By James Piper  

Facility executives are getting hit from all sides. The stagnating economy and increased competition are forcing them to look for additional ways to reduce costs without cutting services or performance.

Facility management performance, rarely questioned in good times, now faces very close examination as executives strive to improve overall performance without adding expenses. Add higher energy costs and increasing regulatory requirements, and today’s facility executives face a daunting task. All levels of the organization are expecting them to do more with less and to do it better and faster than before.

The knee-jerk response might be to cut back on operations and maintenance. But while cutting back services and deferring maintenance will give short-term gains, it will cost the organization long-term. Performance will suffer, costs will increase, reliability will be significantly reduced, and the organization may find that it is no longer in compliance with regulatory requirements.

There is, at least in theory, an alternative to hunting for areas to cut: Look for ways to gain the maximum return on the already made investment in facility assets. Instead of cutting services or maintenance, seek out opportunities to reduce the cost of maintaining the facility’s assets. Focusing on the long-term, life-cycle costs of the assets instead of focusing on today’s costs has the potential to reduce overall costs, improve performance, make operations more reliable and extend asset life.

While this concept is not new, facility executives have rarely been able to achieve it. Consider FM software systems. Many have invested heavily in this technology. And while these systems have helped with some business processes, most suffer from a common problem: over-specialization. Each system has been designed to perform specific functions within the facility’s operation, such as project management, maintenance planning, inventory management or energy management. As a result, the facility operates a group of separate systems, each with its own warehouse of information that cannot be shared with other systems. While each system helps to improve efficiency of some aspect of the operation, they do not maximize the overall efficiency of the entire operation.

Fortunately, there is an alternative today. Instead of focusing on one element of the facility management process, new systems treat all elements of the facility as assets, and help facility executives find ways to produce savings while improving performance over the entire life-cycle of that asset, including planning the investment; developing the specification; designing, constructing, operating and maintaining the asset; and finally, decommissioning and disposing of the asset.

The new generation of FM software systems has spawned new categories with names that may be unfamiliar to facility executives. A look at these categories — which include infrastructure life-cycle management, integrated workplace management systems, enterprise asset management and building information modeling — can give facility executives a sense of the capabilities that are now available.

Infrastructure Life-cycle Management

Infrastructure life-cycle management software takes a holistic approach to managing information used to support facility management. Data generated about a facility or other asset, from initial planning through decommissioning or disposal, is gathered, maintained and made available to facility executives.

Because the volume of data involved, particularly for larger facilities, can be massive, the system stores data using the most appropriate medium based on the data’s importance. As the relative importance of data decreases over time, it may be moved to a different storage medium. For example, data accessed on a regular basis is stored on a high-speed server where it can be accessed easily and quickly.

As the need to access the information decreases with time, the data may be moved to a less expensive, off-line storage medium where it can still be accessed relatively easily and quickly. Eventually, the data can be moved to a more permanent and secure medium. Because the data are never deleted, it remains available for use at any time, an important consideration given the increasing demand for data to verify compliance with regulations.

Infrastructure life-cycle management software is currently being used to support facility management operations, as well as corporate real estate and project management functions.

Integrated Workplace Management Systems

Integrated workplace management system software was developed on the premise that the largest expense for most organizations, with the exception of human resources, is the workplace. Building, operating, maintaining and supporting the workplace not only is expensive, but also labor-intensive. And with the patchwork of software systems that most facilities use, the current delivery processes are inefficient and costly.

The difference between integrated workplace management software and previous FM software applications is best described by comparing it to software applications for the PC. Early generations of PC software were designed to perform primarily one function: word processing, spreadsheets, database management or presentations.

As the software evolved, software suites that performed all of the functions well replaced individual applications that focused on single tasks. The advantage of the software suite was that individual interfaces — each with their own rules and processes — were replaced by a single interface that made it easier to learn and use the software. Equally important, data and documents used by one application within the software suite were readily available for use by other applications within the suite.

Infrastructure life-cycle management software has taken the same approach, providing a suite of functions within a single system.

As it is being used today, integrated workplace management systems offer applications for real estate planning, lease administration, project management, preservation management, furniture and equipment management, information technology and telecommunications management, and maintenance and service management. Facilities that are currently using the software report reduced construction and renovation times, reduced project and program risk, reduced life-cycle cost of ownership, and improved measures of corporate performance.

Enterprise Asset Management

Enterprise asset management software also takes a whole-life approach to managing a facility’s assets, from design through decommissioning. Its purpose is to provide facility executives with tools to increase the efficiency of all of their assets by addressing what traditionally have been separate goals within a common system.

For example, in the traditional system, those responsible for the design and construction of new facilities have the primary goals of building or renovating a particular facility on time and under budget. In meeting these goals, they often have to make decisions that will affect the long-term operation and efficiency of the facility. Unfortunately, some of those decisions may reduce construction time or costs while resulting in an increase in operational costs. In many cases, the increase in operational cost over the life of the facility is many times greater than the initial construction savings. By combining what once were separate goals into a single facilitywide, strategic goal, decisions can be made on the basis of the impact on all of the facility’s assets.

Enterprise asset management is particularly helpful for organizations facing competitive pressure to minimize the total cost of operations, from cradle to grave. By focusing on the total cost of ownership of assets, facility executives can optimize their maintenance programs, minimize the impact of asset downtime, and help ensure that the facilities meet these goals.

Enterprise asset management systems are most effective in applications operating in highly competitive markets where equipment downtime or failure is disruptive and costly. It requires a major shift in maintenance philosophy from one of reactive maintenance to planned and proactive maintenance.

Building Information Modeling

Building Information Modeling (BIM) systems focus on developing and maintaining information created throughout the life-cycle of a facility. One of the biggest problems that facility executives face today is the loss of information during periods of transition: from planning to design, from design to construction, and from construction to operation. One of the difficulties caused by this loss of information is an unacceptably high level of design errors. Conflict detection exists only when the facility is turned over to the owner. At that point, operating and maintenance personnel often lack the information they need to diagnose conflicts and system problems solely because it is never preserved and made available by the design or construction teams.

BIM systems allow for the early detection and resolution of conflicts by maintaining a detailed database from all teams during the process. Anyone involved anywhere in the process can easily reference all information acquired during the team’s involvement and during the involvement of any other team. By using conflict-detection techniques, team members can learn of conflicts within the facility before funds are committed.

Where We Stand Today

While the benefits of upgrading to the latest generation of FM software are fairly well understood, there has been no great rush to adopt it. Although public and private facilities are successfully using the programs, its use is still not commonplace. The manufacturing industry has more widely accepted and implemented the programs than has the facility management industry. Perhaps one reason for this is that the manufacturing industry is more focused on overall costs while the facility management industry has traditionally focused on reducing costs in design and construction or operations and maintenance, with little concern for the impact that one has on the other.

To turn this around, what is needed is a new philosophy that addresses life-cycle costs of assets from cradle to grave. To accomplish this, new partnerships must be developed among owners, designers, builders and managers that focus on life-cycle costs rather than just the costs within each group’s domain. Once this new philosophy takes hold, the new generation of facility management software will give facility executives very effective tools for running their facilities.

What’s In It for Me?

The new generation of FM software takes an integrated approach to asset management that can provide multiple benefits. Because all information related to the assets is entered and stored in one system, hardware and software startup costs are reduced. Only one system is needed. With a single user interface that follows consistent business processes, training costs and training time also are reduced. Regulatory compliance information, which previously was scattered across multiple systems, resides on a single system, making it easier and less costly to demonstrate compliance.

The benefits don’t stop there. As the system is used over time, facility executives will be able to gain insight into what works and what does not. Knowledge gained from operations and maintenance experiences can be applied to future building design, construction and renovation processes. Lessons learned throughout the process can be applied to ongoing and future projects, to increase the speed of delivery while maximizing the return on the investment in the assets. The net result is that, by sharing information across systems and processes, inefficiencies will be reduced and savings will be easier to capture.

— James Piper

James Piper, PhD, PE, is a writer and consultant who has more than 25 years of experience in facilities management. He is a contributing editor for Building Operating Management.

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  posted on 2/1/2008   Article Use Policy

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