10 mistakes when it comes to implementing workplace management systems in the FM and property industries – and how to avoid making them!

Property and facilities management are data-rich operating worlds. This is becoming even more complex as the Internet of Things (IoT) provides the capability to imbed sensors and diagnostic tools to monitor the use and performance of everything in real time. The property and facilities management service industries have over the years made use of a host of applications to deliver various control and management functions, including property management accounting, various CAD (computer aided design) platforms, lease modelling systems and CMMS (comprehensive maintenance management systems), as well as a range of help-desk request and work order packages.

Over the last decade the emergence of complex Integrated Workplace Management Systems (IWMSs) has promised to deliver one-stop shop solutions – the nirvana for property and facilities managers – both in-house and operating as external outsourced service providers. Unfortunately, the hype during the systems procurement and evaluation stages has tended to be far in excess of the reality of the delivery once these systems are implemented. If truth be told, behind most IWMSs once implemented there are still a clutch of bespoke Excel spreadsheets used to cover the gaps in uploading and downloading data.

So as organisations commence the journey of implementing new property and facilities systems to drive more optimal utilisation and performance of owned and leased accommodation portfolio decision- making, what are the 10 ‘big decisions’ that need to be made to ensure expense mistakes are avoided?

1 – Are the outcomes and objectives clearly defined upfront?

All organisations would, in an ideal world, prefer to know everything possible about the utilisation and performance of their property and facilities portfolio and how it is supporting the enterprise’s success on a value-for-money basis. But this approach will be cost prohibitive, so let’s determine what the outcomes are that will really make a difference to the business. This should inform the objectives set for the systems procurement and evaluation.

2 – Should a bespoke system be attempted, designed to meet all the idiosyncrasies?

This is often where systems implementation horror stories are born. Stories abound of tens of millions of dollars being spent on great but poorly thought-out ideas, resulting in systems that are never switched on, after many months and years of spending with systems designers. Many organisations believe their property and facilities portfolio needs are different and their operating methods are superior, therefore no existing system can support their needs. But, in reality, differences are imagined and superior processes are seldom true.

3 – Will the system form part of the in-house enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or use a different facilities accounting function?

Most ERP systems claim to have property and facilities functionality, but in reality, this may be very limited in scope and, without expensive customisation, some unique industry functionality will likely be lost. In most specialised property and facilities management systems, the accounting system is designed to mirror the industry nuances. But this is often a difficult roadblock to navigate via the in-house accounting function – so be prepared!

4 – Is it better to adopt a ‘one-stop’ integrated system or a suite of interfacing ‘best of breed’ systems?

Everyone’s ideal is one system with all the functionality integrated. But even today with complex IWMS solutions having been developed, there are few systems that can meet all requirements. A more practical approach may be integrating ‘best of breed’ systems through portals, downloads and reporting functions. But in evaluating systems, there is a challenge to properly understand how seamlessly the integration of functionality is and what gaps exist. Taking the ‘best of breed’ approach has its own challenges in understanding the interoperability between systems.

5 – Should operating processes be adapted to the system or should the systems be customised to suit specific processes?

Property and facilities managers always seem to believe that their processes are superior to all those of their peers. Professional jealousy is healthy, but in selecting a system a certain amount of pragmatism can save many dollars in configuration and customisation costs. Adoption of proprietary system processes, rather than adjusting systems, may be the wise decision in terms of time- and money-saving options. Changing a system to fit around existing poor practices and habits misses out on process improvement opportunities.

6 – To what extent should in-house IT departments be involved in the process?

This may sound like IT blasphemy. Of course, the IT department will need to be aware of the application and play a role in security, remote access, back-up, server requirements and the like. Hosted cloud solutions accessed via the web are the way of the world, but it is critical to understand how the system is being hosted, its performance and speeds. The IT department’s support is critical; however, their attitude and other project priorities can make this involvement complicated and slow the process. The paranoia of collapsing the company’s whole IT infrastructure is thus diverted.

7 – How much data and information should be captured, and who populates and owns the data?

Facilities and property managers usually attempt to capture too much data and information. This ambition will likely grow in the age of the IoT. But the key message is not to be too ambitious. Data has to be updated and maintained. If data is stale and unreliable, operators will start creating their own records, migrating back to Excel spreadsheets. As a result, data integrity will be lost, there will be multiple data entry points and the new system will likely grind to a halt. Instead, start with minimum functionality, allow the system and operators to mature, and evolve the system over time to meet full requirements.

8 – Should an emerging innovative system or a more rigid well- established system be adopted?

It is good to be linked into a system demonstrating innovative and emerging thinking, developed around the latest industry thinking and facilities connectivity. But beware of systems sales and marketing presentations based on glitzy slide decks and slick local drive mock-ups. The current systems model in a real operating environment manipulating real data needs to be seen. Be aware that emerging systems are capital- and resource-hungry. The great vision of many systems may still be many years (and many capital raisings) away.

9 – What about systems support and systems development?

More mature systems will tend to have a larger support team with many user groups, but this may be less helpful than expected. With a less mature systems offering, new customers are important and serviced well – but development and support resources may be fairly rare resources. Support is a trade-off; local support is going to be far more useful than international support across time zones, but many established and emerging systems may be international.

10 – What is the compelling business case for a new system?

Systems always seem to cost significantly more than the original budget estimate, based on software licensing, configuration and implementation costs. And the true cost is seldom totally accounted for, as the management time required is often ignored.

Added to this cost dilemma is the challenge of showing a clear financial benefit in the business case – new systems projects always seem to have net costs to the organisation. The financial advantage is usually best expressed by cost savings: the cost impact of a missed lease renewal, or the changed mindset induced by a robust accommodation charge-back system to business units, or even the financial advantages of managing the cost of unnecessary churn.

Using these current ‘loss opportunity’ costs can make more financial sense – but this may have to mean admitting to past mistakes and shortcomings!

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