By John Timmerman
From the June 2022 Issue
Public agencies and their facilities leadership should have a tremendous amount of data on the condition, maintenance, and operation of infrastructure across their communities. If integrated and managed correctly, this data can be harnessed to create budget strategies that address the communities’ most pressing needs in the most fiscally responsible manner. However, with the continued growth of technologies for remote data capture, automated building systems, building information models, and digital twins, the volume and complexity of this data is only expected to increase.
Analyzing this massive trove of both structured and unstructured data for intelligent building insight requires process automation and artificial intelligence tools, like Natural Language Processing, to accelerate the analytical output that strategically informs capital planning conversations. However, it’s critical that nothing impacts the quality and accuracy of facilities data and skews analytical insights. So, that’s where we’ll start…with the data.
How To Ruin A Well-Intentioned Capital Plan
Facility leaders and planners have a wealth of new data types/sources and analytical technologies that are accelerating the pace of change in facility planning. From square-foot models and condition assessments to lifecycle and replacement costs, there’s no shortage of data available to leadership to develop a comprehensive account of facilities needs and priorities.
Like trying to eat an elephant, the first problem is one of volume. It’s easy to get caught in analysis paralysis when you look at the sheer volume of information. Focus strategically on the areas that provide the most useful insight and not those that require the most analytical horsepower. You may choose to only perform detailed technical assessments on select buildings and systems while using modeled lifecycle data elsewhere to focus your efforts on strategically constructing a long-term capital plan. If you don’t have in-house expertise available for data collection, consider complementing your team with external engineering resources that do this type of analytical heavy lifting on a regular basis.
If the volume of data is the first conundrum, then accuracy is the second. Unfortunately, the systems generating facilities data are often siloed and don’t “talk to each other.” This creates inconsistencies in the data of record, which can make it difficult to defend decisions. As bad as inconsistencies can be, it’s even worse to be inaccurate. Manual data management workflows and updates can introduce errors, rendering your reports and findings untrustworthy for decision-making. Don’t let garbage data ruin your well-intentioned capital plan. Consider engaging a data maintenance service to ensure that all recently completed projects are reflected in your condition assessment, and perform periodic audits of enterprise data sets to make sure the information is validated and accurate before getting too deep in the capital planning process. Inaccurate condition detail and estimated replacement cost data can easily lead to budget over-runs or underfunding of critical needs.
4 Data-Driven Steps To Ensure Capital Planning Success
Working from a foundation of trusted and accurate data, it’s time to build out a universally understood and agreed upon collection of facility-wide needs as the basis for your long-range capital discussions. Four data-driven steps to support these capital planning conversations at your organization include:
1. Defining the condition of facilities and systems—The key phrase here should be “detail where you need it.” You probably don’t need an engineer to perform a detailed technical assessment of a 5-year-old vinyl tile flooring system. However, that may be exactly what you need for a 20-year-old roof or HVAC system. Ultimately, you need an up-to-date and accurate assessment of facilities and systems conditions at a level of detail that allows you to make educated decisions and prioritize repairs, renovations, or possible replacements.
2. Defining the utilization of current facilities—Organizational mission can expand or change course over time. Similarly, the function and purpose of a facility relative to that mission can also evolve. So, in addition to facility condition, include building utilization in your list of assessments required on the front-end of the capital planning process.
Beyond the need for continuous improvement and evolution, emergency events can drastically alter facility utilization. The work-from-home and hybrid workplace models brought about by COVID-19, called for flexibility in space layouts and initiated conversations about the necessity of in-person interactions. Many state and local agencies have found opportunities to consolidate under-utilized facilities and reduce their real estate footprint.
3. Bucketing facilities, assets, and infrastructure into portfolios—Not all buildings are created equal. The courthouse in the town square, an administrative facility in a repurposed mall, the fire station, a wastewater treatment facility…these are building blocks of your community. While each facility serves a purpose and need for citizens, some of these building blocks are more critical, more foundational, than others. To better prioritize facilities investments and projects, create portfolios of physical assets that have similar strategic purposes and sensitivities. These can be as easy as grouping together Emergency Services, Citizen-facing Organizations, Public Works Facilities, and General Administrative Buildings. Being able to look at your facilities in these high-level buckets will help stakeholders analyze project risk and exposure for the most comprehensive capital plans.
4. Using a consistent scoring mechanism to prioritize project funding while addressing backlog—Similar to the concept of creating and comparing facility needs by portfolios, you can extend this strategic mindset to all project scoring and decisioning. Use a consistent formula for scoring all projects to ensure that aesthetic renovations, for example, don’t take precedence over critical needs and that emergencies don’t divert all available funding away from strategic long-term initiatives. Something as simple as “Timeframe” multiplied by “Safety/Risk” will give you a way to objectively score every project and prioritize the highest scoring initiatives to get the greatest overall return for your citizens and constituents (see Figure 1).
Critical Determinants Of Capital Needs And Funding Strategies
Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to facilities management. Not only should you be gathering facilities data, you will also need to be sure it is up-to-date and accurate so you can trust and defend insights that come from your analysis. Eliminate data siloes and manual workflows that may create inconsistencies and introduce errors to your critical decision-making processes. These inaccuracies ultimately skew analytical results and lead to ill-informed project scoring, prioritization, and capital funding scenarios. Once you can trust your data sources, implement the four data-driven steps to consistently support your organizations capital planning efforts. By starting with the data and gathering the detail you need, you’ll be able to streamline processes, make better use of funds, and maintain safe and reliable facilities to protect and serve your community well into the future.
Timmerman is currently serving as Product Marketing Manager at Gordian, an industry leader in intelligent building solutions. An acclaimed author and industry commentator, Timmerman’s 32-year career has been exemplified by the creative and innovative use of data and technology to solve business problems and inform executive decisioning.
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