By Tom Condon, RPA, FMA
Published in the May 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
In the asset management technology area, we are seeing a shift to a more mature and complex generation. The days of simply choosing between CMMS or CAFM are past. Facilities and organizations are more complex, and so are the tools we use to manage them. This month, we’ll look at some of the recent changes in the Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) world, including CAFM, CMMS, and BIM.
The old stalwart of so many facilities, CAFM (computer aided facility management) is morphing into a new type of product: IWMS, or Integrated Workplace Management Systems. IWMS retains all of the features that make CAFM so useful, like graphical floor plans, space management, and work management capabilities. However, it provides a more comprehensive range of functionalities that help to manage the facility through the full life cycle, including acquisition and build-out, lease and portfolio management, space management, and operations and maintenance management. Meanwhile, CMMS (computerized maintenance management software) is going in another direction with the addition of linear asset, geographical information systems (GIS), cell phone dispatching, and information technology (IT) asset management capabilities.
CMMS, the grandfather of facility management technologies, is getting new life through the addition of new functionalities. For example, recently, Datastream added support for GIS to its flagship product, 7i. GIS allows users to assign geospatial locations to assets and manage them geographically using an ESRI GIS system. (ESRI is the leading manufacturer of GIS systems). This is particularly useful for large campuses where assets are spread out and geography impacts efficiency.
MRO has added Information Technology Service Management (ITSM) functionality to its latest version of Maximo. This comes at a time when facility managers are increasingly being asked to track IT assets in addition to standard items like building components, furniture, and vehicles. ITSM is very similar to traditional asset management, but it is tailored to the characteristics (software versions currently loaded on PCs, hard drive capacities, or RAM) commonly associated with IT equipment.
Also, the way that IT assets are serviced is fundamentally different than HVAC, pumps, and other traditional facility assets. For example, when a customer calls the help desk for assistance with a computer problem, this is called Level 1 support. Often, the help desk employee will immediately attempt to guide the customer through a basic procedure to attempt to fix the problem as quickly as possible. ITSM systems have troubleshooting modules that guide help desk operators through the process of diagnosing remote IT problems over the phone.
As previously mentioned, cell phones are also becoming an integral part of some CMMS systems. Web-based integrated systems, such as 360 Facility or TRIAD, can dispatch work orders directly to cell phones, eliminating the need for mobile computers. These systems know which workers are where, and which ones have the appropriate skills to repair problems.
These systems send work orders to field staff automatically and even manage work order loads so tasks are distributed evenly. These systems can also identify if an employee does not accept or complete a work order on schedule, at which time it can automatically alert a supervisor.
These systems work with any cell phone that accepts text or e-mail messages. This means most facilities staff members already have phones that will work with the system.
The asset management industry has been in flux for a few years now for several reasons. First, many CMMS and CAFM makers are finding it difficult to keep up, because their products were built on older computing architectures not nearly as robust and flexible as newer ones. Systems that were built on older technologies, like COBOL, cannot compete with modern platforms, like Java, that allow applications to work on local machines or off site over the Internet. These new technologies also provide the capability to integrate with multiple data sources easily.
Another reason for changes in the industry is that organizations have become enlightened about the importance of asset management to the efficiency and profitability of their operations. As a result, asset management systems are being implemented at a greater pace than ever before. Competition has increased, and companies have been buying each other left and right. Datastream was purchased by Infor; MRO was purchased by IBM; Indus was snapped up by Vista Equity, which already had the mobile computing company, Mobile Data Solutions; and finally, the venerable Peregrine was sold piecemeal to multiple buyers.
The basic concepts of enterprise software have changed dramatically over the last few years. The advent of Web based systems and service oriented architecture (including XML, HTTP, and SOAP) means that software is now more functional and capable of interacting with other software. For example, through an XML interface, it is relatively easy to connect a CMMS or CAFM to a financial system so that asset information and costs are automatically updated in both systems when they change in either. These kinds of interactions mean that the CMMS or CAFM system is no longer just a stand-alone, but it is part of a larger, enterprise wide integrated computing infrastructure.
Another development changing the tide of asset management technology has been the advent of Building Information Modeling, or BIM. Rather than two dimensional pictures of floorplans, this three dimensional design tool focuses far more on information storage than work management. Software products in this arena use intelligent objects that contain data including manufacturer, model, and color/style. When users click on an element in the drawing (i.e. door, window, or pump), they have access to all the information about the item.
BIM could dramatically change the way managers interact with information, since it creates an interactive model that stays active from design phase to operation. However, this concept is still a long way off.
While facility management grows ever more complex with new developments in asset management, there are also new opportunities and tools that can solve some difficult problems.
Condon, a Facility Technologist and former facility manager, is a contributing author for BOMI Institute’s revised Technologies in Facility Management textbook. He works for System Development Integration, a Chicago, IL-based firm committed to improving the performance, quality, and reliability of client business through technology.