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It wasn’t long ago that facility executives had trouble finding software that would help them manage facilities. Today, facility executives have the opposite problem. So many different options are on the market that selecting the one that best suits the facility can be daunting.
But the task really is not all that difficult. By digging into the details of each package under consideration, facility executives can narrow the field down to just a few applications.
Before any consideration is given to a particular software package, facility executives must determine the needs of their facility. Facility software packages offer a wide range of features. Not all facilities need all of them. And while facility executives should not limit themselves by selecting a bare-bones system, it does not make economic sense to purchase a system with capabilities that are not needed and will not be used.
But what happens after the needs analysis is completed? Vendors will be more than happy to come in and demonstrate the power of their systems. But those demonstrations are only the starting point. After that, the facility executive should conduct a thorough technical evaluation of each package. This evaluation will include both quantitative and qualitative measures. If the evaluation is completed thoroughly, the field will be narrowed down to just a few packages.
One of the most important steps in the evaluation process is to sit down and work with a copy of the software. Request a fully functional demonstration copy from each of the vendors with products that appear to meet the needs of the facility. These demonstration copies will come preloaded with data that is typical of many facilities. The copies will allow facility executives to access existing data, run sample reports and enter new data. By performing these tasks, the facility executive will develop an understanding of how easy or difficult the software is to use.
The demonstration copy will also allow a review of the processes and procedures used by the software. The closer these processes and procedures are to those currently in use, or those the facility executive wishes to move towards, the quicker and easier it will be to implement the new package.
Consider the flexibility of the system. Some facilities have systems and components that are not commonly found in other facilities. Can the software take these items into consideration? No system will perfectly match the needs of a facility, so changes will have to be made. If the software lacks flexibility, then the changes will have to be made to how the facility conducts business. If there are too many changes, the software can become more of a burden than a benefit.
The demonstration package should include a fully functional help system. In some packages, help systems have been added as an afterthought; they are incomplete and difficult to use. In other packages, the help system appears to have been written by high-level technical experts for other technical experts. Make certain that the help system really does help the intended users.
Finally, review the documentation provided with the demonstration system. Although the documentation will be different from the documentation provided with the final package, it will serve as an indicator of how complete and understandable that documentation will be.
The technical evaluation will reduce the field of competing software applications and vendors. Now is the time to check how installed systems are functioning. Each vendor should supply a list of at least three locations similar in both size and operations to your facility where the software has been installed and been operating at least a year.
It is important to remember when checking references that vendors will supply only locations where they are reasonably certain that their customers are satisfied with their product. For that reason, a reference check should be used not only to determine how satisfied the users are, but also to help find out how well the software will function in your facility.
Contact each facility and, if possible, arrange for a site visit. Site visits allow facility executives to talk not only to system managers, but also to those who use the system every day.
Start off with basic questions:
These items should be considered to be the bare minimum of issues to be investigated when evaluating facility software options. There will be additional requirements based on the needs of the particular facility. Only by carefully considering each of these items can facility executives hope to implement a system successfully.
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 to Building Operating Management.