Building technology has grown by leaps and bounds, and current systems should serve as integral components of an FM program.
7 Steps Help FMs Find the Right Technology
How FMs choose and implement technology has a profound impact on the long-term operations of a building. Here's how to get technology selection right.
Wrestling with a beleaguered building controls system that is primarily only good for nuisance alarms? Or perhaps you are limping along burdened with a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) that makes a better paper weight than a facility management tool. Or maybe you wish you had a CMMS or updated controls system to worry about. You are not alone. Sadly, most facility organizations struggle with outdated systems or poor installations of new ones.
Building technology has grown by leaps and bounds the last few decades and should serve as an integral component to a successful facility management program — not be a thorn in its side. However, with the plethora of systems available, it is easy to get distracted by the shine of a new system or a good sales pitch, or to get disheartened and dissuaded thinking about all the implementation considerations involved. The good news is that there are simple steps for ensuring that you select the best tool for your organization as well as best practices for successful implementation.
1. Identify stakeholders
Before you begin window shopping or entertaining demonstrations, clearly define organizational requirements to avoid getting sucked in prematurely to the wrong system (probably still a good product, just not the best one for your department.) Many interviews and much fact-finding will be necessary to sufficiently do the requisite homework upfront before embarking on this journey, which starts with identifying the stakeholders.
Facilities have an impact that permeates the organization, enabling worker productivity and delivering value to the bottom line. The facility department is a support entity; it doesn’t operate on an island. What’s more the successful funding and implementation of a new system is often contingent upon the approval and buy-in of executives, various department managers, and end-users. Therefore, it would be short-sighted to limit the circle of influence and decision process to just those within the department.
Stakeholders to consider include the following. Inputs represent data and information that the facility staff may need to obtain from the stakeholder; outputs are information they may require of the facility department.
• Inputs: organizational vision, mission, and goals; business drivers and obstacles; strategic direction.
• Outputs: costs, forecasts, risk and safety concerns.
• Inputs: number of employees; employee satisfaction; desired amenities and services.
• Outputs: labor costs; timesheets.
• Inputs: revenue generation; downtime costs; employee burden rate; business case support and review.
• Outputs: capital expenses; forecast and budgets; chargebacks.
• Inputs: procurement process; purchase orders
• Outputs: invoices; approvals; corroborating documentation
• Inputs: network and security protocols; computer and mobile device support.
• Outputs: software requirements; desired uptime; access.
Other potential stakeholders include committees and groups such as safety and risk management, environmental, community, etc. And of course you cannot forget about end-user interactions, notifications, and effects of the proposed technology on them.
2. Define the workflows
Now that the various players have been identified, you need to map the workflows and information exchanges — what needs to be accomplished, how is it communicated, what decisions must be made, and where is data stored/shared. Generally, brainstorming sessions drafted on a white board with the individual stakeholder groups is very effective; use a smart board or take pictures to capture notes.
It is important to recognize that a good system does not fix bad processes; it just might get you there faster. Thus, during the mapping process, look for opportunities to increase efficiency, reduce double or triple entry of data, improve communications, and increase visibility and marketing of the facility department.
Document inputs and outputs between end-users and other applications so that they can be translated into the system requirements. Identify dependencies and constraints, then work with the selected provider to address and overcome issues.
3. Develop system specifications
Before reviewing specific software or technology, the requirements need to be defined to ensure that the eventual tool will be the best fit for the organization. In assembling the system document, maintain a short-term and long-term perspective; the technology should evolve and mature with your department.
The requirements as discerned from the various interviews and process analyses should be translated into the specifications.
Below is a list of general specifications to consider; these are in addition to system/function-specific requirements:
• Provider/supplier qualifications (e.g., years in service, client satisfaction and renewal rate, minimum active client list, and relevant experience)
• Software and mobile device compatibility (e.g., Internet Explorer, Chrome, Android, and iOS versions)
• Data security and availability (password requirements, single sign-on, 99.9 percent uptime, etc.)
• Service and support (24x7 call center, online resources, training, etc.)
• Price increase locks (e.g., no more than changes in consumer price index)
4. Research potential providers
Now that the requirements have been drafted, it is time to explore potential technology suppliers that will be invited to the request for proposal (RFP). Online forums, fellow facility managers, industry journals, conferences, and third-party experts are all great resources for finding possible solutions. Do not limit your research by acronym — e.g., CMMS vs. IWMS (integrated workplace management system) vs. CAFM computer-aided facility management) — or by sector, as you do not want to overlook very qualified candidates simply because they are not predominant in your industry.
5. Solicit and evaluate proposals
Submit RFP to qualified providers. In addition to the system specifications, a functionality matrix should accompany the RFP. The functionality matrix extracts the requirements from the specification document and lists them with priorities or “required” vs. “preferred” indicators. The respondents complete and submit the matrix indicating if they completely conform to each requirement, can perform function with work-around, or cannot comply with the specified task. The matrix will allow reviewers to quantitatively evaluate responses and quickly identify the top competitors.
Although cost is typically a primary driver, it should not be the sole or predominant factor in selection. Your organization will be married to this system for years, so you want to make sure you are getting a sound tool, not the cheapest.
6. Interview top candidates
Now that the top candidates have been objectively identified, demonstrations should be scheduled with each — typically, three or four, especially if the race is tight. A script should be provided to for candidates to follow during the demo. The test fit allows the stakeholders to see how the product complies with the organization’s requirements — not vice versa. For example, while the respondent might indicate in the functionality matrix that their product conforms completely to a particular function, the test fit could reveal whether it takes two or three steps to meet the objective or six or seven steps. Generally, demonstrations clearly identify the stronger candidate due to ease-of-use, flexibility, and intuitiveness.
7. Contract and begin implementation
Once the best system has been selected by the committee, negotiate with the provider to right-fit the contract, scope, support, and price for each implementation phase. Concurrently, or shortly thereafter, a preliminary project plan should be drafted by the contractor, facility department, and third-party consultant, if hired. This will set the stage for a more detailed project plan with identified task owners and realistic timelines.
John Rimer (email@example.com), CFM, is president of FM360, LLC. In more than 20 years of facility management experience, he has implemented and managed facility programs for companies such as Intel, Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase, and Charles Schwab.