Communications in facilities: death of the spreadsheet
Is facilities management software the key to opening property communications? RICHARD EXLEY reports.
For organisations with ever-expanding, multibillion-dollar property portfolios, satisfying and retaining occupants is top priority. To ensure retention rates are maximised, communication of important information between facilities teams, occupants, contractors and finance departments is crucial.
Not only does a consistent flow of data between stakeholders ensure working relationships are simplified, it also allows facilities managers to focus on completing tasks that keep spaces functioning to the highest standard.
Advancements in facilities management technology have improved organisational communication and can help businesses reduce maintenance costs, while improving occupant satisfaction, building efficiency and productivity.
In years gone by, a paper-based system may have been considered a valid facilities management tool, although it would lack the level of traceability required to maintain a complete audit trail. Within the FM sector, supervisors would have scribbled job details into a work order book or on a whiteboard, allocated it to a member of their team and passed it on to the assigned technician.
This method works to an extent, but scraps of paper can easily be misplaced. When companies have multiple facilities to maintain, crucial tasks can be missed, potentially leading to accidents or costly breakdowns.
Technology means we are heading towards an age where paper is becoming redundant. Spreadsheet tracking for facilities maintenance is a step improved over paper notes, but these are prone to errors, lack traceability and are not scalable. As portfolios grow, it’s crucial to have a software solution that can grow with the business, and to work smarter. Through the right solution, users can receive and update work orders through mobile apps, text or email, providing a full audit trail of tasks that have been set and completed.
When issues arise with an occupant, it should be easy to get in touch with somebody that can resolve the problem. Gone are the address books and lists of contacts; FM systems can now automatically route requests to the right people. This is a big step in improving reliability, as it means problems can be addressed quickly. Technicians can attach notes and documents to work orders using their smart devices, meaning management can receive updates immediately and take action if required. This ensures responses are timely and efficient, reducing the risk of inconveniencing occupants.
REDUCING PROPERTY MANAGEMENT COSTS
If facilities teams are able to keep their property management costs low, they will be able to offer attractive rates to their occupants and establish a competitive advantage over opposing service providers.
One of the key ways FM software can reduce costs is by enabling organisations to make better-informed decisions; i.e. should equipment be repaired or replaced? When users log into their system, they can be presented with a dashboard of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), providing live feedback on areas of the business proving most expensive to maintain.
Many of these KPIs will be selectable, enabling users to expand into more in-depth data. This allows organisations to perform analyses on all areas of the maintenance they perform, and decide when it may be best to dispose of existing assets and replace them with newer models. Facilities teams are able to identify trends, where assets are at risk of failure and reduce equipment downtime, which often leads to reduced space and asset utilisation.
Facilities managers and their teams have to be able to focus on relevant tasks. If important jobs are not completed following a miscommunication, expensive breakdowns are likely. Occupants, contractors and other employees should be able to log in to an online portal and submit work requests or report faults.
The ability to state the priority of jobs means that if a high-priority fault occurs, the wheels can immediately be set in motion towards resolving the situation. Quickly addressing these types of issues enhances occupant satisfaction, reducing the risk of them looking to move on.
IMPROVING BUILDING EFFICIENCY
Facilities teams need to be able to easily manage internal and external resources. A system should act as a hub for facilities managers to receive work requests, allocate work orders and track work that has been completed by employees or by contractors. Important information such as tasks, contractor names and contact numbers, dates, costs, certification and asset details can be recorded and held in a central repository.
Having a central location to store all important information is paramount to facilities teams running efficiently. It means contact details are always readily accessible for the organisation’s employees, preferred contractors and occupants. If an issue is reported, administrators can easily find the best-qualified employee/contractor to perform repairs. Being able to store documents such as certificates allows facilities managers to ensure whoever is assigned a task is adequately qualified.
Storing and managing all resources, documentation and contact details in one location offers organisations a lot of benefits. It ensures facilities managers can receive, allocate and sign off work orders quickly, while also enabling them to check whether tasks are assigned to employees or contractors with the appropriate qualifications.
If maintenance is performed to a high standard and issues are addressed quickly, buildings will run more efficiently with a greatly reduced risk of equipment breakdown.
CLOSING THE COMMUNICATIONS LOOP
Facilities teams need to quickly and effectively communicate with occupants, contractors and internal/external accounts teams. Online portals are a great option as they allow people to sign in and record faults or log work requests. This saves on administration time and ensures occupants feel their needs will be addressed promptly and efficiently.
Work request portals are typically connected to specific properties. Occupants can log issues related to their building, which will be linked to a work order with budgets and cost centres assigned to them. This simplified method of logging and managing property maintenance means spend can be monitored and reported on against allocated budgets and profit centres, which in turn simplifies budgeting.
Effective FM processes close the communication loop within organisations. If information is requested about maintenance related to a specific building or tenancy, the facilities manager can quickly produce reports with relevant data. This improves communication between the facilities team and accounts payable, in particular.
Once work has been marked as completed, accounts can receive an automatic alert and are able to raise invoices or purchase orders quickly and efficiently. Instant notifications ensure accounts departments do not have to wait for a paper trail of completed work in order to action payments.
Many organisations have large portfolios, leading to a huge demand on facilities management teams to function at the highest level. FM software has caught up with the demand for accountability, traceability and instant communication channels. The days of assuming spreadsheets and paper- based systems are efficient and scalable are over.
Richard Exley is commercial manager at Real Asset Management.
This article also appears in the June/July issue of Facility Management magazine.
Lead image: 123RF’s Sadudee Sittichoke © 123RF.com