The IT Community of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) often gets asked about how to get started with IT in facility management (FM) and how to develop a long-term strategy for FM IT solutions.
This fall, at IFMA’s World Workplace in Charlotte, North Carolina, the IT Community set out to provide practitioners with the tools to do just that. The interactive session was setup as a two-way interview between a practitioner and ‘consultants’ using a real example in the practitioner’s workplace. The goal was to develop an understanding the needs and goals of a practicing facility manager while getting feedback from small to medium-sized enterprises on how to get started in developing an IT roadmap.
During the presentation, the more than 100 audience members were polled to understand where they stand with respect to FM technology. The response was almost universally consistent: regardless of organization size, everyone was challenged by budgetary constraints, the ability to differentiate need from technology platform, and a strong concern that they and their department were behind the curve in adopting effective base technology to run their businesses (let alone looking at leading edge technology solutions).
The practitioners were asked some fundamental questions: “Do you have an accurate inventory of your space portfolio including usage and occupancy?” “Do you have an accurate and detailed inventory of all of the major assets in your portfolio that require Preventative Maintenance?” “Have you created a detailed list of all resources that both receive and deliver FM services?
Their answers revealed a common concern across a wide range of portfolio types and organizations: “How do we know what best suits our organization from a technology platform perspective?”
Experience suggests that supporting business processes and the stakeholders involved should always come first when discussing the need for automation and analysis. To that end, it’s important to start with the why and the who. The what and the when will follow logically.
Before developing an IT roadmap, a facility manager or commercial real estate practitioner will need to both understand the needs the IT solution will be solving as well as the defining challenges that will be faced in reaching the goal. Having a simple, clear vision for an IT project is the first step in creating a successful plan. But, planning a perfect roadmap for such a project can be anything but simple.
The following is an outline of the key components required to assemble an IT roadmap:
- Evaluating readiness
Always start with the obvious question: “Are we ready?” The business process for developing and executing an IT project is similar to any project planning process. Breaking the process down into the following categories can make getting started less intimidating:
- Determine the scope of the IT project;
- Know whether the project has management buy-in;
- Define who needs to be on the project team;
- Establish who the customer is;
- Ask whether return on investment is important;
- Determine whether any process changes are needed;
- Decide whether there are any “new” features or functions;
- Develop an awareness and training program plan;
- Establish a system of record matrix to help ensure data integrity; and
- Develop reporting and key performance indicators
- Defining the team
Once readiness has been confirmed, it’s time to select a cross-functional team. When defining the team, it’s important to consider including subject matter experts if specific expertise does not exist within the department. Team members may include facilities department staff, the IT department, user groups from within the business, user groups outside the business (contractors, consultants), and outside experts.
- Developing the roadmap
Often, there is a tendency to overlook technology elements and data already in place. Where possible, leverage technology and data that is already in place.
Which systems does the organization currently have? Do they accomplish what they were intended to? Are the current systems user-friendly? Web-based? Mobile-friendly?
Develop and document the system’s current infrastructure design as well as the application ’s current configuration and design. Review and assess data integrity. Conduct a gap analysis between the current state and an anticipated future state.
- Solidify the roadmap
With a solid understanding of the current state, look for opportunities for improvement. Close the gaps; document processes that are undocumented, not being followed or are error-prone; define metrics to measure success; and understand the value of vital data that is not currently being captured.
- Completing the roadmap
The last step in roadmap development is to formulate a “master” plan. This plan should include a clear understanding of the components needed to achieve the future state; plans for small incremental “baby steps” to achieve goals and build towards the future state; and plans for pilots that will allow for testing and refinement in controlled environments.
To sum up, the successful implementation of an FM IT solution involves taking some key steps: gathering data to get the best possible view of an organization’s resources, asking for feedback from like organizations/portfolios both from technology providers and peers, and then developing a roadmap that makes economic and cultural sense for the FM department.
Geoff Williams is the current treasurer and past chair of the IFMA Technology Community, past president of the Toronto Chapter of IFMA, past director on IFMA’s Global Board of Directors and also serves on the IFMA Americas’ Advisory Board. He has more than 20 years of experience in facility operations and strategic planning. He is co-editor of The Facility Manager’s Guide to Information Technology and is based in Toronto, Ontario.
Ted Ritter is the current global chair of the IFMA Technology Community, past president of the Greater Phoenix Chapter and also serves on the IFMA Americas’ Advisory Board. He has more than 30 years of experience in facility operations and project management. He a co-author of The Facility Manager’s Guide to Information Technology and based in Phoenix, Arizona, where he supports FM education at Arizona State University.