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Article - February 2003
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Improve Facilities and Building Management

Eitan Shibi, 
President
Techs4Biz Corporation


Software and Handheld Devices Can Dramatically Improve Facilities and Building Management 

Many facilities managers, superintendents and maintenance personnel are still performing their maintenance, inspection and service activities and daily tasks using manual, paper-based forms. However, applying appropriate technology and providing simple-to-use automation tools can increase productivity, improve utilization of resources, and improve profitability. By combining easy to use but sophisticated software and handheld devices, organizations can save time and money while improving operational efficiencies and customer service. 

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Handheld Devices
Handheld devices should reflect or improve on what already exists on paper forms. For example, if a user is filling out a weekly maintenance activity form including specific information, the handheld should provide the exact same function. As with paper forms, a handheld user can pick from a list of possible choices and/or write or type in information, according to the organization's preferences. An added benefit of using handheld devices in conjunction with software is that data is automatically transferred from the handheld device to your database without the need for further data entry or reformulation of the data. 

There are many additional benefits of using handheld devices, in contrast with manual or paper based processes. The handheld device can include validations that allow or disallow data entry. It can provide the user with historical information pertaining to previous work orders or particular pieces of equipment. Furthermore, by using barcodes, timestamps and scanners attached to the handheld devices, quick identification of devices and equipment improves efficiency and minimizes human errors. 

Handheld applications should also be designed to minimize unnecessary data entry and keystrokes by incorporating a variety of techniques, starting from pick lists, to check boxes, to lookup lists. Minimizing manual writing that the end user has to perform is recommended, in terms of speed, accuracy and ease of use. Finally, handheld software should be able to run on multiple hardware platforms, providing flexibility and utilization of future technology without unnecessary software upgrades. 

The Desktop / Database / Server 
To maximize utilization, handheld applications should not be stand-alone. They should be designed from the outset to collect information, display and manipulate information, and transfer information to and from a desktop or server database and back to the handheld seamlessly. The means of data transfer can be through a standard cradle, wired modem, or wireless. 

Integration with Existing Systems 
Users may already have software developed for their particular industry or organization. Proper solutions should integrate data with these software packages. This leverages the power of industry specific applications with powerful customized client specific handheld software.

A variety of organizations can utilize handheld devices to significantly improve the efficiency of their activities, improve resource utilization, increase productivity, and provide field technicians with tools to collect, analyze, and disseminate information. Examples of specific implementations include:

1. Property Management Service Providers 
Service organizations can track, manage, and improve maintenance, inspection and service activities. Automating repetitive activities, incorporating reminders, and shifting focus from paper-based activities to tracking and managing customer service are only a few of the benefits attained by such solutions. Service organization will maximize their value from handheld devices that identify equipment, list past service records, list exact details and instructions, and capture signatures. 

Reliable Controls 2. Universities, Schools, Government Housing 
Schools, universities, and other facilities can automate their 'in-house' maintenance, inspection and service activities in a similar fashion to the solution described above for Property Managers. Maintenance personnel can utilize the same handheld devices to track, manage, and improve preventative maintenance tasks for their equipment, as well as manage their daily maintenance activities for their HVAC and building systems. 

3. Manufacturing Facilities 
Utilizing handheld devices to track and manage preventative maintenance activities throughout manufacturing plants and facilities is another value added application. Preventative maintenance extends the life expectancy of equipment, improves efficiency, and saves time and aggravation. Providing technicians and staff with easy-to-use handheld applications will enhance their tasks and help them to focus on their work activities, rather than on paperwork.

4. Guard Tour Service Providers 
Guard tour service providers can automate and improve control and audit of guard tours by utilizing handheld devices and barcodes or RFID tags (Radio Frequency Identification Devices). Handheld devices can easily simplify repeated tasks, ensure task completion and monitoring, improve efficiencies by listing all required route stops in order, and capture date, time and signature validations. 

5. Custom Applications 
Specific customized applications can improve existing 'paper-intensive' activities by utilizing the power of handheld computing combined with scanners to automate and simplify processes.


About the Author

Techs4Biz Corporation's founder and president, Eitan Shibi, has been involved in technology-based businesses and projects for over 20 years. His experience as a Programmer, Project Manager, Consultant, Chief Technology Architect, and Chief Information Officer for numerous organizations including Sunoco, Reuters, and the Toronto Stock Exchange has provided Eitan with in-depth knowledge of technology projects and technology-based businesses.

Techs4Biz Corporation develops and sells technology solutions for improving work related activities and processes and managing and tracking corporate resources, combining software with handheld devices. www.techs4biz.com  


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