2006-02-23

IFMA roundtable on Off the Shelf CAFM by Robert Fahlin

previously published in the December 2004 Edition of the ICC Newletter, reprinted with permission of the author.


Off-The-Shelf Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) Solutions


In a round-table discussion focused on off-the-shelf CAFM solutions, a group of facilities managers and CAFM system experts gathered to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of currently available CAFM solutions. The group was nearly equally comprised of facility managers, facility management consultants and CAFM vendors, all blending to provide a well-rounded discussion of the issues. While topics ran the gambit of associated issues, the group began its exploration into the realm of CAFM technologies with a discussion of the basics.

What is CAFM?
In the course of our entire discussion no single question received more unique responses than the first; "What is CAFM?"
One of the participants began our discussion by describing how she was responsible for gathering and analyzing the costs associated with moves within her organization. Another participant was responsible for actually implementing moves and needed to manage and track the physical movement of people and their assets from one location to another. A third respondent raised the issue of space assignments on a departmental basis and the ability to manage "charge backs" to accurately report the fiscal obligations of each department within the organization. Additionally, the issues of maintenance management, asset tracking, and depreciation and accounting entered the discussion.

The discussion surrounding this question began to focus more on the functional requirements of CAFM, i.e., what were the major operational issues that a CAFM system could support. The ability to identify occupancies such as space assigned to departments and the location of individuals was one major issue. Taking this requirement one step further is the ability to distinguish between employees and vendors, providing a basis for recapturing precious space as an organization either grows or shrinks. For graphical based CAFM systems several participants expressed the need to visually map an organization’s IT and Utility infrastructure providing the foundation for responding to system failures or internal and external disasters.

The group concluded that the definition of CAFM varied wildly from one organization to another and that the scope of what CAFM entailed was solely dependent upon the specific needs of an organization.

Despite the varied needs of individual organizations the group agreed that, in short, CAFM is the automation of managing the People, Places and Things that together make up our facilities. Additionally, at the core, CAFM addresses the four major functions of today’s facilities: Space & Asset Management, Move & Project Management, Maintenance Management and Disaster Planning & Recovery.

Ideology vs. Reality
With the first major topic under our belt, the group pondered the differences between the "Perfect Solution" and reality. One member of our group began to discuss the different "Silos" of information contained within today’s typical organizations. "The IT department is increasing being asked to track assets and maintain an electronic inventory", he noted. "HR hoards our employee and occupant information", injected another participant.

As the discussion progressed, the group identified the typical sources of facility-related information and their gatekeepers:
Human Resources – Employee Information
Information Technology – Employee Locations and Asset Inventories
Accounting – Department Listings and Budget Information
Planning – Occupancy, Chargeback, Move and Project Management Information
Engineering – Utility Infrastructure & Maintenance Information

Several members of the group asked the same general question: "Isn’t there one solution that could manage all of this information?" The specific answers to this question varied but the general concept was the same. It seemed to be a resounding "Yes…and No". With unlimited funding and the patience of a Saint, there are several enterprise solutions that have the potential to manage all of this information across an organization.
The problems arise when trying to fund and maintain these systems on an ongoing basis.

Additionally, as one participant put it "Being pigeonholed to a single solution that manages a little bit of everything often seems to mean that such a solution manages nothing well." The group agreed that the needs of one department, and more importantly the requirements placed upon one department, are often very different for another. An accounting solution alone will never be an effective chargeback and space planning tool, while the reverse is also true; a space planning tool will never fully meet the needs of an accountant.

To summarize this topic, the group agreed that there is no "One Size Fits All" solution for most organizations. Each silo of information needs to be managed separately in order to meet a specific department’s needs using the tools and methods that are either chosen or mandated within their respective spheres of responsibility.

The group concluded that a CAFM solution must:
meet the specific needs of those it serves and
must be capable of "consuming" and "delivering" data to and from the different silos of information contained within an organization

Complexity and Scalability
The third topic that arose among the group, hot on the heels of the "Enterprise Solution" discussion was that of complexity and scalability. There was a lot of talk among our group concerning the complexity of many of the solutions on the market today. Several participants noted that they were either currently using, or recently had been using, one of the "Big Three" CAFM solutions (as one of our participant phrased it).

One woman explained: "Our system is capable of doing all the work we want it to do, but so few of us are capable of working with the system." She continued to elaborate; "There are just too many hoops to jump through, too many buttons to push. We spent so much money to install this system, but with nobody able to use it, the system is virtually worthless".

There were one or two members of the group that noted they had successfully implemented some of these systems, but admitted there was a lot of customization involved and a lot of retraining. Most of the group agreed that with the advancements in technology today there was no reason for CAFM systems to be so difficult to use. One participant remarked: "If I can buy a town on E-bay with two clicks of a mouse, why does it take an act of Congress to get a simple occupancy plan from my CAFM system?" At least two members of the group explained that they had recently discarded their heavy "Old School" CAFM systems and opted for a low cost modern alternative. "We know the new system won’t do everything the old system did, but what it does, it does very well and everyone in the organization can use this one."

With all the talk focused on "Enterprise Solutions" I noticed a few folks squirming around in their seats and becoming disinterested in the conversation. Pointing to one of the more disinterested parties, "what is your take on all this?" I asked.
"Me?" he said. "I’m not even in the same league with these folks." Pointing to one of our more vocal participants; "This gentleman is talking about properties in five countries." Adjusting his aim, "and this woman wants to push out her CAFM information to a hundred twenty-five thousand employees. In my company, there is me and one other guy managing our space. We have three hundred employees and about 150,000 square feet of office and conference space to manage. All I need to do is assign employees to offices and report on which departments own which spaces. I can’t come up with the money for one of these enterprise systems you’re all talking about."

His comments sparked a debate on the cost of CAFM systems and their ability to scale down to a small operation. The woman that began our entire discussion chimed in noting that she could see the need within her organization for a full blown CAFM system, but for now she just wanted to start with managing moves.

"You can’t buy just one piece." she noted. "Even if you can, the cost seems excessive." Our group theorized that if a low cost, feature specific solution could scale up to the enterprise level it would be the best of both worlds. The grouped bantered around this topic for a while longer before moving on.

Delivering CAFM Tools & Data
Our final topic of discussion was brief but fruitful. Our group began to segregate the types of users involved in the facility management process and discuss the tools that might be important to each.
I briefly framed the topic and tossed it out to the group for discussion.
"So would we agree that generally speaking, there are three groups of people involved in the facility management process?
The first group is what we might call the Data Creators. These are the folks that create our facility drawings and link them to the data.
The second group is our Facility managers. These are the folks responsible for maintaining our facility information. They may or may not be CAD savvy but certainly need the ability manage occupancies and moves and report this information.
The last group is "Everybody Else." From the maintenance workers to the CEO these are the folks that need access to the information we manage but are barred from making any changes on their own."

With the topic posed, I began the discussion. "So what types of CAD systems are you folks using?"
Virtually everybody responded with AutoCAD. Two members of the group explained that while they were using AutoCAD drawings for their facilities, the CAFM systems they used required that the drawings be converted to another file format.

One participant stated "We can import the CAD drawings into our CAFM system, and even make changes to them. The problem is now I need to know two CAD systems. This is a pain." Several in the group explained that they use tools added to AutoCAD to manage their drawings eliminating the need for two drawing environments.

"What about your facility managers, are they using CAD to manage the information?" A few in the group noted that their managers were using CAD to manage their facility information. Most, however, indicated that CAD itself was too complicated and costly for their managers to use. Many were using, or interested in using, simple drawing display and markup tools that allowed their manager to focus on their real tasks of managing the facilities and maintaining the data. "There is no reason for our manager to know AutoCAD." remarked one of group. "They are simply
moving people from one place to another and changing cost center assignments." "We shouldn’t need to use CAD for that." The group agreed.

As our session drew to a close, we quickly addressed that last remaining group of folks in the CAFM food chain. "What about the ‘Everyone Else’ group?" I asked. "What is the best method of bringing them into the fold?"
Most in the group agreed that periodic reporting and access to documents was sufficient for many of the CEOs.
Some noted that the "bean counters" would want more frequent access to reports and most likely would want some data delivered in a spreadsheet format.
A lot of discussion swirled around the question of how to deliver information to the IT and Engineering departments. "These guys need more than simple reports." Someone remarked. "Our Engineering guys want access to infrastructure mapping and documents related to shutdowns."

The group concluded that making reports and drawings available on the web would likely be the best delivery method for getting information to these folks.

Summary
I truly hated to see our discussion come to an end. I’m not sure if it was that fact that it would be another full year before I would have the privilege of sitting with such a diverse group of facility manager and talking shop at IFMA; or, if it was the fact that, as moderator of our group, Peter Kimmel would be hounding me day and night until I delivered these notes. In any event it seemed our time passed too quickly. While our group didn’t find the magic bullet that would cure all the ills that plague the world of CAFM today, we were able to frame a pretty good requirement for a CAFM solution to address the real-world issues facing today’s facility managers.

Here is the thumbnail version of our findings:
While the acronym CAFM is easy to define (Computer Aided Facilities Management), the concept of what this encompasses is as diverse as each unique corporate culture. Regardless of how far the concept of CAFM may reach within a given organization the core functions common to most facilities include; Space & Asset Management, Move & Project Management, Maintenance Management and Disaster Planning & Recovery.

Even as other file formats may find their way into the main stream, as of today, the vast majority of facility drawings remain in dwg format. Any CAFM solution designed to meet the needs of today’s facility managers must be able to consume and manipulate a dwg drawing file. Working in the native AutoCAD drawing environment is preferred, but solutions that are substantially similar in functionality and lower in cost than AutoCAD would be acceptable.

No More "Bloatware"!!! Organizations are finding it increasingly more difficult to fund and maintain CAFM systems that are designed for the privileged few. As the facility management culture expands to include more and more the people in the process, easy access to facility information and easy-to-use tools for managing that information are no longer a luxury. The facility managers in our group were adamant that an effective solution should provide an affordable entry point and seamless scalability as their needs grow.

Given that easy data integration is a very desirable feature, as we found in our discussions, there is no single solution that meets the needs of every organization. A CAFM system that is capable of integration with existing data sources using industry standard database formats should be the norm, not the acceptation. Open source data formats provide organizations more opportunity to utilize their existing data and in-house talent.

Our group concluded that the most efficient method of delivering CAFM data, reports and drawings is through a web browser. While in most organizations only a few people are responsible for the day-to-day management of their facility data and drawings, there is a whole slew of folks that can benefit from easy access to this information.
Are you listening, CAFM vendors?

Presented By
Robert Fahlin, Applied Spatial Technologies, Londonderry, New Hampshire

(applied spatial has since been acquired by autodesk, and Robert is currently employed with them)
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