decisions can be made by analysing events and occurrences, customer and help desk records, occupancy, and even customer journeys for building users. The art of possible is in the boom.

This leaves facilities managers with two questions: what are the key decisions that they need to make in order to best perform their facilities, and what is the key business alignment between their operations and the business that they want to demonstrate. From a data management point of view, responding to both questions is easier, because the data needed to respond to these questions can typically be held in one data set, i.e. an operational database. From an intelligence management view, it is a different story because of the direction in which data flows. Considering where facilities management sits in an organisation, there are two streams of data flows: one downstream, and the other upstream. The downstream data flow allows facilities managers to query supply chain information via contractual or business-to-business engagements in order to manage portfolio or supply chain outputs. Upstream flow puts facilities data in the context of business views in order to demonstrate an FM organisation’s success. A talented facilities manager is expected to achieve a balance so that too many activities on the downstream flow does not over-burden supply-chain and operational resources, whilst too few upstream activities isolate FM outputs from the rest of host organisation’s business.

The expected MI strategy constitutes not only a sound understanding of data and information requirements in the respective organisations, but also a need to understand the technologies available to achieve the right balance and make quick and instantaneous decisions. Now, more than ever, facilities management information is becoming part of the competitive advantage to deliver effective and efficient service with demonstrable results to its customers and organisation. At an institutional level, the recent RICS paper is a step forward in recognising this emerging trend and informing its members about the next generation on facilities management information.

The author, Sezgin Kaya, is Managing Consultant at IBM Global Business Services

For further information please contact John Anderson, RICS FM Professional Group,

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