With the Internet of Things (IoT) rapidly starting to have an impact upon the built environment – ever more facilities and building big data will be available for processing. Seamless interoperability between diverse systems and processes is no longer an unrealistic expectation. And with more robust and professional service provider contracts possible, the operational aspects of property portfolios can be done at a lower cost more and more effectively by others. But why is there still reticence by many property owners and users to rely on service provider systems instead of investing in their own, often duplicate, systems?
This could be because of bad past experiences or possibly the fear of losing control of their portfolio data – particularly in future changes to the service provider contracts – or the complexities of having multiple service providers providing functions. But it may be the general lack of understanding of the key decision-making issues related to these systems.
COMPLEXITY OF DATA
Properties are data-rich, and there are many data fields that contribute to the effective operational, tactical, and strategic management of a portfolio of owned or leased facilities. For example, portfolio data may relate to multiple complex lease arrangements; the physical and operational condition of assets; the servicing requirements of assets and components; or the financial accounting metrics - all essential to underpin key property decisions. These systems decision-making challenges are made more complex when internal corporate directives require that property systems need to interface with the corporate-wide accounting or financial management systems.
To deal with the complexity of data, most property and facilities service providers have made systems part of their core business functions. Having the ‘best’ systems provides one of the key competitive advantages in tender award processes. But underpinning these systems, need to be the processes, training, and the discipline to capture only the relevant data that is essential for efficient and effective management of facilities. With this background, below are some ‘lessons learned’ that can provide those seeking to decide between service provider or ‘in-house’ systems, with some direction.
SYSTEMS MANAGEMENT WISDOMS
As the property industry information systems have matured, a few simple common wisdoms have become recognized, including:
• Data should only be input once. Data transfers should be designed to be accessible, even in simple downloads across multiple systems. With some organizations there is still some temptation to upload data separately into complementary systems, resulting in data double-handling, higher costs, and creating data integrity issues.
• Beware planning bespoke, custom-made systems developed from scratch, particularly if property and facilities management is not core to the business.
This is a long and arduous process that will cost much more than the initial estimate, take significant management time and likely never meet the initial system expectations. There are many examples of millions of dollars have been spent on these journeys, most often without the systems ever being switched on.
• Do not dictate that service providers are to use bespoke in-house property and facilities systems in which they have not been trained. Industry service providers invest significant dollars into their systems, in which their teams are trained, as part of their core business models. Tender pricing advantages are derived from industry participants having scalable best-of-breed systems to support their suite of services.
MATCHING EXPECTATIONS AND BUDGETS
There are a number of other systems decisions that need to be made to ensure that expectations are managed and aligned to the budget available. Examples of how to keep systems budgets in control include:
• Be realistic in expectations of your information management needs. Only upload data that is essential and will make a difference to the operational management and planning. The temptation, excited by the data manipulation capacity of the systems, is to collect too much data. Remember that most data will need to be uploaded and manipulated by people – an expensive resource.
• Limit customization of the proprietary industry or service provider systems under consideration. Requiring modifications to suit your own property processes (or habits) that have evolved over many years may not be the best outcome. Industry systems are generally designed to meet ‘best practice’ – so rather change the internal process to suit the system than the other way around – these industry practices usually work the best.
• Think carefully about the need for seamless or real-time transfer of data between different systems. Systems analysts will promise that this can be done via many different file formats. The reality is that data mapping and uploading always seems to come up with surprises. Be prudent and transfer data at aggregated levels and at set daily intervals, rather than attempting to transfer all data fields in real-time.
DECISIONS THAT MAKE SYSTEMS WORK
With systems planning, there are some ‘leaps of faith’ to be made at key implementation decision thresholds. Successful systems implementation is enhanced by the following key steps:
• Determine how the property and facilities dollars will flow, be managed and controlled within the organization, very early in the journey. For example, most property systems have good general ledger functions, but if the finance department insists that all payments will be made through the company’s general ledger, embed this decision into the systems discussions at the onset.
• Be prepared to let go of your data. Unless the portfolio data is top secret, transfer the responsibility (but not ownership) for data management to your service provider to populate the data, make it available and to report accordingly. There are control mechanisms that can be incorporated into the service contract to safeguard the data. Online and regular reporting requirements will provide comfort that the data is up-to-date, accessible, and safe.
• During the transition, portfolio data can usually be uploaded from the existing databases to the new system being implemented. But ensure that there is an obligation that all data needs to be verified against source documentation, and this is priced accordingly, to ensure that there is data integrity in the new system.
• Do some parallel runs. The best way to test the portfolio data integrity in a new system is having both systems and processes, old and new, to operate in parallel for a couple of month ends.
In conclusion, the key to having systems implemented within budget and time-frames is managing your expectations and demands. A more complex system that requires more customization will result in greater cost and time to implement. Simpler systems using defined processes, even if these do not replicate current processes, will cost less and present fewer challenges to implement.
Don’t be paranoid about releasing data – this happens in most other corporate e disciplines. And remember that systems are the core capabilities and the backbone of most facilities and property management service providers – use these to your advantage.
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