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FSI contribute to CAFM trends article in FM World

Computer-aided facilities management (Cafm) has become increasingly sophisticated. Nigel Francis, managing director of Planon, believes that within the Cafm market the gaps in functionality have been plugged by the major producers. And buying decisions, he notes, are increasing being taken out of the hands of the FM, as Cafm programmes must be compatible with SAP, Oracle or HR software.

Steve Dingley, managing director of Integrated FM, agrees and says that, for the Cafm developer, the key consideration is enhancing the links between these technologies and the practical, day-to-day work of the FM.  The challenge is to hide the complexity of the technology so that all the FM sees is a user-friendly, intuitive interface that is quick to learn and easy to use. Additionally, he says, FMs now have a greater need of a two-way share of information with other departments. This means greater visibility is required by making better use of intranets, the internet and mobile technologies. Today's Cafm systems need to work in harmony with modern communications, without adding layers of complexity. This, agrees Robin Martin, of MRO, is "a constant challenge".

Compton Darlington, business development manager at FSI FM Solutions, believes that integration has moved on rapidly, but must add value. He sees Cafm as the glue that binds differing systems together allowing for seamless
workflow processes between departments.

But alongside the need for integration with other key business systems is the need to keep pace with the changing needs of the facilities manager. This, says Integrated FM's Dingley, requires more in-built flexibility and a willingness from the software suppliers to tailor their systems to the needs of each organisation. To support this view, he looks to the growth of mobile-working, hot-desking and room booking, as new processes managed by the FM. His software has recently been upgraded to manage these tasks.

Lynda Lowe, from Condeco, explains her company's approach to room booking. It's in line with the integration theme. Rather than impose more software onto the client's server, their system runs though Microsoft Outlook.  The reasoning is straightforward; most people use Outlook as a diary-management tool and to use it means people not having to manage two diaries, or the IT department maintaining an extra software system.

Condeco's database, collated from information supplied by the client, sits on a separate server and is accessed through Outlook. Once a room booking has been made emails are fired off to arrange the logistics and invitations are added to people's calendars. As this process is via email it is fully accessible by mobile devices and there is no requirement for new passwords. The system can be configured by the customer to cover multiple sites or even multiple businesses within the same organisation.

Planon's Francis maintains that systems ought be configurable by the customer. He says they should not need rewriting by the vendor to cater for new jobs and he points to an increasing variety of extra tasks, such as booking cleaning services, booking conference room facilities, and pseudo-HR activities such as employee benefits, to prove that the FM remit is ever-expanding.

Francis is concerned that customers should also have the ability to modify the software to suit their particular workflow processes. Staff should not have to moderate their behaviours to meet the constraints of the computer, and Francis believes that suppliers should adopt an
implementation approach that involves working with customers and providing training to allow modifications as systems and processes evolve.

Francis argues that corporations are no longer prepared to invest in software that locks data into databases where it cannot be accessed by other departments or requires re-entering to make it useable.

According to Dingley, Cafm must be able to harvest the wealth of operational information contained within its databases more efficiently. This would do away with the time-consuming chore of manual re-entry. IT can play a key
role in automating this process but existing Enterprise Management Systems are unable to work with operational data from Cafm systems. To that end, new systems, such as Integrated fm's Smart Performance Manager, are now coming onto the market which can integrate the two.

Such systems assimilate data from a wide variety of sources and in a range of formats, convert it to a common language and enable it to be sliced and diced in any way the user requires. One of the key features of these systems is that the whole process is automatic and happens in real time, so the information is current and meaningful.

Darlington agrees that organisations need tools like this that can make information accessible, in real time, to senior management. He believes that this facility was never previously seen as useful, but its worth in rationalisation decisions has been proved, making it a must-have for the
boardroom.  Lowe concurs, adding that Condeco systems have report modules that can be customised to end-user requirements and can produce reports in real time. These reports can also greatly aid the forward-planning process and are invaluable when looking to take rooms out of service for refurbishment.

So what use is this data? Jonathon Tyler, professional service director at Service Works Global, believes that software will monitor outsourced contracts, automatically make the performance assessments and then reduce payments accordingly in the event of service failures. This, he says will incentivise the service provider to improve, especially as demands on outsourced services increase.

Another growth area is mobility, MRO's Martin says that both consumers and end users now require instant solutions to their problems. Laptops, PDAs and mobile phones are standard in virtually every field of operation.  But mobile technology needs to be rugged and simple to use. So, to Martin, the challenge is to provide a robust, quick service that is available 24/7, which at the same time makes things simpler to operate.

Darlington acknowledges that mobility is well established and organisations should look to monitoring the performance of field staff. He believes that, in the rush to introduce the technology, staff were overlooked with the result that many front-line operators felt that they were being monitored by Big Brother and so would claim that their PDAs were out of range, or broken, or lost.

He thinks that there should be more of an attempt to get buy-in from staff when introducing this technology and that software should be about more than simply issuing a list of tasks for the day. Latest developments allow for the field worker to be allocated their next job according to a list of parameters such as proximity, skill set, or how long they have left in the day. The system should, of course, do all this in real time.

As such, Cafm is clearly becoming the backbone of an organisation's IT structure, proving once again that FM is now a core discipline.