The Facility Technologist: Don’t Believe The Hype!

By Tom Condon, RPA, FMA
Published in the September 2004 issue of
Today’s Facility Manager

Last month, I examined different types of software facility executives may find useful: CMMS, CAFM, and others. Of course, deciding what type of software is necessary is only the first step. The next thing to determine is which manufacturer’s software is right for the organization, and that can be a daunting task. Many companies pick software based on fairly haphazard methods, and the results are often disastrous.

A common mistake is to believe salespeople. Obviously, salespeople are trying to sell. Many salespeople tend to be more focused on the immediate sale and will not be around after companies discover that the product was not as terrific as the salesperson had said it was. This is a case of buyer beware, so facility managers shouldn’t base decisions on the sales pitch.

Fortunately, there is a tried and true method for selecting the right software package. The process identifies an organization’s needs and will almost automatically zero in on the software package that’s right for the company.

The first step is to establish the main functional areas the software must support and prioritize their importance. Examples might include work orders, preventive maintenance, or inventory as major functional areas in a CMMS. For instance, some organizations require their CMMS to manage inventory and others do not.

Identifying these areas may seem simplistic, but people would be surprised by how many software packages are purchased that do not meet a major need. Facility executives should interview upper management as well as department heads to determine goals and explain how this software implementation can help meet those needs.

Step two is to define the detailed functional areas that need to be addressed. These will be subcategories under each of the main functional areas defined in step one. For example, if facility executives need CMMS to manage inventory, what functions should the software perform?

The third step is to gather information on the products. Facility executives can ask the software manufacturer to respond to a list of specific functionalities. This will cut through most of the marketing hype by forcing the company to address specifics. It’s one thing for a salesperson to say something in a meeting and quite another for the company to issue a statement in writing.

To receive this statement, facility executives can submit a request for information (RFI) to the vendor. This is a document that requests product information and includes a checklist of functionalities. Send this to the vendors of interest and require them to return the document by a specified date.

Step four is to rate the products and arrive at final evaluation scores. A spreadsheet program will make this easier. First, list the major functional areas with the detailed capabilities under each. Next, for each of these operations, assign an importance rating. It may help to think in terms of “Must Have,” “Like to Have,” and “Optional.” A rating system of one to five works well, with “Must Have” rated as five, “Like to Have” as three and four, and “Optional” as one and two. Then facility executives can use the system to rate the products’ abilities to perform the operations. Rate them as follows:

Five points: Fully provided out of the box. The requirement is met fully without modification or customization.

Four points: The requirement will need configuration of the software. Note that configuration is different than customization and is easier to do, so it rates higher. Think of configuration as an adjustment of an existing functionality, while customization requires extensive changes.

Three Points: The software uses third party software to accomplish the functionality. This is usually not quite as desirable as built-in functionality but is not as difficult and expensive as customization.

Two Points: Software requires customization to fulfill this function.

One Point: The software will not have the functionality until the next version. It may be worth waiting if the rest of the software is desirable.

Zero Points: The functionality is not available in the current version, and it is not planned for the next version–nor does the vendor supply a solution through a third party partner.

After facility executives have received all of the information from the manufacturer and have rated the functionalities as described above, the next step is to create an evaluation spreadsheet. Create a column that includes all of the functional requirements. The next column will list the importance rating for the requirement. There will be two columns for each software package. One column will list the numerical rating of each functional requirement. The other column will list a calculated number that is the product of the importance rating multiplied by the functional requirement rating. For example, if a requirement importance rating is five, and the software rated a five, then the score for that functional requirement is 25. At the bottom of each column, add a calculated field that adds all of the individual functional requirement ratings. This number will be the overall score for the software. Facility executives may not want to devote the time to these exercises, but they can discover needs that they did not know their organizations had. They may also uncover opportunities to improve the business process.