Overcoming the challenges to creating a sound management information system

by FM Media
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RICHARD GEE from Brookfield Johnson Controls shares the challenges surrounding sophisticated management information systems and the solutions to these challenges.

For all the complexity surrounding increasingly sophisticated management information systems (MIS), what it all comes down to is the right information at the right time to make the right decisions. As director of commercial property, I am leading the company’s campaign to get the best from technology.
Our mission is to create places that work for our customers. This relies on efficient collation, implementation and provision of quality property and facilities information.
The major challenges in implementing a successful MIS strategy are complex business environments, an ever-increasing demand for convenience and real-time information, cost considerations and the need to adapt to change. These are recurring themes across all of our customers’ portfolios and assets.

INCREASED COMPLEXITY AND NARROWER FOCUS
I see the MIS environment becoming increasingly complex. For Brookfield Johnson Controls, several current public private partnership (PPP) contracts require the implementation of highly detailed abatement models. The company’s corporate real estate portfolios require the collection and payment of rent, the management of more than 100,000 work orders annually and the completion of myriad compliance maintenance tasks across broad geographical areas. In response, the MIS solutions themselves are becoming more complex, with a ‘web of functionality’ overtaking the stand-alone systems of a decade ago.
The information we are working with today encompasses asset management, job request management, facilities management, real estate management, financial management and space management solutions. In addition, there are now numerous software solutions that assist in managing all this information.
The complexity is also driven by the expansion in the number and types of people interfacing with the systems, each with their own focus, demanding trend overviews, detailed analysis of individual assets or performance measurement data across a whole portfolio.
Facilities managers and property managers, for instance, are responding to an increasing focus on compliance – are we carrying out the appropriate preventative maintenance, is our sustainability reporting complete and are the technicians we employ trained, inducted and licensed? Not only is it important for these things to be done; we also have to be able to show that they are being done. A strong MIS allows facilities managers to schedule, audit and report on these activities.
For users at a director level, a primary driver is a continuing focus on total portfolio property costs. These users are also interested in testing strategic considerations − are we doing things well, what if we relocated offshore and what if we owned, rather than leased? MIS solutions provide the means to carry out this analysis and are a tool for managing the outcomes of such decisions, particularly where the result is increased globalisation of business involving multiple currencies and different lease structures.
The chief executive officer/chief financial officer perspective of facilities management is becoming more strategic. The move to activity-based workplaces and forthcoming changes to lease accounting rules are two examples. MIS solutions are evolving to be able to present this information in the appropriate context and form for a new set of users.

CONVENIENCE, COST AND ADAPTING TO CHANGE
The second, inevitable, demand is for convenience. The sheer pace of life and of decision-making means that no one wants to wait for an answer anymore, but often we need information and knowledge to answer questions. The solution is to have access to real-time data presented in the right way.
The third challenge, cost, has two aspects: financial considerations and the time required to develop and implement a successful solution. A MIS requires careful planning and a realistic view. Post global financial crisis (GFC), financial cost is obviously a huge focus. The drive is to make processes more efficient and to reduce the total cost of asset ownership. It is vital that a detailed, coherent business case that highlights the value of investing in a MIS is developed.
The fourth major driver is a rapidly changing world. Within this context, it is critical that a MIS is flexible, scalable and adaptable. A solution that is perfect for a single set of circumstances, but which is cumbersome and inflexible, is not a good investment.

THE SOLUTION TO THESE CHALLENGES
The benefits of a sound MIS are clear: more effective and timely decisions, faster and more efficient service delivery, and the ability to respond effectively to client and market changes.
The good news is that there is a lot of innovation, both locally and internationally. We are three years into a five-year strategy to develop our response to these critical challenges. We have seen some great providers, and the good stuff travels quickly.
Three broad solution options are:

  1. Best of breed applications, interfaced: This option provides the best of each category, as well as the ability to process information between applications. However, this option can be less flexible when making changes in multiple applications.
  2. Stand-alone best of breed applications without an interface: This option uses reporting aggregation to create synergies between various applications. Data warehousing technology delivers data from all systems, which can then be analysed. This option is often cheaper because there is no interface, but it can require more time to implement and maintain.
  3. Fully integrated solutions: With this option, one software provider provides all the functionality and the user builds the MIS around this provider. This option delivers absolute operational efficiency and integrity of data, and excellent interfacing between processes, with the same look and feel wherever you are in the system. Inevitably, however, there will be some functionality trade-offs against the best of breed options.

Richard Gee is the director of commercial property at Brookfield Johnson Controls. He and his team deliver integrated property and facility services, including real estate, facilities and project management for a range of public and private sector clients across Australia and New Zealand, including the City of Sydney, the Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance, Energex, Agilent Technologies, GlaxoSmithKline, Cisco and the National Archives.

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