Impact of Technology on Facility Management Jobs

Consider the workstation change described below and how a “seamless” technology system could change the way you handle the situation in the near future.

Suppose that on October 22, the finance department manager records on his computer that the job function of a worker named Joe will change from accounts receivable clerk to accounts payable clerk as of October 24. On the morning of October 23, your computer prompts you with an E-mail message about the organizational change. You consult your data about the current workstation and note that the records are complete. You examine the standard for the new work function for Joe and note the changes needed to adapt the workstation to his new tasks. After verifying with the finance manager that Joe has been notified, you call Joe on the videophone to discuss the situation. While you are on the phone, you accomplish the following:

  • You transmit to Joe an image of the existing workstation and the standard for the new job function.
  • Joe examines the images and mentions some special equipment that only he uses. You and Joe develop a solution that he accepts.
  • You check inventory and verify that all the equipment you need is in stock.
  • You check the work schedule, verify that Frank the installer is available tomorrow morning, and ask whether Joe can accommodate an installation by Frank tomorrow morning.
  • Joe agrees.
  • You click “OK.” The work order is sent simultaneously to the installer, to the warehouse, and to the transportation department.

That afternoon, the material is pulled from the warehouse and packaged. Transportation picks up the material and delivers it to the installation shop overnight. Frank picks up the work order and the material and completes the change as scheduled.

This scenario is possible today. However, without the technology of PCs (personal computers), networks, databases, videophones, CAD (computer-aided design) systems, and telecommunications—and a lot of support from existing databases and available staff—the facility manager would not be equipped to support the finance manager in the way just described. The decisions made and the tasks already completed would not even be under consideration if they all had to be performed manually.

Note those who participated in reconfiguring the technology-supported workstation: the facility manager, the facility manager’s supervisor, the workstation occupant, and the occupant’s manager. Note who did not participate: an administrative assistant, a receptionist, a designer, an inventory clerk, a multimedia specialist, or a draftsperson. The availability of these technologies has enabled the facility manager to perform multiple job functions at the same workstation with multiple results. The technologies have freed the facility manager to provide answers and develop solutions, rather than merely to collect information.

Impact of Technology on Facility Service Delivery

In the example just described, the services were delivered in a fraction of the time required by manual systems. Particularly with large-scale projects, manual systems probably could not provide the end product in an acceptable period of time; some services could not be provided at all. Therefore, automation technology enables faster and more thorough service delivery than ever before. For example, Taco Bell cleared away a burned-out franchise and opened a new store less than 96 hours after the 1993 Los Angeles riots. The ongoing development of technologies considered embryonic today will continue to change the way in which future facility management services are delivered.

Capabilities of Technology

When computers first arrived, we thought they would enable us to have more leisure time. Four-day workweeks were envisioned; the paperless society was going to save forests. As we all know, business is all about making money, and if technology could make us work faster, then that was the expectation. We now manage infinitely more information than we did just a decade ago because technology allows us to. Instead of eliminating workdays, we have eliminated workers. Technology imposes more work and responsibility because of its enabling qualities. Data entry is done by fewer and fewer people, and we find ourselves still wishing we had more time to spend on strategic thinking. We don’t have four-day workweeks. We haven’t saved the trees. We do more work than ever, all because of technology.

All the components needed to prepare sophisticated, graphics-laden color reports with special typesetting, inset tables and photographs, voice clips, and fade-in slide presentations can be bought at any chain computer store.

Present Limitations

Technology is wonderful, when it works! Nevertheless, the state of today’s technology has improved since the late ’90s. Bandwidth, fiber optics, and other high tech solutions are making it relatively easy to send documents throughout the global marketplace and in a form that can be readily opened or converted so that we can use that information immediately. Personal web pages can be developed for individuals, departments, or entire companies. The use of integrated, customized software solutions enables huge corporate databases to be managed at multiple levels. Reports can be customized, prescheduled, and distributed internationally, if need be, at the touch of a few buttons. Open architecture, truly customizable software, transparent technology, and high-capacity high-speed signal-carrying systems make it all happen.

In reality, “fragmented” best characterizes the current state of integration of technologies that support the facility management business. For example, corporate financial reporting systems may receive input from project management systems, which receive input from data management systems, which, in turn, receive input from CAD and alphanumeric systems. Data may need to be converted, or even entered, several times throughout the process. The duplication of this effort and the frustration that accompanies it are the driving force behind integrating these technologies – the greatest challenge and the key to achieving maximum benefit from a CAFM system and other technologies as well.

Pros and Cons of Automation

Automating data has many advantages, especially easy transmission, retrieval, and analysis. As of this writing, database software has taken a quantum leap forward in terms of its simplicity, user-friendliness, power, and versatility. For example, database programs can now store graphic images and digitized photographs. Alphanumeric data can be electronically linked from drawings to text and vice versa. Database programs themselves now operate comfortably in a Windows environment. In addition, some programs permit connecting data from more than one data file to a single report. Linkages to corporate mainframe systems from PCs are becoming less daunting to make. Selecting and arranging the information on-screen as necessary can create relationships between and among items in the database. Many software packages are available to assist with lease management, asset inventory and management, purchasing, maintenance, and other areas of management.

However, automation is not the panacea that many believe it to be. Automating every conceivable type of data may not be practical or even desirable. The facility manager must first consider what type of data to store and manage, how to store it, and then decide exactly which data should be managed—not the other way around.

Automated databases are very effective and valuable—once the data have been entered and as long as the database is updated to ensure its accuracy and timeliness. Thus, facility managers must be prepared to commit the resources necessary to develop and maintain an automated database. The magnitude of this commitment is almost always underestimated.

This article was excerpted from BOMI’s Fundamentals of Facilities Management textbook. For more information, please call 1-800-235-2664 or visit