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The document’s journey

Tim_RushentDigital working in FM is a potential game-changer but requires vision and leadership to implement. A highly competitive business climate means facilities managers are facing ever-tighter contractual obligations, at a time of increased regulation. However, by harnessing the flow of information across the organisation, technology can help the most forward thinking businesses to stay ahead of the game. Tim Rushent, director, industry and commerce, with Hyland and creator of OnBase explains more

Information, and specifically the careful control and management of it, is crucial, and most companies recognise the value of a digital future. But it is important for managers to look beyond what legacy systems did, and take control of the document journey. By managing the flow of shared data, a modern-day filing cabinet becomes a tool with which to control the business with maximum efficiency.

The FM industry has been perceived as relatively slow to pick up on technological trends, due in part to the fact that facilities management firms and departments typically lack a large IT department to back up their move to a secure digital system. Many companies still store documents in physical filing cabinets, but those laggards could easily overtake many of their more advanced competitors in the efficiency stakes if they seize the chance when they do go digital to build an enterprise information hub worthy of the name.

As companies seek to protect the vital documentation which proves what work they had done for customers, and that agreed standards have been met, executives are looking to Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems that allow documents in a variety of formats to be managed on a single system. Given that access to documents has been estimated as being 64 times faster using a digital instead of a paper database, useful efficiencies should be achieved. But what happens when a manager or employee finds the document they are looking for? In sectors which have already gone paperless, almost 70 per cent of companies still work across a number of applications – as many as 100 within some organisations.

This approach is inefficient and documentation held on these diverse applications rapidly gets out of sync. Jobs carried out in one application need to be replicated in the others, when what is needed is a system that not only stays up to date, but automates some of the workflow management as well, allowing for vastly increased efficiency and a constantly up-to-date audit trail. Therefore, FMs looking to maximise the return on their investment in ECM should go one step further, by taking the opportunity to build new ways of working.

Take for example a facilities manager who has a number of tradespeople on its staff, each trained to carry out certain specialist jobs, within the company’s own policy framework and work guidelines, and potentially to specific standards required by individual customers and contracts. With an advanced ECM solution, or what we might call an enterprise information platform, all necessary training, policy or contract requirements updates can be sent to relevant staff. Additionally, the system can ensure that workers have confirmed that they have read and understood these documents before allocating a task which requires the updated information or knowledge.

And whereas this example would require a level of management input in the form of providing the updates and details of relevance to individual members of staff, some aspects of the flow of data and work can be automated entirely. This is particularly true for operations where staff are carrying out a large number of tasks, potentially across several sites: in such a situation, information on each job can be allocated and sent to workers on their mobile devices according to a constantly updated schedule which receives feedback as each task is completed.

A great example of the imaginative use of ECM comes from facilities management staff with multi-site briefs, which use geographic information system (GIS) technology to manage operations. According to GIS specialists Esri, such applications are frequently implemented as part of a wider strategy to meet sustainability, resiliency or decision making objectives and provide electronic maps that connect locations and utilities to related data. Coupled with the ECM system, organisations can further leverage their GIS investments by putting supporting documents on the map, so that staff can make better decisions, ensure efficient maintenance and respond quickly to service requests.

When action is needed, field staff assigned to tackle an issue – say an electrical fault or a sewer main leak – can quickly retrieve all documents related to that map feature, including operational manuals and service request details, with a single click of their tablet or smartphone.

Naturally, security is also an increasingly important part of this process. Given data protection laws and the reputational calamity that could ensue should information relating to a client’s facilities be lost or stolen, there is often some natural reluctance at board level towards relying on such cloud-based systems. The answer here is to use the ECM framework to control where each document is sent, with security features ensuring only designated members of staff have access when it arrives. As a second line of defence, documents can be individually protected, so that only cleared recipients can view them.

Implementation of such advanced digital working systems does not require an army of IT staff, as modern software upgrades can be installed in short order and managed from afar by the provider. Indeed, a good ECM system should be able to be operated and adapted by the users rather than having to rely on technical support.

Instead, systems fail because of human factors within the host organisation.

Crucially, managers considering a new IT infrastructure should think beyond the technology and try to define their vision for the project based on how they see their teams working in the future.

Once you have a vision of a new digital way of working, you can set about designing it from a practical viewpoint. One of the key areas for success is to involve the people who will actually be using the system from the very beginning. Talk to them, find out what their challenges are, ask for their input and ideas: this approach is also very useful for securing eventual end user buy-in.

End users may not care about projected cost savings, but they are often able to identify ways in which tasks may be completed faster. Efforts should be made to keep key team members, in particular, on board during the planning and implementation stage of the project. This should help to generate usage scenarios or issues that senior management may have overlooked.

About Sarah OBeirne


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