Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) software can give facilities managers data to open up business opportunities as well as manage their operations.
The prospect of tapping into software innovations — such as three-dimensional graphics and in-depth data analysis — to grow business opportunities has become a reality, thanks to Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM). These tools help facilities managers ensure that customers’ physical assets are fully utilized at the lowest possible cost, while providing benefits to every phase of a building’s life cycle.
Savings and Efficiency
“What once was used mainly to track work projects can now be deployed to generate a strong business case for funding additional projects for facilities managers — a revenue growth tool, in other words,” says James Watson, who co-wrote a detailed report on CAFMs for the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), a Washington-based nonprofit research organization. “Instead of using a computer to track which pumps need to be replaced, we’re talking about using software programs to prove to customers that additional investment that will lower their cost of ownership in the long run.”
Building industry-focused database systems, computer-aided design programs, geographic information system advancements, building information models and other technology developments are all part of these advancements. An effective CAFM, for example, can define and standardize the space attributes of a building, provide physical asset inventory updates in real time, and pinpoint hazmat locations, evacuation routes and fire equipment locations. It can track data on a building’s age, life expectancy, cost analysis of a proposed project, energy savings opportunities and contract/warranty details.
The digital facilities manager now uses programs that indicate when a preventative maintenance date is approaching, whether a building is at risk for a security threat and what kind of spacing requirements a potential new tenant may need. All of this is intended to make a facilities manager more proactive rather than reactive with customers, which can open up revenue streams.
“I’m making presentations right now that explain how computer-graphic building modeling programs can not only present properties in three dimensions, but a fourth and fifth dimension as well,” says Watson, who serves on the buildingSMART alliance Board of Direction of the NIBS.
“The fourth dimension is a part of the program that allows for you to demonstrate what the passage of time will do to a customer’s building space," Watson says. "The fifth dimension is the application of investment over time to that building space, to demonstrate to the customer what you can do to ensure that the customer gets good return on that investment. You need to answer the question: How many dollars will it take to sustain the building in its current condition over five, 10 or 20 years?”
Getting on Board
Although this technology might seem intimidating, most programs are easy to use. “It’s not so much about being a technical wizard as it is learning the language of the chief financial officers at the companies that are their customers,” Watson says. “It’s about understanding business objectives first, as opposed to commanding the computer skills. Once you do that, you can find off-the-shelf software that will get you started on helping the client achieve those financial objectives.”
Jonathan F. Lee is a veteran facilities manager who now oversees facilities management information systems for university buildings in northern New Jersey. When he started out more than 20 years ago, he’d use mainly single-source, proprietary software to help manage his buildings. The wealth of web-friendly, network-connected applications today, however, has greatly enhanced his ability to do his job, which allows him to oversee building access control, power allocation, work order management and a host of other needs in an automated fashion.
Still, he cautions other facilities managers that such technology capability comes with its own challenges.
“As an end user, you want to feel like the 'great and powerful Oz' there at your computer,” Lee says. “But it takes good planning to get to that point. There are so many things out there being sold that you can be sold in the wrong direction. One of the biggest mistakes today is viewing facilities technology as a silo, instead of being a critical part of an enterprise network.”
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