Technology integration processes for facilities management: What really works

by FM Media
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PHIL WALES of eBusiness Strategies shares the right steps to ensuring technology integration that really works.

If asked to define technology integration, the most common response is usually associated with software used to automate certain processes or procedures and its interaction with other systems. Although an accurate response from the technology perspective, it is only part of the story. More important is the role as a broader business activity that dramatically eliminates manual work, increases productivity and sharpens capabilities of key personnel such as a facilities manager.
For the facilities management field it is helpful to define technology integration fairly broadly. From the business perspective, integration is the inclusion of technology into the overall operations of a best practices organisation. It represents the optimum way work should be done and enabling that work with appropriate tools – including software. It is the difference between technology being an integral part of delivery services versus just another bolt-on mandatory activity to be performed each day.

From the technical standpoint, technology integration is a four-step process usually understood as: selection, acquisition, implementation and actual integration. Selection is picking the right technology tool to support the business, acquisition is getting that tool in place through procurement, implementation is getting the tool operating within the business environment to create enterprise-wide data/information sharing and integration brings the entire four-step process together for the facilities manager and other corporate users.
However, these four steps are actually steps four to seven of a proper technology integration approach. Steps one to three set the groundwork for what will allow correct technology to be selected and to assure the ultimate technology deployment aligns with and supports the ‘business of the business’. Or, stated another way, the way to assure that a new technology solution will help the organisation be more effective is not in technology implementation itself. Rather it is by assuring proper alignment of that technology with the processes that will drive success. When the issue is approached from that direction, the process unfolds differently and considerably earlier than with typical selection activities.

To make sure the right solution is selected and properly implemented:

Step 1: Understand facilities managers’ role in the corporate mission’s context
Upper management assumes that daily operational duties and maintenance are being done and done well. Instead, facilities managers should understand how corporate management is measuring their contribution and then they should define the services they are offering to add strategic value on top of normal tactical excellence expected of the facilities management staff.

Step 2: Define facility management business processes to effectively and efficiently address step one
This is both an assessment to help ensure things are being done right and that the right things are being done. The effort drives an efficient and effective set of services standardised around support for the corporate mission. Especially recognise that this step is not only focused on the discrete activities of a specific service offering but, equally important, on interactions between service offerings. The goal is not just to improve a single service area, but to more successfully enable the entire life cycle of the corporate portfolio.

Step 3: Document the required functionality an enabling technology must provide to support the new business model
The two steps just presented will materially impact the technology solution best suiting facilities management needs. The key is to clearly define what the technology must do to optimise the new processes as defined by facilities management. Any new tool must be adaptable, with the ability to be refined in the way that it supports the business both now and in the future.

Only after these steps have been executed can the final four steps of selection begin.

Successful technology integration is not (or at least should not be) just a grudging acceptance that there is a new tool to learn. It should underscore that users must develop an understanding why the new approach, process, or technology is important and the benefits it delivers to the organisation as a whole. Therefore, change management is a critical component for personnel absorbing any business transformation into their daily routines.
Realistically, with or without new technology’s introduction, change always causes friction and, if not managed well, any new system’s outcome will fall short of its true potential. So, getting people to feel that they play a key role in the business transformation and not just having new ultimatums dumped on them helps them accept the change logically and get on board.
At the core of change management is that the organisation should not just be trained on the new technology, but on the business change the new technology will enable. This dual focus sometimes requires coaching or counselling to pull together what’s involved in the interaction between technology and the other business activities that must be identified, organised and coordinated. And, with all that going on, there also must be accountability at the leadership level, letting personnel know that those at the top believe in the change and are willing to work with employees on getting it right.
When change management is properly executed and new technology correctly implemented, the result is often a surprising “You’re right, this is better” from even the most previously vocal critics. The new technology tool, put in place as an integrated part of daily work, literally forces users now to do their jobs as the job needs to be done rather than in the prior, less efficient way.
From a purely tactical and technical perspective, technology integration ties systems together and provides access to data that users need to do their jobs. In the larger sense, a more profound effect happens. It enables a more standardised and optimised way to work that empowers the facilities management organisation to work more productively.

Phil Wales is CEO of Houston, Texas, US-based eBusiness Strategies.

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