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The past few years have widened the range of powerful software systems that can help facility executives improve productivity, trim costs, plan more effectively and reduce the time it takes to complete projects. Yet these systems have not become standard tools for facility operations. For many of these software packages, cost is an issue. But another major obstacle is the difficulty of changing entrenched ways of doing things.
It’s risky to underestimate the strength and number of forces that impede change. To start, there’s the disconnect between pain and gain. To those at the top of the facility hierarchy, the gains are often obvious. But the pain of change hits mid-level managers who have to learn new software tools, change work processes and sometimes give up long-standing business relationships.
It’s not a given, of course, that even top-level facility executives will leap at software. In some cases, that reluctance may stem from a failure to look closely enough at the real cost of existing ways of doing business.
Consider national real estate firms trying to determine whether they will save money with online purchasing. “One of the common statements that we hear is ‘We already have a national relationship with suppliers,’” says Rob Crichlow, chief global explorer at MRI. “They’re surprised by the additional savings they receive.”
That’s because of the amount of purchasing that goes on outside of the national purchasing agreements. “We’ve never yet come across a company that has consolidated lighting purchases from one supplier,” says Mike Praeger, CEO of AvidXchange.
For some software systems, it’s not just a matter of getting one company to adopt the new methods. Online collaboration systems are designed to link the facility staff with architects, engineers, contractors and other members of the building team. But the fragmented nature of the industry — and the differing agendas of the different players — poses an obstacle to collaboration. “The extranet business that we’re in has as one of its basic tenets that you share information,” says W. Gary Craig, CEO of ProjectEDGE. “But some people don’t want to share some information. They see it as a trade secret.”
Some electronic purchasing approaches face a similar challenge. So-called electronic marketplaces entice suppliers to offer discounted prices in return for volume purchases. But that volume can’t materialize until the site has attracted a solid base of facility customers. It’s a chicken and egg situation. And it’s not until e-procurement revenues from the site increase that some suppliers really take notice.
Underestimating what it takes to get a powerful system into use is one of the biggest mistakes facility executives make, says Greg Alevras, national sales manager for Archibus. Exactly “what it takes” varies. With a CAFM system, for example, a big challenge is getting the data entered and kept current; with e-procurement, it may be getting building-level personnel to buy from the Web site; with Web-based collaboration systems, it’s getting everyone to work online instead of through the mail.
The plan for change management is so crucial that it has to be considered even before specific software is selected. The starting point is an analysis of the business need. “You have to define goals and objectives clearly and make sure they’re aligned with the goals and objectives of the organization” says Al Moulton, president of Drawbase.
Armed with an understanding of the business objective, the facility executive can look for a champion in the ranks of top management. “The projects that go really well start with solid executive sponsorship,” says Neil Cooper, president of Indus Canada.
But if support from the top is necessary, it’s hardly sufficient. “There’s an absolute selling job at all levels,” says Peter Cholakis, director of marketing, VFA. “This is not just plugging in a technology. Buy-in is required.”
If a facility executive fails to get that buy-in, the new software can boomerang. Instead of reducing costs or boosting productivity, it can, in the worst cases, have the opposite effect, raising costs or dampening efficiency.
One way to gain buy-in is with a pilot project. “You can make sure it’s working the way you want,” says Dave Sielaty, director of marketing, FM:Systems. A pilot project also demonstrates benefits to the entire organization, which helps gain buy-in from crucial partners in other departments like human resources and information technology.
Getting an organization to change its work processes is no easy task. And that task is so important that some software firms have gone into the consulting business — at least temporarily — to help customers redesign processes. “In the short term, it’s absolutely something our customers need,” says Chris Bradshaw, president, Building Collaboration Services, a division of AutoDesk.
There’s no magic formula that will transform a hidebound organization into one eager to adopt the latest software technology. The basics are the same as with any change management effort: communication and education.
One thing is clear: Change management is more than just a command from on high. “Every time you impose change, change is opposed,” says Matthew Provenzano, director of marketing, SupplyCore.com. “Organizations are beginning to understand that they need to sell the program and stress the benefits as opposed to throwing a solution at people.”
That’s certainly true for online collaboration, which depends for success on its being used by project team members from multiple organizations. “We spend a considerable amount of time evangelizing how this can help the individual project member,” says Al Marshall, vice president of sales and marketing, Meridian Project Systems.
Part of the challenge is getting people to understand what won’t change. One goal of electronic procurement is to reduce the number of suppliers; that increases the volume for vendors that remain and provides leverage for negotiating lower unit prices. But that strategy doesn’t mean that all contact with suppliers will be online.
“At the property level there are years and years of strong relationships,” says William Sullivan, CEO and chairman of SiteStuff. “There is a perception that those relationships need to change, and that is not entirely true. The suppliers may change; they may not. But the property manager can develop good relations with new suppliers.”
One thing that will help speed adoption, everyone agrees, is getting more success stories. That’s especially important for relatively new applications like online collaboration and electronic purchasing. “People want to see others being successful before they put their toe in the water,” says Jerry Goldstein, vice president of marketing, FacilityPro. “As people see how competitors are using technology, that’s going to accelerate the adoption rate.”
One strategy for minimizing the challenge of change is to minimize change by enabling people to work in the same way they always have. “We look at change as evolutionary, not revolutionary,” says Ed McFarlan, president, NetStruxr. “We don’t throw out existing service providers or business processes. We want to enable our customers to change step by step.”
For online MRO procurement, minimizing change can mean automating a company’s existing vendor base. The biggest change is getting people to learn the new software.
Another approach is to offer facility staff a choice of whether to buy online or through other means, like a call center. “You can’t force people to change overnight,” says Chad MacDonald, CEO of Connected Services. “It’s a very slow process.”
Should keeping change to a minimum be the overriding concern? Not at all, says Cooper of Indus Canada. More substantial change can bring more substantial results.
For facility executives, change management is likely to be a growing issue as facility-related software tools become more powerful and success stories spread. “Four years ago we had to do a lot of education,” says Brian Haines, director of applications engineering, Bricsnet. “That’s not necessarily the case anymore.”