Web Based FM Trends: Decoding The Acronym Puzzle - Facility Executive Magazine - Creating Intelligent Buildings

Web based facility management offerings are becoming easier to decipher.

Web based facility management offerings are becoming easier to decipher.

Web Based FM Trends: Decoding The Acronym Puzzle

Web Based FM Trends: Decoding The Acronym Puzzle - Facility Executive Magazine - Creating Intelligent Buildings

By Heidi Schwartz
Published in the June 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Horse Before Cart

Back in 1991, Geoffrey A. Moore introduced the general public to three distinct terms defining human responses to new technology: innovators, early adopters, and laggards. While these concepts were previously introduced by other theorists and scholars, it is Moore’s Crossing The Chasm: Marketing And Selling High-Tech Products To Mainstream Customers (New York: HarperBusiness Essentials, 1991) that is still recognized as a model of technology purchasing behavior to this day.

The book identifies the differences between innovators (those who bring new technologies to market), early adopters (the enthusiasts first to purchase the latest technologies), and laggards (who Moore graciously describes as technological pragmatists). When these terms were introduced more than 15 years ago, facility managers (fms) squarely placed themselves in the pragmatic corner, particularly in terms of their willingness to embrace facility management (FM) software-and rightfully so.

“FM was one of the last groups to adopt and embrace technology,” admits Paul M. Claybaker with the operations division of Carol Stream, IL-based FacilityTree.com. “Long after finance and procurement departments were using technology to increase productivity and decrease costs, FM departments were still using paper and pencil to manage activities.”

There were many computer aided design (CAD) programs for architecture and design professionals; there were also numerous software offerings for those tasked with maintenance management responsibilities (CMMS). But there were only a few computer aided facility management programs (CAFM) that really targeted the multi-layer demands of this complex market.

Fortunately, times and technologies have come a long way since 1991. So too has the FM profession in terms of technology.

Marc Petock, director of global marketing and communications for Richmond, VA-based Tridium says, “Economics and a better understanding [of technology] are leading users to want better buildings-ones that use less energy, have lower operating costs, are safer, contribute to a better environment, and provide significant return on investment (ROI).”

Securely Streamlined

The preponderance of the Internet in every aspect of life (both personal and professional) has had a tremendous impact on building operations. By adopting the latest Web based tools, fms will have the ability to run their buildings like never before.

This adjustment is noteworthy, according to John P. Conlon, owner of FacilityTree.com. He observes, “Three years ago, [Web based FM] used to be an education sale where you would have to explain what you do; now fms know what you do….”

Tom Condon, RPA, FMA, senior consultant with Chicago, IL-based SD-I and Facility Technologist columnist with TFM confirms this significant change in fm attitudes from just eight or nine years ago. “When Web based systems first came out,” he notes, “there was resistance among many fms, mostly because they were worried about hackers and viruses, and IT departments were not comfortable opening their systems to the Web. Now, that has changed because of security improvements. Today’s server software, techniques like VPN (Virtual Private Networks), and secure socket layer security have made Web based systems extremely safe.”

Conlon of FacilityTree.com adds that moving to a Web based system is not only safer now, it also helps FM departments detach themselves from their dependence on IT. “A hosted Web based system makes life easier for fms. They don’t have to worry about involving their IT departments. In general, many Web applications are easy to navigate with a shorter learning curve.”

Condon is convinced that fms will never return to traditional client-server architecture arrangements, primarily because, “FM is a big area, encompassing a number of systems and software applications like CMMS, CAFM, BAS, project/program management tools, and online lease and planning systems. All of these systems have migrated to the Web, and they enable business paradigms that were impossible for older, client-server architectures.”

Where CAFM Went Wrong

A 2004 study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology [“Cost Analysis of Inadequate Interoperability in the U.S. Capital Facilities Industry” by Michael P. Gallaher, et al., August 2004] exposed the shortcomings of older computer based interoperability strategies. Individual databases (HVAC, space planning, plumbing, for example) provided by different professionals (engineers, architects, electricians, etc.) were often unable to communicate with each other, forcing fms to spend thousands of man-hours manually updating disparate information.

By putting a dollar figure on this amount of waste (estimated in the neighborhood of $15.8 billion per year, based on 2002 figures) and pointing out that CEOs were shouldering this cost in addition to fees charged by architects and consultants, the NIST report exposed the gross inefficiencies of existing computer based programs. Their inability to communicate with each other doomed their ability to succeed. There simply had to be a better way.

Horse Before Cart Credit: iStockphoto

BIM: The Macro Approach

Indeed, there is a new approach that’s changing the way facilities and their systems are designed, operated, and maintained. Building Information Modeling (BIM) is coming on strong as a total approach.

One of the most appealing aspects of BIM is its ability to create a unified database for a facility, group of buildings, or even a complex campus. Another benefit of BIM is its power to create a conflict free mockup of the entire building-from HVAC ductwork to sprinkler system to electrical wiring.

For instance, the team at Walt Disney Imagineering frequently uses BIM to analyze every aspect of attractions in the company’s numerous theme parks around the world (instead of creating physical models that lack the intelligent ability to reveal mechanical, systematic flaws). When properly executed, BIM is far superior to floor plans, as built drawings, or any other traditional form of project documentation.

Conceptually, BIM is not new. In fact, it has been around since the late 1970s as a design approach “popularized by [industry analyst] Jerry Laiserin as a common name for a digital representation of the building process to facilitate exchange and interoperability of information in digital format,” according to Wikipedia.org.

TFM Tricks of the Trade Columnist Jim Elledge, CFM, FMA, RPA, RIAQM says BIM is dictating the evolution of Web based FM. Elledge, who is also facilities manager for Summit Alliance Companies in Dallas, TX, adds this is particularly true “when outside partners need access to download or update facility data.”

Autodesk of San Rafael, CA has pioneered the development of BIM for the earliest stages of design, particularly in projects where costly moves, adds, and changes (MACs) impede the execution of complex building systems. Most recently, the company has launched its new Autodesk Seek Web service to support its flagship BIM offering, Revit.

Web Options For The Micromanager

Clearly, Web based FM is a work in progress. While BIM may appeal to fms looking to handle conceptual designs and complex operations, there is another option for those who wish to focus on specific aspects of their facilities.

For fms unfamiliar with the concept, Software As A Service (or SaaS) is defined by Wikipedia as “a model of software deployment where an application is hosted as a service provided to customers across the Internet. By eliminating the need to install and run the application on the customer’s own computer, SaaS alleviates the customer’s burden of software maintenance, ongoing operation, and support. Using SaaS also can reduce the up front expense of software purchases, through less costly, on demand pricing.”

One of the most attractive aspects of SaaS is its customization capabilities. When software services are parceled out on an “as needed” basis, fms can pay for exactly what they want (rather than invest in a one size fits all software package). And since it is treated as a service (instead of packaged as a product), vendors are focused more on providing targeted customer support.

Rich Caplow of the Tivoli market management division of IBM agrees that the move to a third party delivery method is gaining popularity with the FM market. He says, “This movement to a service provider mindset vs. an in-house expense center means a new way of looking at and managing the FM activity.”

Elledge feels SaaS is the single most significant current trend in Web based FM. He suggests that flexibility is the primary benefit of the SaaS approach. He asks, “Why pay for the hardware infrastructure when all you want to do is track work orders and manage space? You ‘rent’ the software applications you need, which can be supplier hosted-or hosted on-site.”

SLAs Behind SaaS

One possible obstacle to the success of SaaS is the Service Level Agreement (SLA)-the contractual infrastructure behind the delivery of a software service instead of a product. In a February 2007 white paper entitled “Setting Expectations in SaaS,” the Washington, DC-based Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) signaled the possible legal pitfalls of the approach.

The paper points out, “For SaaS providers, the SLA is used to set realistic expectations for customers. The SLA clearly defines the service level commitments established by the software provider and identifies obligations to the customer and methods of reasonable compensation should these obligations not be met. For the SaaS customer, the SLA introduces a new level of accountability from the software provider and a means to measure and monitor service performance.”

A follow-up article entitled, “Software as a Service Needs a Clear Service Level Agreement” (by OUT-LAW.COM, The Register, February 28, 2007) notes, “The software industry does not have extensive experience with SLAs, because it has traditionally sold products rather than services….Customers and providers alike must take care in the details of an SLA as it is a legally binding agreement.”

Despite the legal hurdles, Web based FM is becoming “the defacto standard for best of breed systems,” according to Condon. And while few fms will ever be “innovators” according to Geoffrey Moore’s definition, now is the time for those early adopters in the profession to explore the many aspects of this groundbreaking technology.

To request a copy of the SIIA white paper or the NIST report, e-mail [email protected]. Please include the report name in your correspondence.

To discuss some of your experiences in real time, come to FacilityBlog; to comment on this article, send an e-mail to [email protected].

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