Originally published in Digitalisation World, Feb 2017
By Grant Macdonald, Managing Partner, Fruition Partners UK.

In recent years, IT departments have invested in a range of technology tools to support them in managing and resolving users’ issues. Many businesses are unaware that facilities management (FM) departments can benefit from the same tools to manage and deliver business services. In particular, the adoption of self-service portals and interfaces that IT departments are well-used to, can be easily adapted for FM service users.

A leaf out of IT’s book 

In the last ten years, IT have developed their role from simply building systems to brokering services. As the complexity of the business world has increased, many facilities functions have also been required to respond to change. Despite some progress, there are still many facilities teams managing requests and work orders using a series of disconnected tools, such as email and spreadsheets, that are often supported by outdated processes.

The potential inefficiencies can impact the business, but to change this scenario, facilities can take a leaf from IT’s book and improve operations by embracing service management and self-service technology. This can have huge benefits, not least improving bottom-line profitability. Indeed, research conducted by independent research company Vanson Bourne for Fruition Partners, found organisations could be saving around £600,000 by extending IT service management technology to other functions, such as facilities, rather than purchasing new stand-alone technology for each department.

No need to reinvent the wheel 

As providers of services, facilities and IT have quite a bit in common. Typically, when a staff member contacts the IT department, it’s because they want one of three things: something fixed, some help or something new. In other words, exactly the sort of reasons why they contact FM, whether it’s fixing broken furniture, booking a room, or adding a new employee to the gym membership.

The IT Service Management (ITSM) discipline has become adept at putting in place processes to address these questions with efficiency and accountability. These are just as relevant to facilities, and with the advent of cloud, technologies can be easily customised and implemented by other business areas. Combined with self-service tools, service management can be simplified across the entire business. Compare, for example, a request to IT for a new printer and a request to FM for a new chair – the workflow behind the requests follow the same process. If we disregard the IT ‘content’ of the request, it’s not too big a leap of imagination to apply the same technology to ‘process-heavy’ functions such as FM and IT.

Self-service frees facilities to add value

There are a growing number of organisations which are using service management solutions to create a single ‘point of contact’ for all staff to access facilities advice and support across the business. Particularly advanced business have integrated this set-up into a complete ‘concierge-style’ portal which provides access to other business services such as HR, legal, marketing and IT, all from one place. Employees can use the self-service portal to then do anything from making catering requests, to reporting equipment failures, ordering new assets or booking their holidays. The service management technology behind self-service can also automate the systems used for managing projects such as property developments and upgrades, and provide management teams with advanced reporting on key indicators, including resource utilisation and response times to users.

By easing the workload and improving efficiency, and giving employees a means to liaise facilities other than by lengthy and resource-heavy phone calls, or via an unstructured email trail, the facilities function can focus its staff on more ‘value-added’ work, rather than day-to-day admin.  Moreover the implementation of self-service technology also significantly boosts the approval ratings of the facilities function within an organisation. Users like the self-service elements, the fact that information is available 24 hours a day, and their ability to track queries and requests online. And because the facilities team has more readily-available information, they are able to respond more quickly to colleagues when personal interaction is needed.

Start with the business case

The starting point for an FM team keen to pursue this approach and implement self-service technology is to talk to their IT function and find out if they are using service management software which can be adapted for FM. The next stage is to build a convincing business case that demonstrates the value of this kind of technology. This should be based on the costs-savings that can be delivered, and the increased productivity that can be achieved by automating manual processes and reducing reliance on unstructured technology such as email.

By reducing repetitive admin tasks across the whole business, it’s been calculated that a large corporation of 5000 employees could save the equivalent of 2,000 employees or 4 million hours. For some organisations that will mean a reduction in employee overheads; for others it’s a huge opportunity to reinvest precious human resource in generating value for the business, and getting more out of the investment in facilities across the board.