December 2011

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Leave Your Desk
Not Your Information
Marty Chobot
Marty Chobot

VP Product Management
and Strategic Alliances


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Ask any facilities professional – their real work doesn’t happen behind a desk. They need to be in the field – working with department heads on occupancy forecasts and space plans; coordinating the efforts of move vendors and keeping the project on budget and on track; or finding critical information about a key piece of building equipment.

But they’ve been chained to their desk because the critical information they need to do their work has been locked up in their computers.

Two key technology trends are changing the game: the growing use of mobile technology and Web-based facility management and real estate systems.  Together, they combine to provide immediate access – allowing FMs to make better decisions, faster.

Web-based facility management systems aren’t new.  Since the late 1990’s, a number of Web-based products for space management, occupancy, maintenance, real estate and more have come to market.  What’s more, over the past six years, a move toward integrated platforms provides even greater value by allowing facility professionals in different job functions to share information.  For example, a move coordinator can associate service requests for furniture, telecom or other maintenance issues with a move project to ensure the maintenance work is coordinated with the move – eliminating costly and disruptive errors in the field.

However, most Web-based systems were still only accessible to PC users.  Even laptops weren’t truly mobile – often too heavy, cumbersome, costly and fragile to deploy for field-based workers.  As a result, maintaining information in a facility management system became an “additional” task – one that typically took extra time at the end of the day to transpose information from paper to the system.  And, not surprisingly, not a task that anyone looked forward to.

Mobile platforms – both smart phones and tablets – are rapidly becoming a fixture in the workplace.  While smart phones have been available for some time, the smaller screens on phones have limited the application of mobile access to facility information systems.  Apple’s release of the iPad tablet in 2009 made a huge impact on how consumers use technology and that momentum is now carrying over into the workplace.  The tablet, combined with nearly ubiquitous wireless access, will replace “do the work, go to the desk, record the work” with “record the work while you’re doing it” – driving greater adoption of facility systems and better data quality.

What’s the business value of field-based access to facility information?

As enterprises move to support tablets and other mobile devices, the possibilities of mobile workflows are tremendous.  Here are a few scenarios to consider:

Streamline space audits – Accurate space information allows organizations to make sure they’re getting the most value from their space. Now space managers or their departmental liaisons can quickly and easily update information like departmental use of space, occupancy and more.  For example, a hospital preparing for their Medicare/Medicaid cost report can deploy departmental liaisons with mobile devices to confirm or update the space that their department is using in the facility and for what purpose. 

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Receive and dispatch work orders – With mobile access to work orders, maintenance professionals can log reactive maintenance work orders the moment they see the problem.  Also, supervisors can receive service requests from occupants and dispatch technicians to quickly resolve critical issues.  

View equipment documents – Access to equipment documents like operations manuals and more can now be at your fingertips when you need them.  This can reduce “travel time” and maximize “wrench time” for maintenance technicians. For example, a maintenance technician may receive a “too hot” request.  He narrows the problem down to a specific air handler. In the past, a trip back to the office to find and review the manual was a common next step. With mobile access, he can open the operations manual to check the settings on the equipment, potentially even solving the problem on that first trip.

Bar code assets – Imagine being able to pull up a 360-degree view of information on a piece of equipment without typing at all.  While bar coding has been available for years, now equipment bar codes can be linked to the asset record allowing the tablet user to view open work orders, warranty information, preventive maintenance schedules, asset history, documents and more.

Mobile BIM – BIM vendors are working on tools that allow you to view and manipulate 3D building models on mobile devices.  For example, Autodesk recently announced their Autodesk® Cloud technology.  With an iPad, users can rotate a 3D model, turn the visibility building elements on or off, or view 2D plans.

Coordinate Vendors – Leading organizations are exploring the possibility of providing access for key vendors to their facility system.  For example, telecom or furniture suppliers that provide on-site services can access the system to view move requests, and plan and coordinate their work.  By keeping all the players on the same page, facility managers can dramatically reduce the time and cost required to complete moves.

What’s next for the mobile FM?

How can you start to realize the value of mobile access to your facility information?  First, check with your IT department.  What are their policies for mobile access? Will your IT and security policies allow you to use mobile devices and allow those devices to access your facility system?  Next, talk to your software providers.  Are their products mobile?  If so, do they provide full mobile access to the system or is it available only for specific workflows (for example, access to service requests and work orders).  Evaluate whether the mobile access is a true capability of their platform or just another technology that has been “bolted on.” A third-party mobile product layered over a facility software system will limit your ability to configure the products to meet your business requirements. Lastly, build the business case.  How can field-based access to information help you improve the efficiency of your buildings or the productivity of your team?  How will it help you provide better service and reduce costs?  Then you’ll be ready to get to work and leave your desk behind!

About the Author

Marty Chobot - As VP of Product Management and Strategic Alliances, Marty helps FM:Systems better understand the needs of its customers and bring new products to market. Marty’s current focus is the convergence of BIM and the operation of sustainable, cost-efficient buildings. Key activities include leading the FM-BIM Working Group and conducting customer and market research on the application of BIM models and data in the operational phase of the building lifecycle.


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