Jerry NeSmith is president of TMCI, an IT technical consulting firm specializing in facilities management. He is based in Bogart, Georgia and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is his first feature for Facilities Manager.
Over the next few years the most effective facilities management organizations will recognize the need for focused, or even dedicated information technology (IT) resources. How those IT resources are organized will determine how effectively IT helps FM fulfill its evolving role in the public or private sector enterprise. Is IT organized under the FM organization or borrowed on a project-by-project basis from other organizations? Do the IT experts understand the business of FM? Will those experts be around to take IT projects to their successful completion?
As far back as 1995 Edmond Rondeau noted that "[t]he rapid growth and implementation of business information systems will continue to challenge facility management…. Workplace systems and facilities must be able to accommodate the rapid growth of business technology."1 Today, it is more apparent that IT is becoming as important to the mission of FM as the disciplines of architecture, business administration, and engineering.
The IT disciplines and solution sets required for FM are a unique blend of IT and FM knowledge and experience. Like human resources (HR) and financial data, FM data has value to the entire enterprise. Characteristics of space, occupancy of space, locations of buildings, repair and renovation history are a few examples of the data maintained by FM that has value to many other departments in the enterprise. This information is essential to such things as customer service, the development of an interactive web-based map, planning for organizational growth, financial planning, and, even, the delivery of mail.
The current national economic situation is causing a decrease in the funds for future capital projects, such as constructing new buildings. The expectation of building new space to house new projects or organizations is being replaced by the need to utilize existing space more effectively. Identifying underutilized space, measuring the productivity of existing space, and predicting the cost of building operations are already critical metrics. The ability to manage plans for space utilization, availability, and occupancy is becoming a critical part of financial and organizational planning.
Thus the need for Facilities Management/Information Technology (FM/IT) systems to be used effectively is becoming more acute. Unfortunately, space and work management information resides in what is often perceived as a "data silo" in FM. It is rarely available to those outside the FM organization who need it. Its format and presentation may be difficult to understand outside of the architectural or plant operations world. The effort or expense required to access that information might prevent other organizations from using it. In fact, those who need it may not know that the information is available at all.
The need for FM organizations to fulfill the facility information needs of the enterprise requires support from the top layers of FM management in defining and supporting the role of an FM/IT organization. (FM management may need to create an FM/IT organization, or, for smaller institutions, designate a person with IT and FM expertise as a proponent of FM's vision and needs.) The purpose of this article is to provide a forward-looking vision of the IT organization in FM. This vision includes the evolution of the FM/IT organization from an operational role to a strategic role-from an FM divisional role to an enterprise role. (The word "enterprise" is used in this article to describe the entire institution or for-profit corporation.)
Primary Goal of FM/IT
The primary goal of FM/IT is to help solve business problems for the enterprise. The fundamental objective in meeting that goal is serving the needs of the FM organization.
Solutions that FM/IT provides come in three forms. The first is indirect support of the enterprise by improving the quality, accuracy, and effectiveness of core FM functions. The second is direct support of the enterprise by providing facilities information for non-FM purposes. The third is the integration of FM business systems and practices with those of the enterprise.
Objectives of FM/IT
Any IT project relates to the FM/IT primary goal in four objective ways:
Optimize productivity of facilities resources in the enterprise
Optimizing productivity of facilities resources in the enterprise involves increasing the efficiency of physical plant, labor force, and materials management. The core mission of any FM organization is to build and maintain the physical plant of the enterprise, including buildings, roads, grounds, and, usually, utility infrastructure. Thus the core mission of FM/IT is to support plant operations, customer service, planning and construction, and resource management organizations within FM.
The information that IT systems are processing, managing, and presenting are primarily related to four areas:
The author is not advocating any change in the priority of this critically important day-to-day role. In fact, the information that is created, used, refined and maintained by the users of FM/IT systems in the daily stewardship of physical plant has value to other major organizations in the enterprise. Its completeness and accuracy are improved through sound business practices by all of FM, which is the first to benefit from the stewardship of complete and accurate information.
Increase the availability of facilities-related information
Increasing the availability of facilities-related information means making FM data more accessible to the enterprise. The value of this information is increased as it becomes more available and more useful to FM's customers. As FM and its customers access this information and rely upon it, accuracy improves through effective feedback and update mechanisms. Examples include online customer billing, facilities (campus) map, space utilization and occupancy, and mail services location.
The most enabling strategy that is being advocated is making the facilities information available to the entire enterprise. We are not advocating the opening of FM/IT systems to everyone. We are advocating the sharing of the information needed by other enterprise organizations, constituents, and customers so that they can be more effective in achieving their goals. The FM/IT group is the focal point for maintaining the integrity of this information.2
Increase the utilization of facilities data in the enterprise
Increasing the utilization of facilities data in the enterprise embraces breaking down inter-organizational barriers and communicating the availability, character, and utility of facilities data. Means and methods for accessing the data with appropriate security must be provided. The means (software/hardware) to access the data must be inexpensive and extremely easy to maintain. It must be deployable to hundreds of computer workstations. Today's Web-based technologies, if implemented carefully, can provide the solution.
Leverage and complement the effectiveness of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems
The systems that FM/IT maintains are the authoritative source of building, space, infrastructure, and work management data. FM data is almost always required by HR, Finance, and other enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. FM/IT must use information from ERP systems where appropriate, provide authoritative FM data to them, and integrate with them wherever feasible. The purpose is to optimize accuracy, improve efficiency, and eliminate redundancy.
An FM/IT manager and staff need to follow six principles for FM/IT projects to be properly defined, prioritized, and designed:
Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration
In real estate the slogan is "Location, Location, Location"; in FM it is "Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration." The nature and use of FM data is not yet understood by other organizations in the enterprise, so its value is misunderstood. At the same time, FM organizations may not understand how FM information relates to other enterprise data.
By aggressively collaborating with other departments, FM/IT is able to understand and characterize the value of FM information, make that information available to other organizations, and become an important member of collaborative teams of cross-disciplinary, cross-departmental problem solvers.
Understand the business of FM and the processes that support that business
FM/IT needs to learn and understand the business of FM. FM disciplines include work management, materials management, space management, project management and construction, campus planning, accounting, and energy management/HVAC.
Because FM/IT's core mission is to support FM operations, the business processes of FM must be understood, just as an IT organization in HR must understand the processes of hiring, firing, benefits, and training. In a cross-departmental collaborative effort, FM/IT is representing FM's business interests. FM/IT must be able to maximize the benefits to the enterprise and minimize the negative impacts to FM's operation.
View the enterprise business processes that supply information from FM and provide information to FM
In addition to knowing FM-specific business processes, FM/IT also needs to learn the business processes of the enterprise. For example, FM in a large organization will employ a significant number of people. Understanding the HR data systems may be important. Also, most projects deal with the tracking of dollars. In such cases understanding the workings of the financial and accounting systems is necessary. Materials management may involve working with the enterprise procurement system. FM/IT may need to work with publications and community relations departments in order to deliver information to the enterprise and the public.
Create a vision and communicate it
The FM/IT manager must create a vision and communicate it. The process of defining the vision is in itself valuable. It is often the first collaborative step that FM/IT takes with all of the organizations that will work together in achieving the goals of the vision.
It is important for the constituents involved in the work of fulfilling the vision to work together on its definition. A new common language often results from the process. That language not only creates bonds between the people and organizations involved, but also serves as shorthand to make communications easier, more effective, and more fun as the projects around the vision are defined and executed.
Of course, the creation of the vision gives all involved the opportunity to contribute what they think is important and to have a sense of ownership and commitment to the success of that vision. Their ideas and insights can be captured and communicated by defining and creating a symbolic or a graphic representation of the vision.
Presentation of the vision to upper management and to front-line staff is important. (The symbol of the vision can become a useful tool for communicating the vision to others.) In communicating the vision, it is important to clearly state the problems to be solved and the benefits to FM and to the enterprise as a whole. Important, measurable milestones in achieving the vision should be defined as "islands of success," so that everyone can see the progressive steps that will be achieved toward fulfilling the goals of the vision.
Define and execute islands of success
After a vision is created, FM/IT leadership should define and execute islands of success. They should be tangible, publishable, and celebrated upon completion.
Fulfillment of the vision is likely to take a great deal of time and effort. The steps required to reach the vision should be defined as projects-each project providing important benefits to the enterprise. Each project can be broken down into important milestones that can be celebrated and communicated to all. This will help to keep the vision fresh, the IT staff motivated, and the constituents enthusiastic.
Of course, these islands of success can also be important for project planning, budgeting and staffing.
Breakdown barriers, internally and externally
For a project to succeed, FM/IT leadership may have to breakdown barriers, internally and externally. Creation of an IT focus internal to FM results in consolidation and simplification of internal processes. To create this focus, the structure and definition of the role of IT in FM must be examined and modified. There should be one organization with the responsibility and resources required to manage and improve information processing and the means to access and affect that information. The fact that the FM/IT organization can gather and analyze the information processing priorities of FM means that FM management can make more informed, objective decisions about the use of IT resources. Of course, this requires mature, independent, credible FM/IT leadership capable of surveying the issues and goals of FM and analyzing the costs and benefits of solving these problems and achieving those goals. (FM/IT leadership must be able to present these facts and opinions to facilities management.)
FM must support FM/IT in breaking down internal barriers. There is likely to be some political resistance to the changes caused by the creation of an IT organization. FM must help articulate to the entire organization the role of FM/IT, its mission, and its benefit to all of FM. Facilities management should guide FM/IT's leadership in articulating a shared vision and support that vision.
The work that FM/IT leadership does in defining a vision will be instrumental in breaking down internal barriers. The support of FM's operations, customer service, planning, accounting, and construction processes must be a high priority for the FM/IT vision and its day-to-day activities. Success in these areas is essential to the success of FM/IT's efforts to serve the enterprise outside of FM.
Furthermore, FM/IT's success in supporting FM internally can lead to the break down of external barriers.
The value of accurate FM operational and facilities information is increasing rapidly. The need to manage the collection, processing, and delivery of FM information in effective, efficient, and secure ways calls for the creation of an IT organization in FM.
FM/IT leadership must focus first on its support of FM operations. It must understand the processes that support those operations to make them more effective. Then collaborative interdepartmental efforts can make information under the stewardship of FM valuable and available to other departments.
With the support of FM, a subtle but powerful shift in the perspective of FM/IT and its mission can occur. The role of FM/IT can change from one with an FM operational perspective to one with an enterprise perspective. That is, to provide the entire enterprise (and its community) with important facilities information, as well as providing the means to gather feedback and updates of that information for the good of all. 1Edmond Rondeau, Robert Kevin Brown, and Paul D. Lapides. Facility Management, (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1995), 384. 2Ibid, 120. The FM/IT "staff are now the 'keeper' and manager of accurate data that you can place at management's fingertips."