As a CAFM software developer, FSI is seeing significant shifts in client requirements and market influences across the industry, all of which have important consequences not only for our platform roadmap but also for service providers and FM professionals everywhere.
Many of these are driven by the evolution of technology - particularly the principles of cloud computing and the speed of development on the mobile front. Other trends, including the need for proactive energy management and the rise of the intelligent building, have a strong environmental focus. Systems integration has arrived at the heart of CAFM software development.
The industry is also being greatly influenced by global financial trends and customer demand for reputable, durable and well-supported solutions that will help them ride out difficult economic tides and maximise the impact of the FM strategy on the bottom line.
On the technology front, there are few surprises for seasoned industry watchers. While we have yet to see a wholehearted investment in cloud computing among our clients, there is no doubt that many of the associated principles of the concept - particularly when it comes to a centralised technology strategy - are increasingly important.
CAFM software for the global market needs to have enterprise-scale features that support multiple time zones and deliver elements such as global room-booking systems. As clients centralise their technology resources and invest in complementary skill-sets, it is likely they will increasingly discount any technology supplier that has not yet adapted to this new model.
The need to cover all bases is equally clear in the mobile landscape. The level and pace of evolution are second to none, and nobody is sure which horse to back. So as a software supplier, we're having to back them all, and clients - particularly those at middle-management level - are asking much more pressing questions about whether our technology sits happily on an Apple device or supports Android.
Also, FM Service Providers must be able to demonstrate an integral mobile element to their clients, and they are looking to us to deliver that link.
The days are gone when mobile simply meant a ruggedized unit running Windows. Now, a CAFM system must support many different browsers, and we're constantly canvassing our clients and User Group to understand the evolution of their mobile strategies.
Clients have truly woken up to the potential scope of the information that a CAFM platform can deliver, particularly when it comes to energy consumption and buildings management. This means there is more focus on a system's ability to support many aspects of enterprise infrastructure management that might once have been optional: building certification requirements, for example, or regulation compliance.
We identified this trend very early on in our User Group, where Service Providers have long wanted to ensure they could address the energy remit as part of their pitch. And today's end-clients want to take the utility-based information generated by CAFM and use it to influence their energy strategy. Indeed, the whole trend towards intelligent building management means that more and more systems are plugging into different aspects of CAFM - and that means technology like ours has to evolve to take feeds from them.
The Recession Effect
Global economic patterns are having an inevitable impact on the market, in terms of investment in the industry itself and in the effect of financial constrain on clients' purchasing strategies. The good news is that the flurry of mergers and acquisitions in the FM services sector has slowed down, and there are signs that investors and venture capitalists are once again looking at FM as a viable source of safe returns.
At the same time, the Comprehensive Spending Review is now starting to bite in the UK, and we have yet to see how this will impact on the insourcing / outsourcing cycle. But it's clear that the public sector will need to look very carefully at how it spends taxpayers' money.
One possibility is that we will see an increase in outsourced property management as public sector customers seek to drive down costs. But even if this doesn't happen immediately, the requirement for greater efficiencies plays to our strengths, because efficiency is what our system is designed to deliver.
When the recession arrived, we took the decision as a CAFM software developer to invest our own turnover into a product that has always been designed to address the IT requirements of organisations looking to streamline their systems and reduce technology overheads. So, we were ready for the demand for easy-to-deploy CAFM software that buys into the cloud philosophy.
The workflow technology at the centre of our approach to integration means that our platform becomes the hub for all the back office, email and SMS alerts associated with FM service delivery. It takes a host of business processes and turns them into a living, breathing CAFM solution.
That investment is now paying off. As a CAFM software developer, if we had left it until now, when we're only in the foothills of economic recovery (AMA Research, for example, doesn't expect the bundled services market to pick up until after 2012), to make the shift in product strategy, we would be finding it much more difficult to address the needs of the market.
We have also seen some interesting shifts in customers' approach to FM beyond the UK. In Dubai, for example, Strata Law is having a major impact on the complexity of real estate management. There has been a significant change in the behaviour of property owners who are engaging less with large Service Providers and creating their own tenants' and owners' associations to maintain their estates. Some of these larger associations are engaging directly with use for their CAFM Purchases.
In the Middle East as a whole, there has been a marked increase in CAFM activity in recent months - a key indication that a platform that allows clients to do more with less will always be an attractive procurement in tougher economic times. There is also a rise in demand, both in the Middle East and in Australia, for CAFM solutions that have global coverage. We are now reaping the benefits of having a physical presence on the ground in these markets, run by people with detailed local knowledge.
Reputation is everything. Some Service Providers have wrestled with CAFM technology that's failed to deliver on its promise. Others have tried to deploy the add-on service delivery modules associated with big-ticket enterprise resource planning and financial systems, and found them wanting. We have never aspired to that do-it-all approach. A number of these Service Providers are turning to specialist suppliers like us, because of our reputation for delivering the all-important core works management solution.
The FM world is naturally transitory. With senior FM professionals in great demand, we're also finding that many influential individuals take our name with them when they move to new businesses. It's increasingly important for the CAFM brand to be part of the FM manager's preferred strategy. Much of this traction with our user community has been achieved through our User Group and networking vehicles encourage interaction between clients and the FM industry as a whole.
This strategy is not about faceless networking or overtly securing the next deal; it's about all of us keeping abreast of what the industry is doing, and making sure that our CAFM platform reflects these shifts and trends.
Compton Darlington is Business Development Director, FSI (FM Solutions) Limited, which designs and develops the Concept Evolution™ web-based solution. www.fsifm.com