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Integrate for Change

15 September 2006

Software development cannot stop as businesses undergo strategic change. Now MASS is paving the way for a new integrated technology which supports major built-environment projects from conception to completion and beyond, as Ian Gelling explains

THE APPLICATION OF SOFTWARE-BASED Management Information Systems (MIS) can yield tremendous advantages to organisations undergoing change, relocating, downsizing or simply looking to streamline processes and improve asset management. As strategic business change becomes an issue raised at every company’s board meetings, it is the dynamic and nimble organisations that will rise to prominence through better business performance. Change is certainly inevitable and, in an aggressive marketplace, competition will exploit any weakness in cost control, customer satisfaction or service responsiveness. This performance focus is equally at home in the public sector as in the private sector with service benchmarking, Government targets and external auditing.

So would only a 21st Century ‘Luddite’ be throwing clogs at their laptops to halt the implementation of performance-enhancing MIS? Actually many organisations exhibit the symptoms of ‘techno-fear’ and a lack of corporate motivation to embrace change. Distrust of the technical environment is a major issue where translating business issues into a software solution demands real understanding. Cost and existing imbedded technology tend to be the excuses wheeled out again and again to maintain the status quo.

However, the FM market has seen a great number of software companies come and go and so it can be no great surprise that the corporate world raise these concerns when looking to improve business performance. ‘Silo-based’ software systems which tackle a single business issue without integrating this solution into the wider business process sometimes win short-term acclaim but on the whole do not dig deeply enough to solve strategic problems. Managing construction and FM data in the traditional Excel spreadsheet manner breaks all the cardinal rules of any complex database system. They require multiple data inputs, are easily corrupted, reports cannot be tailored to specific needs, data cannot be easily shared…the problems go on.

A UK market leader, MASS Systems’ strategic goal is to take MIS into the boardroom to address strategic corporate issues in a holistic and integrated manner. This includes breaking through the ‘silo’ walls with an over-arching technology which works for the project planner, FM, finance director, IT manager, CAD operator, personnel and other business departments. These MIS tools can take a major construction project from initial affordability assessment, through to the bid process, risk control, design and then through to construction project management. Only after this stage of the project does traditional CAFM software come into its own.

Focusing upon the earliest stages of new projects within the built environment from concept stage onwards brings significant benefit. It ensures that projects are initiated in a robust and controllable manner and that key data is captured right from the start. Traditionally initial affordability assessments, even in very high risk projects like PFI / PPP, meant dusting off the last Excel spreadsheet.

Today, with products like Bid-Builder, project affordability and whole-life costing forecasts are achieved at the click of a button with all construction and lifecycle costings managed within a sophisticated database system.

Linking the project into AutoCAD ensures that subsequent design changes are controlled within the client’s affordability over the life of the contract or facility. Rational design decisions can be made regarding FM maintenance schedules and product selection – for example substituting carpet tiles with hardwood flooring – based upon the true cost of ownership of the new school, hospital facility or office accommodation.

As the project transfers from the drawing board to the building site, MIS systems can migrate the relevant data from the bidding and design tools into software packages to manage risk and to project manage the construction process.

Solutions such as Pertmaster and Primavera are established and widely available, however linking these techniques into a whole-life managed project rather than the silo approach does require a more sophisticated application.

Finally, the role for CAFM begins at the handover stage from construction to FM. This process gives the facilities manager a flying start with all key project data captured, maintenance and replacement schedules defined – and the tools at hand to manage the job efficiently. Web-based CAFM innovations such as help-desks, hosted solutions and a roles and processes approach break down the barriers of workplace management controlling service delivery and costs over the project life to maximise customer satisfaction.

However, as the built environment becomes more complex, few organisations have all the skills in house to deliver a complete workplace management solution. Working with a partner organisation to deliver sophisticated IT infrastructure support, project data capture and the development of bespoke software creates a network with the capacity to tailor business solutions to the client however large or small.

MIS demands a solutions rather than software approach. The client needs a hand-holding partner to understand the organisation’s readiness to implement and utilise the MIS and to derive the maximum benefit. This consultancy approach is at the heart of any successful MIS implementation, defining business issues, scoping requirements, proposing software solutions from the available ‘tool-kit’ and delivering this change management process.

Delivery
The focus is always upon delivery. Consultancy in itself is purely the first step. From then on a 360º service may include training of staff to wring the greatest performance improvement out of the MIS or even the recruitment of interim or permanent staff – vetted as to their technical competence – to realise the project.

Today, 70 per cent of MASS’ business is applying software to tackle business issues rather than software sales. Software alone is never the answer and those vendors tempted by the quick sale do the CAFM industry a disservice. Delivering business change requires a long-term partnership approach based upon understanding of the core business issues faced by the client.

For all this breadth of support, MIS doesn’t come with a money-back guarantee. The scope, complexity and diversity of business issues addressed makes payment upon results a pipe dream. So what will give clients confidence to begin this process of MIS implementation ? Most look at track record and success stories in similar industries or for similar clients. With over 500 UK-based clients, MASS’ users can demonstrate payback periods of less than 12-months, savings running into £millions and returns on investment which would please any finance director.

The rewards to MIS implementation become significant when considered over the duration of any project iwthin the built environment. Taking a whole-life technology approach will mean that projects created on the drawing board will flow through integrated software systems from design through construction and finally FM management. But this tells us what we already know – FM always seems to be at the back of the queue.

BID-BUILDER
Bid-Builder Ltd is a joint venture between MASS, Relocity and Stokes LCC and is an MIS designed to help organisations understand whole-life costing.

It is the first stage in the life-cycle of the built environment – forecasting costs, understanding true cost of ownership, defining construction methods and subsequent FM maintenance and replacement schedules.

Central to the process is a sophisticated database system that captures construction cost data enabling this data to migrate into a range of supporting software systems to manage design, risk, project and, subsequently, FM management over the life of the facility. For example, in a PFI it can evaluate annual FM expenditure compared to the bid sums and management of the lifecycle sinking fund.

Bid-Builder has been successfully used on a wide range of PFI’s to streamline the bidding process, as a design control tool and for due diligence exercises.

● Ian Gelling is Director of MASS
information@mass-systems.co.uk


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