Professional Development: Keeping Tabs On Facilities

By Keith O’Leary
Published in the June 2011 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

For organizations with large real estate holdings, accurate facility condition data is absolutely necessary. Maintaining property in good condition is a costly proposition, and it’s often difficult to know how best to spend on deferred maintenance. Priorities for spending are almost always based on key organizational goals such as risk mitigation and business continuity. Therefore, having access to comprehensive and accurate condition data that can be used to identify areas of risk and to set objective priorities is critical in making informed facility capital planning decisions.

Technology and experience each play a pivotal role in how facility condition assessments are performed and what data will be collected. The high profile assets of a portfolio often mandate a detailed periodic assessment by seasoned professionals. But what about the geographically isolated or low profile assets? Or what about assets that may have undetected and significant issues? In practice, more times than not, these assets do not undergo detailed condition assessments; it is simply too expensive to justify the benefit. The cost of a full assessment can be prohibitive for an entire portfolio and can prove to be a dilemma for facility managers (fms) who need to justify the necessary funds to maintain facilities adequately. Without validated data, cost justification is an elusive target.

All in all, organizations employ a variety of methods for collecting facility condition data. One method that continues to emerge is a guided self assessment using Web based mobile surveys to standardize data collection, reporting, and analysis. Often used in conjunction with, and as a complement to, a professionally conducted facility condition assessment (FCA), guided self assessments enable fms to gather condition data for more of the assets within the real estate portfolio, whether facilities are concentrated on a single campus or dispersed geographically.

Self assessment data provides quick, affordable budgetary estimates and enables organizations to focus a FCA on mission critical buildings that are most in need of attention. Guided self assessments driven by professionally designed building system surveys deliver a comprehensive assessment that includes remediation definition and estimated costs. When using existing facilities management staff or assistance from maintenance partners, guided self assessments can be the means to implement an expanded and more cost-effective collection of condition data.

Guided self assessments enable fms and other planners to capture information in a reliable and consistent fashion. Rather than relying on spreadsheets and unstructured documents, fms can aggregate relevant information in a central repository available to all key stakeholders. The information necessary to make key decisions about capital planning and facility maintenance becomes accessible and actionable.

There are several ways organizations benefit from guided self assessments:

Complement to a full condition assessment. Many organizations focus their condition assessments on the most mission critical facilities. Tight budgets often necessitate this strategy, but it often leads to missing data for large segments of a portfolio that are considered a lower priority. However, even lower priority assets incur costs and can become liabilities if neglected.

With this in mind, organizations use guided self assessments to capture data on all building assets, rather than just a subset of higher priority facilities. Mission critical buildings and other “hot spot” assets which may have significant issues will still warrant a regular professional FCA, but organizations use guided self assessments to complement FCAs and cost-effectively capture data on the remainder of their assets. By eliminating “knowledge gaps” and ensuring they capture data on all facility assets, organizations take an essential step in planning for the entire portfolio.

Quick, cost-effective budget estimates. Fms are often faced with the dilemma of justifying budgetary requirements in order to obtain the necessary funds to maintain assets adequately. This can especially be an issue for large, geographically dispersed portfolios. But how can fms justify the budget without the asset condition data to validate the need? Guided self assessment is invaluable for quick budgetary estimates. With more accurate data available, fms can secure the right funding, respond faster to budget inquiries and funding requests, and make smarter capital planning decisions.

Identifying “hot spots.” For many reasons, it is not always feasible or desirable to conduct a complete FCA of an entire portfolio. At the same time, planners and managers need accurate information to prioritize capital spending. Guided self assessment is a cost-effective method for helping with that prioritization. Fms can identify “hot spots” within an asset portfolio. They can then determine which facilities will require a professionally conducted FCA. In many cases it amounts to approximately 15% to 20% of the portfolio. This knowledge enables decision makers to focus on mission critical buildings, especially those that are in the worst condition. Knowing which assets are likely to need immediate attention saves fms time and money. In contrast, organizations that lack this insight find it much more challenging to make rigorous and effective capital planning decisions.

Data maintenance to avoid “stale” data. Given that facility condition is constantly changing, it is important to keep information on building assets up to date. Guided self assessments enable organizations to reassess condition and maintain existing data easily. In addition, consistent data collection leads to less “stale” data, as well as the validation that previously captured deficiencies have been addressed.

In summary, guided self assessments supplement professionally conducted FCAs and provide a means for attaining and maintaining portfolio wide condition data. The information necessary to make key decisions about capital planning and facility maintenance becomes accessible and actionable, whether facilities are concentrated on a single campus or dispersed geographically. By using guided self assessments and deploying the right balance of data collection methods, fms can more cost-effectively obtain the necessary condition data to maximize financial control of capital investments.

Keith O'LearyO’Leary is the director of product marketing at VFA, Inc. With its U.S. headquarters located in Boston, MA, the company is a provider of end-to-end solutions for facilities capital planning and spend management.