Property Weekly Sector Review: High-tech upkeep

Facilities ManagementImage Credit: Courtesy of Emrill

With the use of sophisticated information technology becoming compulsory in construction as a result of a Dubai Municipality mandate on Building Information Modelling last month, how long will it be before the same happens on the operational side of the property business?

This is where the growth in computer-aided facilities management (CAFM) software will play a central role. CAFM can help facility managers ensure that assets — from entire buildings to an air-conditioning unit — are used and maintained well, all at an optimum cost. It supports simple administrative tasks, through to detailed planning and management, which will become essential as property assets become increasingly complex.

“New FM market entrants realise the need for quality business systems,” says Alan Millin, a facilities management consultant. “CAFM systems can provide operational support, business intelligence and analytics. Users just need to know what they need and want. The list of possible business support functions is probably limited only by the imagination of developers and the budgets of end users. Client requirements also drive the need. Innovation in terms of these systems will be fuelled by creativity, encapsulated by design and very likely constrained by cost.”

While there is much that CAFM can offer both clients and service companies, Millin has a word of caution about their application, reminding us that it is just a tool. “We should remember that CAFM systems enable people to manage better,” he says. “They do not run FM businesses, people do that. Organisations need to have their business processes well defined for the CAFM to adequately support them. Implementation needs to be planned. It will not magically happen and be successful.”

Get it right

Getting CAFM right starts with establishing the best system for the needs at hand. It can be a complex decision-making process, but is essential to the long-term success of the implementation and accrual of the subsequent benefits. “The key to successful procurement lies in understanding why you want to implement a CAFM solution in the first place,” explains a white paper, Limitless Possibilities, from FSI, a CAFM developer. “Establishing how it can deliver measurable efficiencies and cost reduction from a business perspective, and off-setting them against the initial capital outlay is a vital part of the procurement process.”

Get the procurement and implementation right and business can start to benefit from the efficiencies that these systems can bring to day-to-day operations.

Imran Akram, Director of fm24, a help desk service run by FM company Macro, says, “Resource and contractor management is much easier with CAFM, as you can build in the contractual service level agreements and key performance indicators, so monitoring and reporting on these is an efficient process. Managing assets effectively can only be done through a system. With the vast number of assets on any given project, managing these manually is just not practical.

“Using CAFM to load an asset register is the starting point from which a planned preventative maintenance schedule is created and the asset service history is compiled.”

This information can then be used to create and manage pre-planned work, such as servicing equipment, something Akram says is a critical part of FM operations. In theory, if these activities are scheduled, it means that none are missed.

However, their data-intensive nature means that companies must make sure that the right resources and processes are in place to cope with this. “It is often at the ongoing data input stage that CAFM systems fall over,” says Akram. “Those responsible for feeding the system can at times feel this is a task that can be avoided, resulting in inaccurate reporting.”

Better awareness

A simple solution is to ensure quality checks are in place and that staff members are properly trained. If the people entering the information are fully aware of its importance, the chance of CAFM being successful is greatly enhanced. The result can be a streamlined FM business process, with automated communication, for managing most day-to-day tasks. In addition, the creation of a single database source of FM information means either the facility manager or end user can easily access information remotely, so they’re always looking at the most up-to-date documents and data about their property.

Jason Ruehland, Managing Director at FM company Emrill, says, “CAFM is a great way to drive consistency across our operations, which allows us to have a greater control of the quality of our service delivery. We have loaded every possible maintenance task into our system and when a planned maintenance task is issued, our technicians have a step-by-step guide for completing tasks to ensure consistency and quality.

“As some of our sites are maintained by several technicians, multiple breakdowns on the same asset can go unnoticed and, therefore, a bigger underlying issue can be overlooked.

“However, we have designed alerts that look through the CAFM data for key issues such as multiple breakdowns, changes in readings, power and vibration. The CAFM system analyses the data for recurring patterns and generates auto alerts that are issued to the head of engineering and key managers.”

Among other tasks, Emrill uses these systems to produce a register of upcoming maintenance jobs.

This highlights when an asset is due for replacement and how much it will cost, which allows clients to plan and set their capital replacement budgets.

Although CAFM has made progress in the region, there is still room for growth and improvement in terms of both implementations and understanding of what the software can offer.

“Within the Middle East there needs to be better-quality CAFM vendors,” says Akram. “At present, only a handful fully understand and appreciate the FM business.

“Others are mainly systems specialists who have been selected to implement or support a global CAFM-branded product.”

Akram also believes that CAFM vendors have recognised the need for a mobile interface to their systems. Mobile maintenance management is nothing new, but using mobile devices for audits will continue to take off as the capabilities of these devices expand.

Although FM as an industry in the region is still relatively new and the widespread use of CAFM systems newer, there is growing interest in the performance improvements it can bring.

“Greater knowledge sharing with clients is required so they can appreciate the benefits of FM and the systems required to support it,” says Akram.

Source: Stuart Matthews, Special to Property Weekly


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