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13.04.2005, 18:39

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The Facility Management Association of Australia (FMA) and Aconix discuss groundbreaking research into facility information management (FIM) practices.

The Facility Management Association of Australia and online information management company Aconix recently undertook what is thought to be the first research into facility information management (FIM) practices. Leigh Jasper, Managing Director of Aconex, discusses the results.

NUMBER CRUNCHER: 85 percent of facilities managers consider it critical to be able to find and retrieve information
NUMBER CRUNCHER: 85 percent of facilities managers consider it critical to be able to find and retrieve information

Today, facility managers are tasked with a range of responsibilities. Generally, these can be categorised under four main headings; namely, space and asset management (allocations, inventory); project management (construction, renovation, move management); emergency management (disaster planning, recovery); and maintenance management (demand maintenance, scheduled maintenance).

The volume of data a facility manager needs to control these areas is vast. It can range from information contained in tenancy agreements and as-built drawings, to health and safety information, operations and maintenance manuals, data that is already recorded in spreadsheets, or emailed and written correspondence. Failure to manage data properly can result in financial loss from missed deadlines, work being undertaken using out-of-date documentation, increased exposure to risk and an overall reduction in productivity.

In short, given the complexity of issues facing managers, effectively managing facilities means effectively managing facility information.

Despite being fundamental to the facilty manager's role, there is little current validated data on how facility information is managed, or on how processes can be improved and best practice achieved.

Research for the new report was conducted via an online questionnaire which was completed by 555 FMA professionals. The majority of respondents were facility managers, with directors, general managers, project mangers and consultants also represented.

"This suggests that collaboration technology can provide a valuable information management tool for the facility management profession."

An overwhelming majority of respondents (85 percent) identified the following three areas as being most critical for effective facility information management (FIM):

1. Finding and retrieving information;

2. Collaborative information access among multiple parties;

3. Capturing and storing information efficiently; and

Finding and Retrieving Information

By far the greatest area of concern is finding and retrieving information. As the industry grows and practitioners become resonsible for an increasing number of facilities, their reliance on timely access to current and accurate information is becoming critical.

Given the breadth of responsibilities within the profession, all managers need to access a comprehensive suite of information. However, finding the ifnormation remains an area of significant cost, both in terms of time spent searching and in terms of consequential damage as a result of dealing with dated and/or inaccurate data.

Eighty-three percent of respondents use a filing system of some sort, be it a shred network drive, spreadsheet or other database, or a filing cabinet.

The shared network drive is the most commonw way to manage facility information. However, users still have to know where to look and this approach lacks revision auditing (e.g. details of when updates were made and by whom).

Issues frequently occur when people move roles and access of historical data is requried. Only 7 percent of facility managers said they could find all the ifnormation taht had been owned by their predecessor. Forty-four percent stated that 'Not Much' to 'Almost No' design and construction information was available to them at handover. This is despite 55 percent of all information a facility manger uses being from the design and construction phases.

It is therefore little surprise that when asked: 'How useful would it be to capture documents and correspondence into a central archive from the start of the designa nd construction phases of a project?' 98 percento f facility mangers said it would be 'Useful' or 'Extremely Useful'.

A Solution: Collaboration Technology

Respondents overwhelmingly (80 percent) indicated that they want to move towards electronic information management. Therefoer ethe solution to information management issues will most likely be resolved by technologies that utilise electronic management and storage.

Use of collaboration technology in the construction industry ahs doubled each year fort eh past five years and, more recently, an increasing number of facility mangers have started to use such solutions.

How Does Collaboration Technology Work?

Collaboration technology solutions are web-based information managmeent systems that allow users to store, track and share documentation online. In practice this means that documentsa re archived in a central, online repository, where they can be easily retrieved and distributed.

Because the system is web-based, consultants, designers and other suppliers ar able to deposit, update and distribute documents electronically in real time, which streamlines communication between facility managers and their supply chain. This also reduces administration costs such as printing, postage and storage.

Revisions to documents are tracked, and automatic updates are sent to stakeholders such as tenants, property owners and suppliers. This means that everyone accesses a commoon set of information and the risk of working on outdated information is effectively removed.

The solution allows information for any number of properties to be archived centrally, accessed instantly, helping fm managers control physical assets and manage relationships with tenants and stakeholders.

Conclusion

The research indicates there is still a large gap between what FM professionals need, and their current information management practices. The report identifies some of the difficulties and consequential damage caused by relying on traditional systems of information management. This, in turn, highlights the need for inforamtion management solutions that will enable industry professionals to manage increasingl diverse and complex facilities.

Compere the findings to the benefits provided by using an online information management solution and it beccomes evident that collaboration technology can address the industry's most critical information managment concerns: finding and retrieving information; collaborative access among multiple parties; and capturing and storing information. The adoption of collaboration systems also offers time savings, capacity to handle greater amounts of information, risk mitigation, continuity following staff changes and, most importantly, improved service to clients. This suggests that collaboration technology can provide a valuable information management tool for the facility management profession.

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