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Sunday, 25 February

CAFM - Rubbish In, Rubbish Out

Essentially, CAFM software is just a workflow system which relies on human input when it comes to data entry, activity monitoring and cost evaluation. Jeff Dewing explains how best value and efficiency can only be achieved through optimal integration of IT tools and working practices.

Technology is, unfortunately, not the magic solution that we sometimes think it is. It’s easy to forget – when we’re bombarded with wonderful stories about self-driving cars avoiding accidents, photovoltaics helping solve the worldwide energy crisis, and the internet of things making life simpler and more efficient – that what is crucial in the positive benefit of technology is actually its interaction with human beings, rather than just its innovative existence.

This is particularly true when you’re talking about workflow systems – which, after all, is really what we’re talking about when we use the acronym ‘CAFM’: a software tool that can be used to manage facilities management activity. But if the methods and processes within the system are flawed – especially in its integration with human actions – then it will simply enable poor practice to happen more quickly, rather than address the fundamental issues of efficiency and quality. It’s not the technology that matters most, it’s what you do with it that counts. And that’s what makes the difference between a whizzy-looking solution and a system that can deliver true value through improved transparency and control.

 

What goes in…

One of the most critical factors in the effectiveness of a CAFM system is the data that is entered into it – after all, if you put rubbish in, you’ll get rubbish out – and that’s where the risk of human error looms the largest. Or, sometimes, it’s not so much human ‘error’ as ‘bias’. Wherever there is a value judgement to be made, one person’s interpretation may not be the same as another’s, so the more steps there are in the admin function, the more likelihood there is that consistency and reliability will be affected.

Also, there’s the danger of a more deliberate skewing of the data. Where a procurement decision has been made based on an hourly rate, then unsurprisingly there may have been a race to the bottom, with subcontractors trying to offer the lowest rates in order to secure the contract. However, being squeezed in this way means they’re under pressure to cut corners, round up their time on site or even inflate the cost of parts, which means that the data they enter into the system might not be accurate – and ultimately this means that not only will FM expenditure be higher than expected but any data analysis will be inherently flawed, thus not particularly useful as a result.

Unreliable data doesn’t have to be a given, however. With the optimal meshing of human action and technology – plus procurement processes which focus on value, rather than cost – it’s possible to achieve significantly higher levels of visibility and control in real time, and thanks to more reliable data, the analysis of trends across an estate can be used to model and plan the most effective and economical approach to both PPM and CapEx projects.

 

Right balance

A number of factors are key to optimal integration. Firstly, it’s important to automate any aspect which can be automated effectively, to avoid human error or bias entering the equation – this also has the positive benefit of lifting the administrative burden, which can sometimes be significant. Administrative processes such as invoicing (ensuring customers only pay for the work done, not the work quoted) and cost-benchmarking of parts lend themselves well to this approach, while the automation of real-time data delivery from site is particularly effective.

We find that the use of a mobile app by our own fleet and our supply chain engineers – which checks them into and out of the site using a QR code, tracks the time spent on each task, supplies key information about the job, and allows them to record its specifics and any further work required – improves governance significantly, allowing every stakeholder complete visibility of progress in real time.

Users need to ensure the CAFM system has sufficient checks and measures in place – at all the right points – to control possible failures in the process. Traditional models of FM activity only tend to utilise seven or so measurement points, but by our reckoning there are more than 20 possible failure points in the process, so only a few of them are adequately controllable in the traditional model.

The approach of my company (Cloudfm) compels the input of accurate data, ensures that governance is much improved. For example, it’s not possible for an engineer to mark a task as ‘finished’ without completing all of the fields in the app or check into or out of a site without actually being there.

 

Knowledge is power

Not all checks should be tech-based, however; there are key points in the process which definitely require the human touch (and a skilled one, at that). For example, it’s common for service providers to audit a percentage of a client’s compliance certificates because while paperwork may have been uploaded, it is not a given that compliance has actually been achieved – but even checking a percentage still leaves far too much unknown in terms of an estate’s compliance status. For a full picture – and the opportunity for control that comes with that – a suitably qualified specialist should be checking every single piece of paperwork relating to compliance.

 

Research

Our research – conducted by an independent specialist, involving interviews with 150 senior FM professionals – has shown that what customers most want from FM providers is trustworthy data. Unsurprisingly, this was strongest at Board level (which is ultimately where strategic decisions are made). In order to meet this demand, FM providers must recognise where technical expertise must be deployed for maximum effect and where robust workflow systems can offer the benefits of accuracy and therefore control. It’s not just about data and it’s not just about people - t’s about a mix of systems, people and process, all appropriately balanced to achieve optimal levels of governance.

By Jeff Dewing, CEO of Cloudfm

Article written by Jeff Dewing

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