An Introduction to CAFM Systems
15/07/20 | Rebecca Drewett
As the responsibilities of FM professionals become far more exhaustive and challenging, CAFM has become an integral support in their ability to perform their duties efficiently and effectively.
A new world of opportunity
This technology has opened up a new world of opportunity for organisations in all industries, enabling them to reduce costs, oversee assets, manage space, support employee wellbeing and much, much more. It has taken what was once a mountain of paperwork riddled with out-of-date or inaccurate data and made it reliable, digitised, accessible and useful to companies.
In this guide to CAFM systems, we will break down what this technology accomplishes, list its wide range of features and benefits, and outline what steps businesses need to take to incorporate this powerful software into their infrastructure.
If you would like to learn more about our specific approach to CAFM and the all-encompassing solutions we’ve developed over the past 30+ years, get in touch with our team today.
What is CAFM?
CAFM, or Computer Aided Facilities Management, is the term for technology designed to help users manage the various assets, tools and processes that affect business continuity. CAFM was developed to streamline facilities management and maintenance, driving greater efficiency, boosting business performance and generally making life easier for FMs, employees and wider building users.
But what does this mean practically? Well, before CAFM systems became available, facilities managers were forced to compile the huge volumes of information they had about their buildings in lengthy paper trails. Spreadsheets, blueprints, layout documents, folders – all of which needed to be kept up-to-date with the latest details relating to asset maintenance, space management, property information and much, much more.
This approach was time-consuming, resource-demanding and more open to human error. The introduction of CAFM was to alleviate these problems and provide much-needed support to FM professionals, as well as support data-driven decision-making across the facilities the system is responsible for.
Among the various types of facilities management software, CAFM is primarily focused on the physical workplace and everything within it. As we’ll discuss in further detail in this article, this can cover everything from tracking asset lifecycles and scheduling maintenance tasks, to managing room reservations and use of space throughout the office.
In addition, CAFM tools are recognised for their incorporation of CAD (Computer Aided Design) and BIM (Building Information Modelling) functionality. This visual realisation can offer significant benefits in understanding the layout of a building, plotting maintenance routes and optimising the use of space in a structure.
The origins of CAFM
The history of CAFM programmes stretches way back to the 1960s, when space forecasting technology was used on mainframe computers. At this stage, it was specifically focused on making the space within a building as cost-efficient as possible – now it has evolved to a mixture of this and supporting people’s wellbeing.
In the decades that followed, these applications evolved and their capacities became even more powerful, moving beyond space management into asset management, lease management, and building cost accounting. It then started to incorporate systems for maintenance planning, workflow management, portfolio management and more, becoming a more and more universal tool for the FM industry.
At this point, CAFM solutions gained popularity among large complexes and similar facilities, to today where they lend their benefits to organisations in practically any industry and to any scale. Since 1990, our team has been working hard to support the evolution of this essential technology, with the aim of empowering businesses to control their environment and streamline the duties of FM professionals.
CAFM vs IWMS
It isn’t uncommon for CAFM to be referred to simply as “facilities management systems”, or to be lost in the alphabet soup of acronyms that denote other types of this technology.
IWMS (Integrated Workplace Management System) is an example of this. While it bears resemblance to CAFM and both can work together to provide significant benefits to FM users (as you can see in our own Concept Evolution), we feel it is important to distinguish the differences between the two to cut out any confusion and settle any “CAFM or IWMS” debate.
While CAFM systems primarily focus on the physical space of the building and the people and assets that operate in it, an IWMS is considered an all-inclusive tool for facilities management. It encapsulates the five fundamental domains of FM.
While CAFM solutions can touch all of these aspects in some form, comparatively speaking it is a more singularly focused technology. However, that does mean that an IWMS is typically a larger investment, so it is important to distinguish the needs of your organisation before making an investment.
If you’re interested in managing your physical space, a CAFM service is an ideal fit. For more complete system management an IWMS is a more complete solution.
CAFM vs CMMS
Another acronym that can often be confused with CAFM is CMMS (Computerised Maintenance Management System). As the name suggests, a CMMS is focused solely on handling maintenance requests throughout a facility, coordinating everything from request ticketing to task delegation and dispatching the appropriate engineer.
As we will explore in the article, a CAFM system in itself can lend itself to help manage planned preventative maintenance (PPM) by collating critical information about your asset and their life cycles. Therefore in a similar way to how an IWMS is considered a more comprehensive CAFM solution, CAFM is more extensive than a CMMS.
However, if your sole interest is on a system to manage maintenance throughout your facilities, a CMMS may offer a more cost-efficient fit.
The core functions of CAFM software
While the capabilities of one CAFM system can notably vary from another and there is no universal template to follow, there are some functions and features that users should expect from their solution.
Before we break these down, an effective CAFM solution should offer an intelligent, helpful user interface. With a core objective of CAFM packages being to streamline the responsibilities for FMs and to support strategic decisions over the management of their facilities, it needs to be easy to interact with and present data in an accessible, engaging way.
This can come in the form of:
- Interactive databases
- Interactive graphics (CAD or BIM)
- Data management displays
- Projections and forecasts
Without the ability to present meaningful information in a digestible way, FMs will not enjoy the full benefits of their CAFM software. With that established, below we have identified some of the fundamental functions that a CAFM solution can provide:
CAFM programmes can be employed to keep track of the locations of physical assets across a building to a granular level, even covering individual chairs or desks. Beyond that, it can house accurate and up-to-date asset registers, containing critical data relating to where they were procured from, what maintenance they require, and other essential details.
This is important as the more gaps there are in your asset knowledge, the less in control you will be of employee wellbeing, costs and resources. CAFM helps teams consolidate their understanding of the assets throughout their facilities, and what must be done to keep them performing optimally to support overall business continuity.
Planned preventative maintenance (PPM)
With a greater understanding of assets and their specific requirements, CAFM can lend itself to organising PPM tasks. Having the knowledge to analyse the status of assets and prioritise maintenance based on accurate data saves time and protects the operational efficiency of a business.
Through a CAFM system, FMs can organise their maintenance work more effectively, and in accordance with the specific needs of each asset, rather than by estimations. This will make their work more efficient and more proactive.
CAFM can help in giving teams a clear understanding of their stock levels in real-time. This allows them to plan in advance if a particular resource is running low, and automate the restocking of this if it reaches a certain trigger point. Consequently, this also reduces the risk of overspending on a particular item, which will have a positive impact on an organisation’s budget.
Help desk assistance
While it is beneficial to be proactive when it comes to maintenance, these issues can’t always be predicted. The help desk feature of most CAFM systems provides an effective balance between the proactive and reactive aspects of facilities management, with access to real-time updates on the status of the building and its assets, and providing a location for people to log issues when they are identified.
By incorporating floor plans and layouts of a building or set of structures, CAFM can optimise how these spaces are managed and occupied. Through this teams can track which spaces are most frequently occupied or vacated, and this data can be used to determine what can be done about spaces that aren’t being employed effectively.
Inefficient space usage can be a significant drain on resources. By highlighting vacant, occupied, part times and hot desks, a CAFM solution can empower employees to make better use of their available space and, in instances like the COVID-19 pandemic, organise people to reduce the risk of overcrowding.
In a similar vein, CAFM systems can also assist in organising room bookings, eliminating the risk of double-booking a space and again enabling employees to arrange meetings and other sessions independently, knowing an area will be free when they require it.
This can also help manage both preparations that need to be made prior to a meeting, such as setting up projectors or ensuring the right number of seats are available, and cleaning up of the area after the meeting has taken place.
CAFM has made life significantly easier for FMs in how they manage the infrastructure of their buildings. This can include remote management, where facility managers can turn on air conditioning or lock and unlock windows and doors from their desk, or this can be accomplished automatically in response to various triggers.
This can improve efficiency, save energy and reduce the burden on FMs in their day-to-day.
CAFM solutions can provide a true picture of the state of estate assets and the degree of efficiency, or otherwise, of their operation at any point in time. By presenting an up-to-date record of trends and outcomes, this allows operators to optimise their use of this data to improve the efficient performance across numerous aspects of estates management.
This technology can also maintain accurate records of leases, rents and tenures, and set alerts to these to ensure that no renewals are missed.
Employee and user support
While its core focus is on a building’s infrastructure, CAFM can be just as effective at supporting the employees and personnel within it. Whether that is through self-service functionalities that empower them to take control and look after their working environment, to providing team members with dedicated workflows and risk reports for their various tasks, CAFM’s technology is firmly people-focused.
A CAFM solution can be a valuable asset to the financial department in any organisation. From presenting accurate information to manage budgets, purchases, invoices and other project costs, to providing automatic alerts for contract renewals and track spending against KPIs, CAFM can play a key role in improving cost efficiencies within a company.
Furthermore, by displaying repair, maintenance, and upkeep service records, FMs gain visibility into where funds are being spent, which can present potential opportunities for savings.
This is just an overview of the potential that a CAFM system can offer an organisation in controlling their facilities. Beyond this, it should have the capacity to be tailored to meet the exact needs of the client in question, ensuring they receive the full benefits for their precise circumstances.
The benefits of CAFM solutions
As the prior section demonstrates, the capabilities of a CAFM system are far-reaching, and can provide universal benefits to the maintenance, strategy and overall performance of an organisation.
These range of benefits include:
The initial investment into CAFM packages is one of the biggest barriers in the widespread adoption of this technology. However, this delivers effective returns in a variety of ways, including:
- Reduced spending on unnecessary maintenance/repairs of assets
- Knowledge of the rate that assets depreciate and may require replacement
- Tracking facility usage with the aim of minimising overheads in unoccupied areas
- More efficient management of resources and stocks, with reorders only made when required and a lower risk of overstocking
- Decreased time and resources required to fulfil checks and tasks across an organisation’s facilities
- More robust financial management of leases, projects and property portfolios
As well as keeping a better handle on costs throughout a company’s physical infrastructure, CAFM systems can also significantly enhance efficiency throughout an organisation. This can be as a result of being able to plan and manage maintenance schedules more proactively, and by better organising the engineers responsible for carrying this out with distinct workflows, tasks lists and clearly defined routes around the property.
Plus, with the capacity to automate and complete menial tasks with greater accuracy, such as identifying necessary repairs and automatically reordering low-stocked items, CAFM helps to make day-to-day work run more efficiently and feel less repetitive.
Greater employee wellbeing
CAFM’s techniques stretch beyond the building itself, and can enable businesses to take strides in their support of their staff and other end-users.
Whether this is automatically adjusting room temperatures to keep staff comfortable throughout the buildings, enabling them to reserve their own meeting spaces, or by making it easier for them to log work and highlight any issues across their workplace that need to be remedied, it plays a role in making their working environment a more pleasant place to be.
CAFM systems are developed with the intention of making the work of FM professionals more seamless and less straining. This in turn means they can devote more time on less menial, repetitive tasks and can truly think strategically about how their facilities can run in the most efficient, cost-effective and beneficial way.
Furthermore, by enhancing their ability to quickly respond to issues when they arise and proactively plan for potential disasters and emergencies, CAFM allows FMs to be in full control of their environment and prepare for any eventuality.
Enhanced space usage
In any organisation, there is the potential for space to be underutilised, but still adding to the overheads they pay every month. Through a CAFM system, these areas can be effectively identified and highlighted, allowing FMs and other decision-makers to determine what should be done to either make that space more meaningful, or to reduce the overheads associated with it.
Plus, CAFM’s use of CAD and BIM visualisations give employees a greater understanding of the layout of their workplace, and help ensure that rooms throughout the facility can be reserved accurately and clearly, removing the headaches associated with double-bookings.
By providing an exhaustive list of accurate, accessible data, and by alleviating many of the menial, predictable tasks involved in facilities management, CAFM opens up more room for data-driven strategic decision-making within a business.
The dashboard should offer meaningful data representing the analytics of the business, which in turn can be used to devise strategies to increase efficiencies and reduce unnecessary spending, which will benefit the company long-term and help achieve their KPIs.
Longer asset life cycles
With all data associated with an organisation’s assets stored and kept up-to-date within a CAFM system, this real-time information can be used to better maintain assets and extend their usefulness to the maximum. This reduces the costs involved in repairing or replacing these components on a regular basis, so they perform more efficiently.
If your CAFM solution has information relating to the energy usage throughout your facilities, you can use this data to identify any areas where this can be reduced or any alternative solutions that can be applied to make your organisation more energy-efficient and, consequently, environmentally friendly.
Due to the visualisation and user-friendliness of the most effective CAFM services available, the information stored within these systems can be easily captured and translated into useful reports.
These reports will help FMs and other users to demonstrate the ROI their solution is providing for their business, and highlight what their efforts are accomplishing in ensuring the company is working in as efficient and cost-effective a way as possible.
What industries does CAFM lend its advantages to?
Any business that has physical premises can benefit from CAFM. As this technology’s aim is to improve how efficiently and effectively buildings run and support the people within these environments, its various functions can be seamlessly applied to practically any industry, from tech startups and data centres to warehouses.
CAFM solutions fit in perfectly within agile workplaces that allow for free movement, but also blend well into more traditional environments that are seeking to make facilities management easier through these user-friendly programs. In offices with many cubicles and communal desks, CAFM can lend itself to help organise hotdesking and making sure staff can best utilise all of the space available to them.
In our own organisation, our clients across the globe represent a wide assortment of industries. For example, CAFM is a great fit within the retail sector.
With many of its metrics geared toward performance measuring and improvement, and the challenges of maintaining multiple outlets to ensure they’re performing optimally, CAFM can oversee the operation of the estate, remotely, in a way that minimises any distraction from selling, particularly in relation to asset management and restocking.
To learn more about the range of industries that can utilise the power of CAFM, check out our collection of case studies.
Who benefits from CAFM?
Fundamentally, CAFM systems are installed to support the work of FM professionals in their duties to maintain and manage the facilities they’re responsible for. The task of juggling the various financial, HR and logistical tasks associated with their role is significantly streamlined through this technology.
This empowers them by removing the hassle of menial tasks and repetitive responsibilities so they can devote more time to the strategic thinking that supports big savings and enhances efficiencies throughout the work environment. In fact, many companies employ dedicated CAFM administrators to control this technology to allow for FMs to focus on big-thinking.
However, as we’ve discussed earlier in the article, CAFM can benefit employees and other end-users throughout the workplace, enabling them with the tools to understand their environment and play a key role in ensuring this is well-maintained and providing a welcome, pleasant setting for everyone.
How important is CAFM in the modern workplace?
CAFM systems have provided modern solutions to the problems that have plagued workplaces for decades. It is not as though issues such as the effective maintenance of assets, the efficient use of space in an area and overall building management have only recently become apparent.
But the accessibility, functionality and flexibility of CAFM solutions and how this technology can seamlessly integrate with other software to boost business performance makes it a critical tool for any modern organisation that is looking to get the most out of their properties.
In years gone by, traditional FM would be solely concerned with the core activities of estates and property services. CAFM technology now enables FM to encompass day-to-day operational activities, from what meetings are going on throughout a building, to what hot food the restaurant is offering each day.
We're seeing working environments where employees walk into a building, tap their ID card and the systems know where they work, which floor, have the lights on ready for their arrival and their phone configured with their personal contacts. This saves a huge amount of time and energy, for both employees and the building itself.
As its role has expanded to business processes, CAFM can integrate finance, HR and other strategic management software packages into one interface, along with services provided by external suppliers. This has led to it becoming a powerful organisational tool and an essential source of information for the strategic management and direction of a business.
At the same time, technology is enabling employees to raise problems in real-time. Our Workplace Apps, for example, include an interactive chat log for raising an issue so employees can put on a public feed that it's cold in their particular working area. If other employees post the same, then the facilities manager suddenly becomes aware of a wider situation, not just one person at one desk on the fifth floor saying they are cold.
In this way, CAFM is enabling businesses to run more efficiently, services to be more streamlined and staff to be more productive and engaged.
Furthermore, with secure cloud computing, sensor technology and the Internet of Things, CAFM can monitor an environment in more detail than ever before. FMs can respond to this wherever they are. Mobility and seamlessness are the natural extension of a business's movement into web enablement.
As CAFM has evolved from being just about ‘hard' services to essential business processes, the integration of services and the experience of employees in their working environment, so facilities managers have moved from being a support role as FM ‘operators' to being an integral part of the strategic business team.
From managing business financials and maintenance requirements, to supporting overall satisfaction of clients, employees and other building users, CAFM’s place in the modern business landscape is more important and more integral than ever.
What is the best CAFM software available?
If the benefits of CAFM presented above have encouraged you to consider procuring a system for your own organisation, it is important to ensure that you select a solution and provider that matches your needs as an organisation.
Are members of your team familiar with CAFM software, or will they need extensive training and support? Do you need a solution that’s scalable to the growth of your business? Are you interested in a system that’s cloud-based, hardware-based, or a hybrid of both? Do you require an industry-specific solution?
There are a lot of available options out there, which means determining the right choice for your circumstances requires a fair amount of thought and research. As a provider ourselves, we would encourage you to consider the following when looking to procure a CAFM system:
- Determine the various goals and KPIs that you wish for this solution to help you fulfil, and what you want this to achieve for your organisation and your employees
- Outline as a team the various features and functionalities you require from this software, and cross-reference this with the products you identify
- Engage potential vendors and ask them questions about their solution, especially regarding its user interface and how straightforward it will be to incorporate into your existing infrastructure
- Ask to receive a free demo or trial of the CAFM system in question, so you can get a clear demonstration of how it might work in your organisation
- Establish a rapport with the vendor – this will be the start of a long-term partnership, so you want to know you can trust and feel comfortable with the provider
For a CAFM supplier, the sale of a system is no longer just about installing the software package. We have long recognised this shift from the provision of an operations framework to the need for a fully-fledged range of complementary professional services, leading ultimately to the deployment of a tailored CAFM system that delivers the anticipated value to the business.
The consultants behind the solution should spend time discussing and documenting your reporting requirements, building tailored outputs and, where appropriate, digital dashboards that offer streamlined access to key information. This correspondence with a CAFM provider is critical to ensuring the system meets your needs, and that you’ll receive effective support should anything go awry with it.
With this in mind, a number of the most prominent CAFM managers and providers include:
With over 30 years' experience in developing and delivering cross-industry CAFM solutions, including our comprehensive Concept Evolution package, we have worked with a wide range of clients across the globe to improve the management of their estate, assets and working environments.
Concept Evolution, our flagship CAFM/IWMS system, is tailored to the specific requirements of the increasingly mobilised, app-hungry population. We are constantly evolving and expanding the capabilities of this technology, with the aim of benefiting all areas of an organisation and empowering teams to take control of FM like never before.
CAFM Explorer is a prominent and well-respected provider of CAFM systems, with their focus on maximising the efficiency of working environments, providing scalable solutions to growing businesses, and improving compliance with the various regulations they must conform to.
Service Works Group
Service Works Group’s BIM and CAFM software is employed across multiple sectors and across the globe. Their powerful, flexible and user-friendly software for facilities management and PPP performance management helps organisations save time, improve productivity and reduce costs across their operations.
Cloud FM’s goal is to reestablish the trust that it believes has been lost in the FM industry by providing solutions that restore the relationships between FM providers and their clients. This is delivered through CAFM systems designed to manage building portfolios in a cost-effective, compliant and quality-led way.
With this just a small snapshot of the wide choice of CAFM providers across the globe right now, it is critical that when procuring your own system you take time to research and engage these and other providers to determine which offers the most fitting solution in your circumstances.
How to implement CAFM in your business
Even when compared with just a few years ago, the number of updates and new developments within technological solutions suitable for the FM sector have advanced at a bewildering rate. This has increased the choice in how they assist their management of their property portfolios, but has made choosing and implementing the best solution more challenging.
There are several common pitfalls companies can fall into when it comes to implementing and integrating a CAFM system into their infrastructure:
These can hamper or halt the introduction of this technology in its tracks, and result in organisations not reaping the full benefits of these highly-effective solutions. So, how can these problems be avoided?
Fundamentally, at the heart of any successful CAFM project should be a truly interactive relationship between a vendor and a customer. This service-driven approach makes it easier for the customer to define the kind of project and resources that they expect, and helps to ensure that the end result delivers on increasingly sophisticated expectations.
With that in mind, your CAFM provider should provide relevant insight into the best practice for implementing and integrating their solution into your existing structure. This may include setting up a project management team, appointing CAFM administrators or champions for each department, and creating a communications plan to successfully launch the system.
You should also be provided effective CAFM training to ensure your team becomes familiar with the new systems put in place – the more familiar you are, the more value it provides.
Keep in mind that CAFM systems are not ‘plug and play’. It has massive potential to improve the efficiency of your business, but you need to choose the right long-term partner. Look beyond the technology and consider if the supplier has sufficient knowledge, experience and resources you can call upon in the years to come.
With regards to securing stakeholder buy-in, this is critical as CAFM systems will likely touch every aspect of an organisation. If one department or entity isn’t on-board or does not utilise the technology properly, the chances of it proving effective drop dramatically. Consult with your partner to put forward a professional business case, identifying the benefits this technology will offer and the outcomes you expect in relation to your business.
As part of the implementation process, it’s also important to be wary of information overload. Housing too much or irrelevant information, or presenting this in a way that isn’t user-friendly, will discourage people from accessing these systems. Ensuring there are effective functions to filter, manage and present this data is vital to ensure all team members are able to benefit from their CAFM software and incorporate it into their day-to-day routines.
Is the investment in CAFM worthwhile?
As noted, there is significant potential within a CAFM system to enable organisations to harness their facilities and assets, make meaningful strategic decisions relating to cost, efficiencies and workflows, and to generally make life easier for FMs and their wider workforce.
However, this depends on knowing what to look for in a quality CAFM solution and partner. This is essential to unlocking the full potential your system offers and increasing the likelihood that it becomes a permanent fixture of your operations moving forward. Factors involved in this include:
- Ease of integration: Will the system easily integrate with others in your facilities? Your CAFM solution should comprehensively cover your FM responsibilities and link seamlessly with your invoicing, purchasing, financing and other software.
- Access to apps: As FM becomes increasingly mobile, an effective CAFM system should provide access to a variety of apps designed to streamline workflow, manage maintenance tasks and support employee wellbeing on the go.
- Agile systems: As technology and facilities continue to evolve at pace, having CAFM software that can easily bolt-on additional modules is crucial to ensuring your software is always up to date and never static.
- Industry experience: Does your supplier have experience within your industry? Ideally, they will have tangible examples of how their solution has benefited others in your position to give you reassurance.
- Responsiveness to feedback: Your supplier should recognise the value of listening and reacting to client insight. This ensures future developments stay in line with the shifting needs of the industry.
- Support network: Your supplier should be capable at handling the installation and integration of your system, and readily available when you require support.
- Forward-thinking supplier: Does the vendor have a department focused on mind-mapping current and upcoming innovations like IoT and smart buildings? A forward-thinking supplier will be dedicated to constantly growing their system in accordance with industry standards.
- Demonstrable ROI: Make sure your supplier can demonstrate an acceptable return on investment. This will help to make the business and financial case for investing in CAFM.
Remember that the purchase of a CAFM solution is individual and unique to the business and its operation. ROI will therefore depend on many factors and isn't always predictable. You should always weigh the qualitative benefits of a CAFM against the limitations of your budget.
But, by working with a trusted, experienced provider, you can feel reassured that you devise a workable system that is delivered on time, on budget and to requirements.
The future of CAFM
With the growing realisation of CAFM’s potential as a true enterprise system, introducing more all-encompassing solutions from the outset will be prioritised moving forward. As more and more organisations begin to adopt this technology and reap the benefits from it, the focus is developing it further for greater ease of use and integration with an ever-evolving digital business landscape.
We believe CAFM systems have a significant role to play in the rise of flexible working, at home or remotely, as well as the desire for businesses to reduce expensive office overheads and minimise floor space.
We also anticipate that the emergence and influence of both the IoT and AI will continue to be driving forces in CAFM software, with the outcome of more predictive maintenance and enhanced synergy between the various assets, systems and people within a building.
Of course, whatever the future of CAFM holds, we’re committed to playing a part in shaping and guiding it. For over three decades we have transformed the way businesses and teams operate, allowing them to run smarter, safer and more efficiently. As we continue to refine and enhance our offering, it will always be with that goal in mind.
Our approach to CAFM
At FSI, our industry-leading technology delivers absolute accessibility for owner/occupiers and global scalability to the world’s largest service providers. We are giving FM professionals the power to take control of their portfolios, harness valuable data and make meaningful strategic decisions to revolutionise the way they work.
Through our comprehensive CAFM/IWMS solution, Concept Evolution, as well as our exhaustive collection of workforce and workplace apps, our technology is at the heart of streamlined workloads, optimised resources and enhanced reporting in organisations worldwide.
Discover our unique and dedicated approach to CAFM by contacting our team today, or book your demo of our ultimate FM solution.
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