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Facility executives undertaking a software implementation have much to gain: streamlined processes, opportunities for data collection and analysis, and interconnectivity with other systems and departments in the organization.
Name a facility process, and there’s probably a piece of facility software that can improve it or make it easier. In fact, so many products and vendors are out there that the process of finding a fit may be overwhelming.
“Software companies are increasing at an exponential rate,” says Mike Lyner, principal, RSP i-SPACE. “Market demand, coupled with the ease of data interconnectivity via Web application deployment is driving this proliferation of software options.”
As facility processes become more and more specialized, different companies — new or existing — identify these niches as business development opportunities. “Automating facility management is complicated and difficult enough that nothing solely does everything well,” says Chris Keller, managing director of Facilities Solutions Group. “So there are lots of new vendors coming in because they think they can solve the problem in a new way.”
What’s more, because facility management is taking on a more prominent role in many organizations and because facility executives are connecting with other departments and working more closely with upper management, vendors are changing their focus so they’re not pigeonholed as offering only one type of facility management solution, says Jamshed Rivetna, president of Ensoft Consulting. “The number of vendors is growing, but so is the number of vendors calling themselves facility management software vendors,” he says. “So, actually, it’s even more difficult to tell who does specifically what.”
So how are facility executives to find a quality software vendor amidst the clutter? What are the characteristics facility executives should look for in a long-term software partner? And, just as importantly, what red flags indicate that facility executives should run for the hills?
In the past, poor products were a reason to ignore certain vendors. But that has changed, say experts.
“The software market has shaken itself out,” says Phil Wales, principal of eBusiness Strategies. “There are not too many bad products left. If you really understand the business processes, then implementation is almost always successful, no matter the vendor.” But that’s a big “if” and many facility executives need help from their vendors in terms of understanding how software in general and a particular vendor’s product specifically can help streamline and optimize facility processes. Facility executives need to be able to trust that a vendor is providing a solution that does everything the organization needs, without expensive and confusing add-ons.
The request for proposal is where the vendor vetting process begins. With product goals in mind, and the processes they’re hoping to improve, facility executives should develop a questionnaire that pinpoints vendor characteristics such as years in business, how the business started, market share, financials, number of staff, support services and reputation. These items, along with specific criteria and ratings for the product itself, can be amalgamated on a scorecard (see graphic on page 34) to give facility executives a more black-and-white way to rate vendors against one another, says Andy Fuhrman, CEO of the Open Standards Consortium for Real Estate (OSCRE).
Additionally, try to get a sense of the real nature of a vendor’s business. “There are software vendors who are heavily invested in the facilities community and content to plant a seed and water it for several years in the hope that it will grow,” says Lyner. Ask in the RFP if a company is a member of organizations like IFMA or BOMA, a surefire way to gauge a company’s commitment to facilities, as opposed to a vendor that makes facility software as an add-on to its other software modules.
It’s important to ask if the way the vendor measures things like space utilization, for instance, is consistent with industry standards, so that facility executives can be sure they’ll have a tool in place to properly benchmark.
A larger issue is the interoperability of a vendor’s software. Finding out about a vendor’s philosophy on data and how its product can connect at the enterprise level is a critical step to qualifying vendors, say experts.
“Make sure the vendor’s software has been developed on a standard database platform,” says Rivetna. “And make sure the programming that’s been used is current technology.”
By and large, these things should be no-brainers, but there may still be some vendors out there that are hoping to lock customers into proprietary solutions or that haven’t evolved into a company willing to offer open solutions. If a vendor’s product isn’t compatible with, say SQL database language, it’s a sign the vendor may not be hip to the times. “What’s ‘open and flexible’ for one party may mean something else to another,” says Lyner. “In general, for true integration, which should be expected these days, the software needs to be enterprise-compatible and interoperable. This means all parties need to mutually agree on the terminology and the format of the data.”
The IT department is an important resource in this area, as it should have standards for software that resides on its network and connects with other pieces of organizational software. Give the vendor an opportunity to identify technical problems with compatibility, says Wales. If a vendor is unable to do so, or doesn’t care enough to even try, it’s probably a good idea to pass. Many vendors will say that anything can be integrated with anything else, and that’s probably true, but the real question is how much that will cost and how long that will take. Make sure to find out how often their product actually has been integrated with various other pieces of software. Check references — don’t take them at their word.
“Part of the vetting process is finding out the number of implementations with a particular piece of software,” says Phil Cobb, principal, eBusiness Strategies. “It’s bad if their clients are the test cases. So make sure the software has been appropriately tested.”
For larger organizations, if IT already has an enterprise resource planning system (ERP) in place, and that ERP has a facilities module that can accomplish any of the goals facility executives are trying to accomplish with the software purchase, facility executives may find themselves having to prove to IT why adding another outside piece of software is better. This may not be fun, especially if the current ERP is working well for the rest of the organization. The argument facility executives should make, say experts, is that modules in ERPs probably aren’t as good or specific as facility software designed for facility-related functions.
“Most IT organizations can’t spell ‘facilities,’” says Wales. “They aren’t familiar with facilities software. Often, facilities will be pressured to go with the same ERP.”
Designate a weight for each criteria, rate each product on those criteria, and then multiply the weight by the rating to get the score.
RFPs Scorecard Make it Easier to Evaluate Facility Software Vendors