Why FM must utilise IT to drive strategic change

asta2-Michael-McCullen-Exec-ChairmanBy Michael McCullen, Executive Chairman, Asta Development

We are told that UK business is experiencing ‘economic recovery,’ however, while confidence is rising, the business community shows no sign of returning to its pre-crash complacency. Economies of scale are the aim of expansion, efficiencies are the goal of restructuring, and there seems general acceptance that future uncertainty and rising energy costs are the only things that business can really count on. A new business culture is emerging within which constant cost minimisation is the norm and is becoming as central to business strategy as the pursuit of sustainability and social responsibility.

As businesses continue to streamline operations and plan investments around efficiencies, one spotlight will always fall on the cost of real estate and its management, which forms a significant proportion of operational costs. Despite the fact that FM has enjoyed an increased profile in recent years, individual FMs and FM organisations alike must increasingly demonstrate their value and contribution to driving efficiency and performance — or risk becoming the target of efficiency drives. FMs face a choice of whether to step up to become a true strategic business partner or remain as a service — a challenge acknowledged repeatedly in major FM reports by organisations such as RICS[1] and the BIFM.

FM is in a strong position to add strategic value; it is in possession of detailed and valuable information about the very environment in which the business operates. When information is power, information technology is an inevitable and critical component. With the right tools, data can be turned into FM business assets. IT has always been a factor, but project planning has often been spreadsheet-centric, facility cost management often divorced from core financials, building control systems rarely integrated into other IT, and even Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) systems are often only used as glorified records filing systems. FM has had a piecemeal approach to IT adoption.

FM’s role as one of the stakeholders in Building Information Modelling (BIM) is beginning to change this. For the first time, facilities will be commissioned with a full 3D modelling history linked to their planning and construction project schedules. FMs will be expected to put these valuable assets to work: link them to building management and evolution, manage and plan the maintenance of assets in a 3D environment and exploit stored information about building infrastructure and services from this rich data resource. BIM-enabled systems will go further than standard CAFM: not only to collect and automate aspects of building data, but to utilise rich, dimensional data and sophisticated planning and scheduling capabilities to:

  • Work smarter to schedule and plan activities and resources, projecting potential scenarios and creating flexible plans
  • Demonstrate strong and appropriate utilisation of people and equipment – supporting and justifying resource investment and replacement
  • Build powerful, useful and business-aligned performance measures as well as track traditional FM measures
  • Schedule work aided by intelligence about infrastructure and services inside the very fabric of buildings — without the potential delays and cost of surveys
  • Deliver repair-and-replace services more predictably and with the ability to demonstrate cost effectiveness and business value
  • Show how FM actively prevents issues and interruptions with forward analysis of costs and dependencies
  • Take control of the energy and waste reduction agenda – embracing, creating and driving sustainability programmes
  • Partner with functions such as IT, to build the business case for the right technical programmes, or with HR to show how environment enhances productivity and wellbeing
  • Influence building design as part of a design review team: to create buildings that are easier and cheaper to maintain without compromising design objectives

Going forward, FM must actively embrace 3D planning: not only inheriting BIM-enabled plans and models, but becoming directly involved far earlier in the development timeframe and delivering expert insight pre-construction to create better buildings and avoid costly mistakes which could cause future maintenance and FM issues. A  new generation of tools is already emerging which is bringing modelling and planning together using common data formats like the IFC standard, which is being adopted by an increasing number of software vendors. Whichever way FM chooses to approach IT, it must do so more rapidly than before in order to evolve as a business function. If it isn’t a clear part of the cost efficiency solution there is a risk it will be seen as part of the problem, but with stronger IT engagement and the right tools, it can show its readiness to contribute to improved business and design processes, as well as long-term building sustainability and efficiency. It can demonstrate that it is not just a management function for buildings but a true part of the constant drive for greater business efficiencies.

Michael McCullen, Executive Chairman, Asta Development

Michael McCullen was one of the founders of Asta Development, which was formed in 1988, and he has played a key role in driving the profitable growth of the company, which was acquired by Eleco plc in 2006. Michael is Executive Chairman of Asta and sits on the main board of Eleco. He holds a Computer Science degree (Manchester) and an MBA (Warwick).

[1] http://www.rics.org/Global/Raising_the_Bar_II_29_01_14_dwl_pc.pdf

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