FMJ, the official magazine of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), is written by and for workplace professionals and is published six times a year. FMJ is the only magazine that draws on the collective knowledge of IFMA’s global network of thought leaders to provide insights on current and upcoming FM trends. For more information on FMJ, visit www.ifma.org/fmj.

Data integration: Building a digital ecosystem for FM success

by Lisa Stanley — This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of FMJ

 Advancements in technology are moving at a significant pace, and impacting virtually every aspect of life, from the buildings where people live or work, to the way people communicate with each other, and much more. There are new challenges including data integration – how to effectively use the information available from a variety of sources that do not communicate with each other to achieve better outcomes. Finding the right balance between investing in traditional business intelligence and more advanced analytics, while exploring and investing in emerging technologies is also challenging and requires a greater tolerance for risk from the top of the organization down.

There is no magic potion, or one size fits all approach to create a unified vision for FM. The answer lies in building a digital ecosystem that harnesses information from a variety of sources and disparate systems in a way that addresses the needs of an organization and available resources.

At a World Workplace session in October 2019, the panel I moderated included Phil Wales, Ebusiness Strategies, Melissa Morgan from Morgan Consulting and Shane Gamboa from Chevron, where we discussed how FMs can build a digital ecosystem in their organization. Below is a recap of our discussion on how to get started.

What is a digital ecosystem?

It’s an information-enabled network of collaborative internal and external business partners who use technology to connect strategies, business functions, competencies, and actions that cultivate innovation and lead to better business outcomes. Simply put, it’s about connecting people with technology in a new way that improves results.

The digital ecosystem provides the framework for how FMs move forward in the digital world.  Constructing the ecosystem requires a variety of perspectives from inside the organization and from business partners. To be effective, it mandates collaboration between IT and the business units on integrating and aggregating data. Collaboration of this sort has not been present on a broad scale in FM, and is critical to evaluate and confirm where investments should be made, including in the IT infrastructure and the building. It runs through the entire asset life cycle, starting with the planning process including answering the question, “What problem are we trying to solve?” The process then addresses decision making to acquire the asset, provide for operations and maintenance, and retirement or replacement.

How to get started with data aggregation and data integration.

Taking these steps will provide needed structure to the process and encourage active engagement from decision makers and influencers in managing the change needed for this quantum step. Here’s how this process can be applied to FM.

1.         Clarify and prioritize information required to efficiently run the business.

This is where collaboration between IT and the business becomes a powerful tool, and gains support for an anticipated improved outcome. Take the time to thoroughly vet the shared insights and determine priorities for moving forward and ensure that collaboration continues every step of the way. Make a list of every relevant aspect of the building that is currently addressed in your FM world, as well as those you would like to capture, then prioritize them.

2.         Assess current data condition.

This can be a painful step that requires a frank assessment of the current state of your data for accuracy and whether it provides a complete picture of what you need to achieve optimum performance of the workplace and workforce. Some things haven’t changed as technology has evolved – garbage in still yields garbage out. Develop a program to “fix” current in-place data and information, recognizing it will likely take longer than you think it will, and expose some surprising insights to the data – gaps, errors and more. What information is collected through badge swiping throughout the facility, and is it common practice for individuals to “share” badges for convenience sake? New privacy laws have been passed in several US states, joining GDPR in the European Union to provide additional protection for personal information. Outsourcing this function does not relieve an organization of the responsibility and may require more safeguards if this information is being stored in the cloud.

3.         Identify and clarify inefficiencies in the data supply chain.

This includes information from various repositories internally, from vendors/suppliers, movement processes, data governance, etc. Develop a program to address improving data going forward incrementally with a concentration on the issues that can provide big impact and maybe even a quick win to encourage support of the initiative at all levels of the organization. This step shouldn’t involve blame, but instead concentrate on the benefits to be gained internally and an enhanced competitive position. Data analysts, programmers, compliance specialists and facilities managers can use their diverse perspectives to improve data accuracy, efficiency, and access and perform a highly effective cost versus value approach.

Mergers and acquisitions activity provide an even bigger opportunity to look at the now larger group of disparate systems, analyze them and identify economies of scale. These savings can be derived by reducing the number of disparate platforms collecting data, selecting new ones going forward that can address sensor data on space management, schedules for planned maintenance based on past performance in HVAC systems and much more.

4.         Think through the roadmap for the digital future.

How will the accessibility and accuracy of data change the way the business operates? The roadmap to the digital future charts a course that considers the will to effect change in FM systems, and building the skills to execute the plan. What types of skills are needed in the new digital environment? Skills in data governance and digital competency are critical to success in moving forward, and are available in online training and live learning labs. FMs have a unique opportunity to become corporate strategic partners within the organization as the critical link between workplace and workforce data. It may be the catalyst for gaining what has often been the elusive “seat at the corporate table.”

As the roadmap is built for the digital future, assessing the organization’s data governance maturity level is a necessary step. Level One on the Data Governance Maturity Assessment starts with siloed data and advances to Level Two with analysis across functions and asset lifecycles, taking a more flexible approach to data integration. As shown in advancement in data governance, maturity is a deliberate approach with associated improvement and identified benchmarks. Many FM organizations are hovering between Levels One and Two, with significant progress and improved performance attained in Levels Three and Four. Level Five represents fully integrated data governance and data stewardship, and responsibility for this achievement lies in every part of the organization.

Implementing the technology may not be the most difficult step – it may be building trust in the data.

5.         Evaluate opportunities to leverage new and emerging technologies.

The time to “wait and see what happens” with emerging technologies like AI, machine learning, and distributed digital ledgers has passed. FMs should take the time to build their understanding of these technologies and others to help frame the questions on how these technologies can advance the FM team and the organization to facilitate integration and aggregation efforts.

Gartner’s 2018-2019

Communication Insight Report found:

  • 66 percent of CEOs expect their company to change its business model in the next three years
  • 87% percent of senior business leaders said “digitization is a top priority”
  • The No. 1 barrier to agile transformations is company culture

FMs should consider formal training in change management to help advance their career. Being able to effectively communicate with the team as to why the change is necessary and why they should care is critical for success. Don’t underestimate the value of the influencers on the team and elsewhere within the organization.

What are some FM challenges that can be addressed by data integration?

Asset life cycle management starts with the planning process then advances to decision making to acquire the asset, oversee operations and maintenance, and retirement or replacement.  Data integration pulls information from a variety of sources to make FMs better stewards of the asset life cycle management process with a more holistic and fact-based approach to decision making.

FMs should ask themselves and team the following questions:

  • What roles do various types of facility solutions (IWMS, ERP, and point solutions) play in the current digital ecosystem?
  • What role should they play in the future?
  • How do FMs assess and access the benefits that are under-utilized in software?

Data integration can also be utilized to improve:

  • Space classification – typically reducing the number of space classifications needed
  • Space management – more effectively tracking occupancy and utilization
  • Smarter building applications – sensor data, energy efficiency
  • Improving technology applications – and their interoperability
  • Service order tracking
    • Planned maintenance
    • Reactive repairs
    • Move orders
    • And more

Start with a small pilot project – no need to make it expansive. Pick an area of operations where those outside the project team can readily connect the dots for results and expand implementation for further projects. Activate a diverse project team to ensure broad perspective and experience that can adjust quickly if needed during the pilot. Evaluation should be ongoing during the project and share lessons learned with relevant stakeholders beyond the project team.

With the advancement of emerging technologies and their ability to improve decision making, FMs cannot afford to be a reluctant bystander, waiting to see what happens. Professional FM opportunities depend on the willingness to expand the understanding of what it takes to build a digital ecosystem, to encourage collaboration on pilot projects and to build the skills needed for your digital future. Are FMs ready?

About the author

Lisa Stanley As OSCRE’s CEO, Lisa Stanley drives strategy and innovation for the organization, working to expand understanding and implementation of real estate data standards, effective data governance and emerging technologies with a variety of constituents in the real estate industry. She has more than 20 years of industry experience and is committed to constructive and innovative collaboration to address the impact emerging technologies will have on the information that drives the real estate industry. She can be reached at lisa.stanley@oscre.org.

FMJ, the official magazine of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), is written by and for workplace professionals and is published six times a year. FMJ is the only magazine that draws on the collective knowledge of IFMA’s global network of thought leaders to provide insights on current and upcoming FM trends. For more information on FMJ, visit www.ifma.org/fmj.

Articles in FMJ are the exclusive property of IFMA and are subject to all applicable copyright provisions. To view abstracts and articles not shown here, subscribe or order individual issues at www.ifma.org/fmj/subscribe. Direct questions on contributing, as well as on permission to reprint, reproduce or use FMJ materials, to Editor Erin Sevitz at erin.sevitz@ifma.org.

IFMA is the world’s largest and most widely recognized international association for facility management professionals, supporting 24,000 members in 104 countries. This diverse membership participates in focused component groups equipped to address their unique situations by region (133 chapters), industry (15 councils) and areas of interest (six communities). Together they manage more than 78 billion square feet of property and annually purchase more than US$526 billion in products and services. Formed in 1980, IFMA certifies professionals in facility management, conducts research, provides educational programs, content and resources, and produces World Workplace, the world’s largest series of facility management conferences and expositions. To join and follow IFMA’s social media outlets online, visit the association’s LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter pages. For more information, visit www.ifma.org.