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Adrian Jarvis from FSI explains to PFM how CAFM can create a framework for standardisation to take place

The influence of the standardisation drive is being felt across Europe, bringing the business issues surrounding integrated communications to the heart of FM strategy.  Adrian Jarvis explains how CAFM can create the framework that will enable this shift to take place.

The pursuit of harmony in Europe is not the sole preserve of politicians and bureaucrats.  Professionals with responsibilities at every level of facilities management now find themselves in the driving seat of a movement towards more integrated practices, at both a national and an international level, throughout the continent.

Faced with this demand, service companies are having to come up with increasingly sophisticated solutions and support infrastructures that interpret and report information across a diverse range of media, to an equally varied community of customers who share a common aim - to establish the highest standards in maintaining and managing the real estate and assets that define their business environment.

In the long run, several factors will determine how this trend evolves not least, the EU's own drive to create standards-based benchmarking in facilities management, influenced by the ever-increasing presence of multi-national organisations with trans-border operations, and the rising role of the private sector in public buildings.

True harmonisation might still be a distant prospect but certainly at a national level, some European countries are witnessing a holistic approach to facilities management that is bringing it to the heart of an organisation's business support services.  As FSI has discovered through the ways in which its Concept range of FM software is being deployed across the continent, the impact on the business of being able to share data to generate knowledge about every aspect of a company's asset and space management stretches far beyond automated repair alerts and job tracking.

This degree of integration means that full traceability for every strand of facilities management is possible to an unprecedented degree, enabling a host of reporting possibilities that meet increasingly exacting demands at a national and cross-European level.  Regardless of local differences in approach and the way it is actually used, CAFM has become the foundation that makes this shift in the delivery of business support services possible.  In Finland, for example, services company YIT Building Systems is using a national, XML-and-web-based standard - eHhyt, developed by the Finnish Association of Building Owners and Construction Clients - to share data between its maintenance and FM systems.

YIT has identified three core groups of interested parties who depend on the underlying infrastructure to service their requirements:

• Investors who are concerned with maintaining the value of their interest in the property, and repairing the debts incurred by construction
• The building's owners for whom professional and cost-effective maintenance, reporting and the provision of comprehensive lifecycle services are essential
• The building users, for whom good service standards and the maintenance of a high quality working environment are essential.

As far back as 1999, YIT, realised that its existing programmes would be insufficient for servicing such wide-ranging customer demand for a more tightly integrated infrastructure, and that a multimedia, reliable CAFM system was the catalyst for bringing together a host of other related business services.  After evaluating several alternatives, it chose FSI's Concept as the central plank of a systems strategy in which workflow is the primary integration tool.

The system is founded on 15 databases which gather data from the customer's in-house systems, automation systems, the Helpdesk, various scheduled tasks and YIT's FM managers.

YIT's own universal reporting system mines the data, raising reports and alerts that are distributed to their appropriate target audiences, whether they are the customer's business users or field engineers involved in a particular project or repair, via a range of media including the Internet and mobile devices.

In Germany, another business automation company, ABB, has also developed an infrastructure around Concept that takes full advantage of mobile and web technologies to plan, control, document and optimise the multiple business processes that fall within its customers' FM strategies.  Integrated capabilities are important in a country where these same customers take a broad and stringent approach to reporting, often driven, for example, by organisations like the German Engineering Society which publishes national guidelines for reporting on maintenance work.

In response to these market forces, ABB has built a network of space and service management systems around the FSI Concept database.  This centralised, holistic approach to facilities management delivery enables a comprehensive range of services to underpin both routine practices and responses to exceptional events like equipment failure.  Online evaluation and support services and the automated generation of work orders allow tasks to be allocated more efficiently.  The system supports planned preventative maintenance processes, but it also helps to manage the provision of ad hoc services in the event of equipment breakdown.  For example, automated monitoring means that censors can trigger an alert when they detect a problem, and this could be sent via the Internet or directly to a field engineer's mobile telephone.

For ABB, there are several benefits from operating a tightly integrated CAFM system.  The use of the central FSI Concept database ensures that all users have access to the same information.  Protocols for all actions can be defined more consistently.  Process chains have become more streamlined, the system allows the continuous monitoring and follow-up of warranties, resources can be targeted where they are required, and workflows, messages and calls can be easily defined.  Perhaps most important of all, from the customer's perspective, access to different levels of information can be tailored and restricted according to security requirements and business areas.

The ability for ABB to communicate directly with its clients - which range from sports arenas and hospitals to production sites, television studios and energy companies - through the system is key.  It has a transparent overview of each client.  If a unit breaks down, it knows immediately which disciplines will be directly affected, and speedy remedial action can be taken.  It can keep abreast of the types of calls that are driving the customer's facilities management operation and react quickly to enquiries about the status of any particular call.

As far as equipment maintenance is concerned, troublesome machines can be identified and monitored more effectively.  On production sites, maintenance resources can focus on problems as they arise, rather than being on expensive and constant standby for equipment that is operating perfectly well.  This optimisation of maintenance services is just one aspect of the way in which the company is able to generate a well-defined knowledge base on the back of consistent data.  It can use this information to establish the right way to run a site and react to ad hoc events in the most effective way for any individual client.

While YIT and ABB have developed CAFM-based frameworks around FSI Concept in response to the particular trends and needs of their respective domestic markets, they are both indicative of the broader European sweep towards standards-based integration.  It is likely that other European countries will become more standardised as they assume a more holistic approach to facilities management, particularly as large organisations stake out their territories across old borders and encourage facilities management service providers to adopt their own global view.

In the long run, this will create a highly competitive market.  But in the meantime, we could also see a new era of co-operation between facilities management players from different European countries as they work together to define IT standards and procedures that will help them to do business with multi-national clients.  With CAFM as the most likely universal platform on which that will happen - forging links with a growing number of information systems and accountancy functions across the business - now is a good time to look at the merit and value of investing in a more integrated strategy.  The depth of data that could provide everybody who has a vested interest in successful facilities management with the information to do a better job has never been greater.